Preaching the Gospel

Gospel groups from around the country are coming to Las Vegas to help take care of some unfinished business.

The first Mega Gospel Concert on Sunday at the Cox Pavilion convenes at least nine acts for two concerts that continue the late Bishop A.J. Thompson’s work on an outreach center in the West Las Vegas area north of downtown.

“We’re taking on the vision that my husband gave us in the first place,” says Beatrice Thompson, who now oversees Zion Chapel Community Outreach. Her husband was the 39-year pastor of Victory Missionary Baptist Church, building it into the city’s largest black denomination of its day.

Thompson retired in 1994 and started the nondenominational Zion Chapel near Owens Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. But he died in June 2004 at age 79, and not long after that his wife required major back surgery. “I was unable to continue to run the church. So I let it go, but the vision never left me,” she says.

“We want to provide a physical space haven for juveniles or anybody in crisis, especially those with HIV and AIDS” or people involved with drugs and prostitution, Thompson explains. She’s hoping “the proceeds will enable us to get a location we already have our eye on.”

The Rev. R.J. Jarvis, head of the California-based Jarvis Enterprises Charities Inc., worked with the late Bishop Thompson and volunteered to pull together the concert from his network of church contacts around the country.

“You will get a complete, different experience from each act. It’s something for everybody,” Jarvis says. “You’ve got the base, which is gospel. And then you have the vines that go off that base.” Some of the groups veer into genres such as hip-hop or bluegrass, “but they just call it gospel so everybody can understand it.”

The bill includes Fret Not, an Oakland band that blends four-part harmonies and acoustic string arrangements with a historic Americana feel. Also on the roster are traditional singers Dwayne Anderson, Eugene Cole and Robert Owens, Tennessee soprano Amy Cooley, the Southern quartet harmonies of the Solomon Brothers, contemporary Christian-leaning Athena, Chicago rapper Judah Man and Roland Pollard & Friends.

Thompson believes Sunday’s event is the first of its kind for the city. But, she adds, “It’s not easy to get people to follow something that is new.”

Early ticket sales were slow, but the event seems to be picking up momentum now.

“This is our reassurance that this is what God wanted us to do,” she says, “because to begin with, it didn’t look like it was going anywhere.”

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