Niles church to host Billy Shelton for Black History Month benefit concert

Published 11:21 am Thursday, February 3, 2022

NILES — A local church and an iconic musician are teaming up to bring the community together.

Michiana Christian Embassy, 1922 E. Main St., Niles, is gearing up to host “Looking Back and Moving Forward: A Celebration of Overcoming”, a benefit concert featuring Billy Shelton and The Spaniels Forever at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19. The concert is free and open to the public.

The Spaniels Forever is an R&B and doo-wop group consisting of band members Patrick Pitre, Fred Dubose, Phil Ratliff, Daniel Porter and Billy Shelton, who is the only original member of the band. The Spaniels formed in the late 1940s in Gary, Indiana, and are best known for their 50s hits “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite” and “Baby It’s You.”

After disbanding in 1970, The Spaniels were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the New York UGHA Hall of Fame and the Boston Symphony Hall of Fame before returning as The Spaniels Forever.

“Shelton is a remarkable person,” said Pastor Jeffrey Whittaker. “He has stories of performing during the Jim Crow era and Civil Rights movement. He’s incredibly hopeful; he never went into bitterness. He forgave people as they did something to him. He’s always strived to reach people with his music.”

The event will also feature a presentation from Will and Brenda Beadenkopf of the Underground Railroad Museum. Brenda’s father, Quaker activist and nonviolence expert Charlie Walker, worked in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King and others.

For Whittaker, putting on an event of this nature is both a fun and educational way to celebrate Black History Month.

“We want to be very deliberate,” Whittaker said. “With the things we are battling now, here are these people that really walked it out.”

Regional rescue and redemption agencies including the Michigan Abolitionist Project, Michigan Gateway Community Foundation and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Michigan will also be in attendance.

“We plan to fill the lobby with these proactive agencies,” Whittaker said. “We’re trying to ‘keep it now and keep it future’. We’re going to do it now and together.”

If successful, the event is something Whittaker hopes to continue in the future and mentioned possible programming ideas as well as the possibility of establishing a scholarship contest.

“It’s a networking thing,” he said. “I want to make this an annual thing. We’re just trying to be visionary, not reactionary.”

Readers interested in learning more about the event can contact MCE at (269)-683-3518.