The rhythm and soul of the holiday season echoed through the union hall of Teamsters Local 743 as nearly 400 members celebrated an inaugural Gospel Explosion on Dec. 15.
In preparation for the winter holidays, Local 743 representatives and member volunteers organized the concert to promote camaraderie and compassion among Teamster families in northern Illinois. Over the course of five hours and countless plates of barbecue, Italian beef and Chicago-style pizza, more than 35 performers graced the stage at 47th St. and Tripp Ave. to entertain the standing room-only crowd.
For Local 743 Secretary-Treasurer Debra Simmons-Peterson, who worked closely with the local’s Women’s Committee from conception to fruition, the explosion of music and prayer will be an annual tradition.
“This is what the holidays are all about for Teamster members at Local 743,” Simmons-Peterson said. “The idea behind our Gospel Explosion was to put on a concert that spoke to the heart of family and tradition and love, and to do it in a way that got people excited to spend time together in the union hall.
“By the sound of the crowd and the looks on members’ faces, I’d say we pulled it off.”
Local 743 members sang traditional hymns and holiday favorites alongside professional gospel and R&B singers, many of whom also shared original music. Local 743 Trustee James Thomas, a drummer for Chicago act The Soul People, provided musical accompaniment with his band for nearly every performance. Thomas’ drums were even on full display as legendary gospel singer Otis Clay stepped behind the mike for several songs midway through the night.
Clay, a longtime Chicago resident, was nominated for a Best R&B Vocalist Grammy Award for his 2007 album, “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.”
Recently retired Local 743 member Robbie Coleman served as the evening’s master of ceremonies, welcoming singers of all ages—and more than a few interpretive dancers—to the stage. Betty Holmes Lott, a Teamster working for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, performed two gospel favorites, “Troubling In My Way” and “More Than I Can Bear.” Local 743 member Carl Mitchell of the University of Chicago delighted the crowd with a poetic rendition of “White Christmas.”
Two member families followed—and kept the holiday spirit alive—with a captivating chorus of “Feliz Navidad.”
Norma Flores, another Local 743 retiree, sang the gospel classic, “One Day at a Time,” before turning the microphone over to the Rush Cook County Gospel Choir, a diverse ensemble of Teamsters from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
“The Rush Cook County Gospel Choir performs at churches and events across Chicago, and the members actually rehearse on their lunch hour at the medical center,” said Donnie Von Moore, President of Local 743. “The dedication they show to their jobs and to enriching their talents is a wonderful example of how special our Teamster family truly is.”
Before the gospel concert concluded, President Von Moore and Secretary-Treasurer Simmons-Peterson presented donations and gifts of more than $1,000 to Local 743 member Iesha Williams. Another employee of Rush University, Williams has spent much of 2012 battling breast cancer while raising three small children as a single parent. The Local 743 Women’s Committee organized a collection drive for weeks to support the Williams family during the holiday season.
“Local 743 is dedicated to serving each and every one of our members, but you can’t put a price tag on all the good that can be done when we all come together,” said Simmons-Peterson, who also serves as President of the Teamsters Joint Council 25 Women’s Committee. “The Local 743 Gospel Explosion is a testament to our strength. A single concert can go a long way toward supporting our brothers and sisters in need, helping members make new friends or simply putting a smile on a child’s face.”
Teamsters Local 743, an affiliate of Teamsters Joint Council 25, represents more than 10,000 hardworking men and women in health care, clerical, warehouse, manufacturing and professional industries across the Chicago area.