New Jersey Folk Festival Schedule

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This article was prepared by Richard J. Skelly for the April 27,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Folk Comes in All Sizes

Growing up in Elizabeth, gospel singer Eric Rorie had a divine

revelation as a 15-year-old. "My life changing experience happened

because of my cousin, Debbie King, who went to the Pine Forge Academy

in Pine Forge, Pennsylvania," Rorie says in a phone interview from his

Edison home. Pine Forge, a secondary school that is the only such

religious school of its kind in the country for African-Americans, is

noted for its music program, which offers everything from a cappella

to gospel choirs. "She brought home this gospel tape by the Pine Forge

Quartet. I loved that tape so much, I played it over and over again,

until I wore it out," he says.

For the last 10 years, Rorie has led his own a cappella group, a

five-voice ensemble called Final Message. They will perform Saturday,

April 30, as part of the New Jersey Folk Festival on the Douglass

College campus.

"A big influence on us was the Pine Forge Quartet," Rorie says, "and

they later became the Step Up To Happiness Quartet. They got even

better as time passed." Similarly, Rorie likes to think Final Message,

which has been through hundreds of performances in its 10-year

existence, has gotten much better than they were in their second or

third year. They have played to all kinds of audiences in the United

States and overseas.

While he was raised in a churchgoing family, Rorie didn’t attend

church all that much as a youngster, he admits, and wasn’t baptized in

the Seventh Day Adventists Church until he was 13. Before his cousin

exposed him to gospel, Rorie, as a child, was exposed to all kinds of

secular music, including Motown, jazz, and the classic rhythm and

blues and early rock ‘n’ roll of the late 1960s. Later, he attended

Pine Forge Academy himself, for a year as a boarder, and that’s where

he began his singing career.

"That really was the most integral part of my development, at the Pine

Forge School," he says. "It’s just laden with religion and music. When

I went there as a 16-year-old, I got involved in vocal groups, a

larger choir, and I was part of a chorale as well."

After graduating from high school in Elizabeth, Rorie attended Oakwood

College in Huntsville, Alabama, a college for Seventh Day Adventists.

There, he says, "I met several of the guys who would later form Take

6," he says, referring to the popular a cappella jazz and pop singing

group.

After college, Rorie returned to the Elizabeth/Newark area and became

director of the Inspirational Praise Choir of Trinity Temple, a

Seventh Day Adventist church in Newark. But he doesn’t just focus on

gospel. "I still enjoy other kinds of secular music," he says,

"including big bands and jazz. I enjoy listening to the different

structures and chord patterns in other kinds of music."

The groups Rorie has led since he started singing in his teenage years

are molded after the great a cappella groups of the 1930s, ’40s, and

’50s, including the Golden Gate Quartet, the Mills Brothers, and the

Ink Spots. "Growing up, I loved Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, and I

remember listening a lot to [the radio program] Danny Stiles’

‘Nostalgia Extravaganza,’" Rorie says.

In the 1980s Rorie led a seven-member group called Triumph, which won

a national gospel talent search in 1991 in New York City. After some

members of the group had to move from New Jersey in 1994, Rorie formed

Final Message. Aside from Rorie, 45, who lives in Edison, the group

includes Michael Mitchell, Alvin Washington, Jeffrey Washington,

Walter Howard, and Jeffrey Hardy.

Rorie says he looked around his church, Trinity Temple in Newark, to

find two other singers for Final Message. "Walter Howard and I looked

at every member of the church to find one more member. I recruited

Walter because he is a true bass singer. Walter had a great desire to

sing but he was fairly tone deaf. It was evident to the rest of us

after we all started rehearsing that Walter was doing his homework.

The kind of enthusiasm that a person like Walter brings to this group

can go a long way."

Since 1995, Rorie says, "The Lord has put us in front of countless

audiences and people: we’ve sung at several places in New York City,

we met up with Tony Brown from Tony Brown’s Journal, and Susan Taylor

from Essence magazine. We’ve been blessed to be able to get our name

out there."

Rorie wrote the originals that appear on the group’s album, "Peace Be

Still," which they self-released in 2002, with the help of concert

producer and impresario Paul Kyser. Message songs are part of the mix

on the group’s album, including "He Is Coming Back," "Final Message

Says," and "God Is Love." The album closes with an instrumental

version of "He Is Coming Back" featuring pianist/ vocalist Jeffrey

Hardy.

"When we first rehearsed in the church in Newark, I immediately knew

we had something special," Rorie says, "there was just something

special about the way our voices sounded." Final Message rehearses

twice a week, on Mondays and Saturdays, Rorie says, noting that

Seventh Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath from sundown on Fridays

to sundown on Saturdays, "just like the Jewish faith."

Rorie says Final Message always starts off rehearsals and performances

with words from the Scriptures, with each group member "relating

stories on how the Lord has blessed us in the last week."

Final Message’s live shows are a mix of traditional spiritual tunes

and their originals. "You’ve got to do traditionals in the world of

gospel music," Rorie says, "so that the people have something they can

relate to, a point of reference. With all of our original songs, we

try to relate that last day message," he says, "because we believe

that a lot of people who won’t come to a regular church service will

come to one of our concerts. So we let Christ do the drawing of the

crowd for us." (Seventh Day Adventists believe Christ will return to

the Earth.)

Final Message’s blend of spirituals and contemporary gospel songs, as

well as clever originals thrown in to the mix, helped them them win

first place in a gospel talent search conducted by the Lumzy Sisters

of New Brunswick at the United Workshop Program held in New Brunswick

in June, 2004. "It was an all-evening marathon," Rorie recalls, "and I

thought we were just going there to audition for the founder of Malaco

Records, who we knew would be there. I had no idea it was supposed to

be a gospel competition, and there were 15 or 20 groups. We got a

phone call later that evening saying we had won first place in the

competition."

The group did a short tour of Spain last summer. The members had no

expectations because of language barriers, Rorie says. "We didn’t

think we could do all that well in Spain, yet we played to many packed

houses. Many of these people didn’t understand English that well, but

they let us know they really loved the music! So it let us know that

God is in control, because we were so well received everywhere we

went. We plan to do the same at the New Jersey Folk Festival. We plan

on delivering a variety of songs so everyone can get a taste and feel

for God’s message. Many people just love the old spirituals, some

people like the more contemporary gospel. We plan on giving the people

a taste of everything."

Since forming in 1995, Rorie says the members of Final Message "have

paid our dues and then some. But the Lord has blessed us as well. He’s

opened some doors for us I never thought we would get through."

Final Message, New Jersey Folk Festival, Saturday, April

30, at noon on the Shore Stage; and at 2:50 p.m. on the Skylands

Stage, Douglass College campus, Route 18 and George Street, New

Brunswick. Free. 732-932-5775.

Top Of Page
New Jersey Folk Festival Schedule

This year’s festival commemorates 100 years of Norwegian independence,

with performances by Norwegian folk dancers and musicians – even

Norwegian storytellers and a woodcutter.

Skylands Stage: At 9:40 a.m. Frank Watson; Scottish bagpipes and

invocation; color guard, U.S. Navy; 10 a.m., The Otters; 10:50 a.m.,

Norwegian Folk Dancers; 11:30 a.m., Virago; 12:15 p.m., awards and

acknowledgments; 12:35 p.m., Joe Glazer, labor songs; 1:15 p.m., Sugar

Sand Ramblers; 2:10 p.m., Norwegian Folk Dancers; 2:50 p.m., Final

Message; 3:40 p.m., Sonja Savig; 4:30 p.m., Daughters of Scandinavia;

5:10 p.m., Princeton Contra Dancers with Fire Hazard and caller Janet

Mills

Shore Stage: At 10:30 a.m., Sugar Sand Ramblers; 11:20 a.m.; Bob

Norman; noon, Final Message; 12:45 p.m., the Otters; 1:35 p.m,. Joy of

Rhythm by Virago; 2:25 p.m., Scandinavian Delight.

New Folk Showcase (on the Shore Stage): At 3:15 p.m., Rev. Truman

Goines; 3:40 p.m., Bernard Sarkissian; 4:05 p.m., Eric Erickson; 4:30

p.m., Ronnie Brandt; 4:55 p.m., Ryan Bleck; 5:20 p.m., Roger Deitz.

Pinelands Stage: At 10:30 a.m., Musical tribute to Pete Seeger with

Pete Curry, Spook Handy; 11:05 a.m., Folk Tales from British Isles and

Norway with Kati Brower; 11:40 a.m., Folk Blues Workshop led by Craig

Sonnenfeld; 12:15 p.m., Spook Handy; 12:50 p.m., Norwegian Legend:

"Terje Vigen" with Sonja Savig and Mara Hansen; 1:35 p.m., Norwegian

calendar: Primstav, woodcarver Al Miller; 2 p.m., Tales of Viking Life

with Deb Calloway and Mara Hansen.

Also, at 2:35 p.m., Songs of Love and Loss with Craig Sonnenfeld ;3:10

p.m., Songs of the American Dream with Joe Glazer; 3:45 p.m. , The

Devil’s Fiddle Tunes, Daughters of Scandinavia; 4:20 p.m., Songs of

New Jersey, Bob Norman, Jim Albertson, Pete Curry, Mick Schmidt, Jim

Sweet, Milton Kennedy; 5:20 p.m., Sounds of Norway: Scandinavia

Delight with Erik-Hans Vagen, Norman Burbank.

New Jersey, Bob Norman, Jim Albertson, Pete Curry, Mick Schmidt, Jim

Sweet, Milton Kennedy; 5:20 p.m., Sounds of Norway: Scandinavia

Delight with Erik-Hans Vagen, Norman Burbank.


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