Gospel music and greenhouse lilies at Forest Hills Cemetery

Photo by Anne Hwang
The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers will perform at Forest Hills Cemetery’s Forsyth Chapel on March 25.

As a boy, Deacon Randy Green “had to pick cotton for 50 cents a day,” he recalls. He left Alabama “running, because walking was too slow.” He made his way to Boston where, after World War II, he formed a gospel group in Roxbury and hasn’t stopped singing since.

The group—the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers—is still going strong after 65 years, raising audiences to their feet with an old-time, toe-tapping, heart-lifting sound. Their a cappella singing, full of call and response, is rightly called “jubilee.” It’s a beautiful style that starts out slow and builds rhythm upon rhythm.

Now 85 years old, Randy Green will bring the Silver Leafs to Jamaica Plain for a rare concert in Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery on Sun., March 25 at 4 pm. Building on the celebratory nature of their music, the Forest Hills Educational Trust will open the cemetery’s historic greenhouses before the concert for a festive early taste of spring. The greenhouses, open from 2 to 3:30 p.m., will be filled with hundreds of fragrant lilies, which will be available for purchase.

For this Forest Hills performance, Deacon Green has recruited two young “apprentices” from his church choir. The older men in the group are indeed carriers of living history as well as moving musicians.

“The first time I heard these guys, I just couldn’t believe it,” said New Hampshire radio producer Kerry Seed. “There’s something primal and deeply human about hearing these old voices that have traveled through so much adversity in their lifetimes sing with joy and conviction here and now.”

The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers won the New England Conservatory’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, and Deacon Green still wakes up in the night sometimes with words to a new song running through his head. He gets up and writes them down for the Silver Leafs to perform.

Concert tickets are $15 ($12 for members of the trust). Forest Hills Cemetery is located at 95 Forest Hills Ave. For more information and advance tickets, call 625-3354.

Submitted by Forest Hills Educational Trust.

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