Five to Life, the local gospel group, was singing on the street in front of Empire Brewery, Ron Mason remembers, as part of the Armory Square Association’s Saturdays for Christmas line-up, when Frank Malfitano and his daughter walked by. “They were shopping,” Mason says, “and we asked him if we could audition for Jazzfest on the spot. He really liked our style, and the idea of spirituality for the festival. And there was some discussion, actually, of our style of music-from street corner harmonies through Quincy Jones to jazz,”
“I hadn’t seen them in awhile,” Malfitano recalls. “We ran into them and they broke into the Impressions’ It’s Alright. I asked them on the spot. Nothing’s an accident. Nothing’s a coincidence. I’m really thrilled about it because they’re so special. They’re as good as anyone in the country. Their appearance is overdue. We’ve had great local acts like the Black Lites and J Project, but we need to make the effort to have more.”
The encounter was characteristic for the group, with new members connecting in a Burger King or a barber shop as easily as in church. The group’s leader, Wesley Hampton cites the experience as a fellowship, “Fellows on the same ship.” Mason adds that the fellows want a uniform look on stage, tracing roots back to the Soul Searchers, the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Five Blind Boys. Traditionally, they find that uniform look at Bergan Brothers.
James Robinson, an original member of the 21 year old group, currently a quartet, which has performed as much with three or four member as with five, observes, “Everything you hear today comes from gospel: Take Six, r’n’b, even Elvis Presley. We may have a couple of new songs, but we’re not going to change up because it’s Jazzfest. We will, however, be adding a couple of voices from the past.” The group will perform Saturday, July 6, from 5 to 6 p.m.