In July 1988, history was made in Toronto. The founding members of the Association of Gospel Music Ministries decided to tap into one of the fastest growing gospel music phenomena of the day, the gospel choir. After many brainstorming sessions, open auditions were held for those who were interested in forming a mass gospel choir. The response was overwhelming. More than 100 people committed their summer to completing a live recording at the association’s gospel music convention that fall.
The initial recording session in October 1988 was very successful. Nobody wanted to quit. So after much prayer and discussion, the members and directors decided
that the choir would continue, and as a result the seeds of the Toronto Mass Choir were sown.
The choir's debut album, Great Is Thy Glory, was released in April 1990 on the Micah Communications label. Toronto Mass Choir’s second live recording God is our Hope was released in 1994, followed in April 1998 by its Juno nominated album, Follow Him.
In February 2002, Instrument of Praise was released. That year the Gospel Music Association Canada (GMAC) presented them with a Covenant Award for Best Urban/Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year. In 2003, they picked up a Juno Award for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year; the Vibe Award for Urban/Soul Album of the Year, and the Urban Music Association of Canada Award for Gospel Recording of the Year.
In November 2005, the choir had broken new ground, using a 20-piece orchestra on their latest recording, The Live Experience, which also garnered a GMAC, Covenant Award in 2006 for Traditional Gospel Album of the Year. A Shai Award, the gospel music people’s choice prize, for Urban/Soul album of the year followed in 2007. The CD includes new arrangements and lush orchestration of TMC favourites recorded and performed over the years like Solid Rock, while Caribbean Praise Medley reflects the overseas influence of a trip to Trinidad. Patricia Shirley, one of the choir’s former members appears courtesy of Sereniti Records. The singer’s high energy bonus track, God is our Hope, is a testament to TMC’s influence and legacy. Soloists Kerroy Williams and Andrea Boswell take the CD higher with the Going Home Medley while Nicole Sinclair shares her sweet alto on three tracks including I Believe and Soar Like an Eagle.
Karen Burke, a graduate of McMaster University and the Royal Conservatory of Music, was called upon to lead the diversified group of singers and musicians and continues to serve as the choir’s Director along with her husband, Oswald Burke, who is Executive Producer, and Assistant Director, Elvis Boddie. “It has been very important for us to showcase Canadian gospel songwriters and provide an environment for music to be created and recorded,” she said of the choir’s latest CD.
After 12 years as a high school music teacher at Toronto District Christian High School, Burke became a Professor in the music department at York University in 2005, and leads their newly-established Gospel Choir. Her music career also includes work as a busy guest clinician, adjudicator and speaker offering Gospel music workshops, and speaking engagements. Her appearances have included the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Metropolitan Separate School Board and the Ontario Mennonite Music Camp. Burke is often asked to conduct gospel music workshops abroad, most recently in Poland.
Now 35 strong plus a five-piece band, the not for profit choir consists of members between their 20s and 40s who are from various local church denominations including Baptist, Church of God, Wesleyan, Missionary, and Pentecostal.
The choir’s songs contain a lyrical theme of praise, hope and encouragement, simple yet profound. The vocal delivery is dynamic. The message is clear. The music is compelling. The influences of Jazz, Gospel, Reggae and Caribbean folk genres are evident.
Toronto Mass Choir continues its busy concert schedule, which includes performances throughout Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Italy. In the summer of 2005, they embarked on a mission to Hungary, Romania, and England. The choir has appeared in many radio and television broadcasts for stations such as CBC Radio One, CITY-TV, FLOW 93.5 FM, 100 Huntley Street on Crossroads Television System and VisionTV.
Toronto Mass Choir has been a special guest at countless church services, festivals, award shows and venues such as Quebec’s La Festival de Musique Sacree de Saint-Roch, the Shai Awards, the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, the Canadian National Exhibition, Missionfest, the Empire Club of Canada, Roy Thompson Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and at the Gospel Music Workshop of America conventions in Washington, DC, Atlanta and Detroit. The choir has also appeared with well-known gospel singers such as Tramaine Hawkins, Alvin Slaughter, Take 6 and Jessy Dixon.