Birmingham Sunlights — from left

Birmingham Sunlights — from left

WEEKEND: Performers bring euphonic heritage to Centrum stage

PORT TOWNSEND — It’s not that the Birmingham Sunlights want to shine their music down on the listener.

It’s much more, said Sunlight James Taylor, that “we want to share it with people. We would like to share the roots of American popular music: Southern gospel and Negro spirituals.”

The Sunlights, a five-man ensemble from Birmingham, Ala., are here as teachers in Centrum’s Voice Works workshops this week, and then, once school is out, to headline the final concert Saturday night. That event has a long title: “Roots and Branches of American Singing: From the Secular to the Sacred.”

The name fits. The Birmingham Sunlights are one part of a lineup of musicians from all over this continent. Yvette Landry from Breaux Bridge, La., Pharis and John Romero from Horsefly, B.C.; Pacific Northwesterners Caleb Klauder and Laurel Bliss; John Lilly from Charleston, W.Va., and Riley Baugus from North Carolina are all part of the show.

The “Roots and Branches” concert will start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at McCurdy Pavilion, the big hall at Fort Worden, 200 Battery Way. Tickets are $20 for reserved seating, while those 18 and younger get in free. More details are at and 800-746-1982.

Taylor offered a couple of hints about the Birmingham Sunlights set. It will include “It’s Gonna Rain,” a kind of “traditional rap song,” in his words, plus “Handwriting on the Wall,” a Bible-inspired song about how God can always come down and address those who “misuse some of his tools and wares.”

The Sunlights sing a cappella because their Church of Christ has never allowed musical instruments. And the singers don’t miss them.

“Like Quincy Jones said, [we] ‘bring it from the hip pocket,’” added Taylor.

His mother and father and all four grandparents sang in gospel groups. Together with his brothers Barry and Steve Taylor, he founded the Birmingham Sunlights in 1978. The ensemble has sung all over the Americas and in foreign lands including South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho, Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti. Four years ago, the Sunlights were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship.

Taylor, 62, has been singing since he was 4 years old. He proudly added that the Sunlights now include Brandon Taylor, his brother Barry’s son. Another group of offspring is coming up, too: the Sons of the Sunlights, composed of their 12- to 15-year-old sons and grandsons.

To those who have not heard much gospel singing, Taylor said: “Come and learn,” and let your heart hear. Let the music do what it does.

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