agrees."Anywhere you go at a gospel music conference, you can always tell the choirs from the South," she
says."It's a special sound."Downs-Dorsey
has, more than most, had to think on her
feet since Katrina; she
does double duty as choir director at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church
-- which reopened for Mass on Easter Sunday -- and as director of the student gospel choir at McDonogh No. 35 High School
on Kerlerec Street, her
alma mater.McDonogh No. 35's
student choir has performed in the Gospel Tent
for nearly 30 years, and Downs-Dorsey
wasn't going to let this be their first year as absentees.
Leading a student choir presented some special hurdles for Downs-Dorsey
, as her
school reopened in January, with Jazz Fest booking already underway.No. 35 was the third public school to open its doors in New Orleans, after McMain High School
and Ben Franklin Elementary.The temporary open-enrollment policy meant she
was seeing a lot of new faces (and voices) -- and many of her
trusted student singers weren't back.
"Only 30 percent of our students were back, and only 20 percent of my choir was back," she
To fill up her
daughter, Veronique, who entered No. 35 as a freshman in January. ("These are all the schools I've been to this year," says Veronique, showing four laminated school IDs)
"Kids are the best P.R.," Downs-Dorsey
For this Fest, Downs-Dorsey
is also sticking to classic songs that her
former students know, in case they'll be able to return in time for the show.Once No. 35 returns to a college-prep curriculum, new students will be able to test in if they want to stay.
The pull of the choir, Downs-Dorsey
agrees, is powerful.One singer with the St. Peter Claver choir commutes from Jackson, Miss., to rehearse."I'm glad," she
says, that the Gospel Tent lineup this year focuses on local acts.