This week the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang a rousing, Gospel-influenced version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” heard by millions watching President Obama’s inauguration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. They “knocked it out the park!”
Over the last four decades, the choir has garnered six Grammy Awards, a host of Dove Awards, sold over 4 million CDs and released 28 albums. That’s a lot of albums!
The group of 285 singers is an amalgamation of transformed people, from corporate executives to former drug abusers. One of the most transformed members is its founder and director, Carol Cymbala, a woman who survived cancer over a decade ago and shyness throughout her youth. As a child, the Chicago native played piano and dreamed of one day leading a choir, though she didn’t like or necessarily want the spotlight. “I never wanted …the attention that comes with it,” she wrote in her 2001 book, He’s Been Faithful (Zondervan). “I never wanted to get up on stage and speak. But I’ve done it anyway.”
Cymbala’s father, the late Rev. Clair Hutchins, a former opera singer, founded The Brooklyn Tabernacle church in 1965. In 1971, Hutchins turned the church over to Cymbala’s husband, Pastor Jim Cymbala. In 1973, Carol Cymbala assembled nine voices and formed the choir that grew as the diverse congregation swelled, a reflection of the multi-ethnic New York borough.
“It’s been amazing to see changed lives glorifying the Savior who has saved and redeemed them,” Cymbala once said. “When I look at the choir with people of every race and background, I’m reminded of what heaven will be like. People from all over the world singing and praising His name for all eternity.”
An interesting aspect of the choir’s history is not only how its encouraged fans of its music and helped its members rebuild their lives with a sense of purpose but also how the helped a once bashful woman blossom into a confident, spiritually-charged leader who has conducted the ensemble at Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, on “Good Morning America” and at churches across the country.
In the early days, she backed down when singers or producers dismissed her opinions in the studio, nowadays, her years of experience and spiritual insight have equipped Cymbala for the job.
“Anyone who knows me well will tell you that today I haven’t the slightest problem asserting myself when I feel the music is heading in the wrong direction,” she also wrote in her book. But, at the end of the day, the choir’s purpose is people.
“God is love and we sing about His love,” Cymbala has said. “If the Brooklyn Tabernacle leaves a legacy of any sort, I believe it will be the story of how God has worked to change the lives of so many broken people.”
Visit www.brooklyntabernacle.org for more information on the church or choir. The new rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” can be heard at this link: