Newark’s Jubilation Choir Celebrates 20 Years of Grammy-Worthy Gospel

New Jersey’s most decorated community choir will perform June 22 at NPAC.

The 75-member Jubilation Choir includes members from as far away as Virginia. They’ve sung alongside the likes of Dionne Warwick and Ray Charles. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy

There’s a reason Newark’s Grammy-winning Jubilation Choir has sung alongside heavy hitters including Dionne Warwick, Queen Latifah and the late Ray Charles. Those who buy a ticket to the gospel group’s 20th anniversary show June 22 at NJPAC won’t leave wondering what that reason might be, says the Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee, Jubilation’s founder and artistic director.

The Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee founded the choir in 1999. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy

“When you see Jubilation, you see the sincerity on people’s faces, and you hear the soul in their voices,” says Minatee, a Newark native who lives in Union. “Even if it’s a secular song they’re singing, you’re going to hear that they actually feel the message of the music.” 

Jubilation’s reputation as New Jersey’s most decorated community choir dates to 1999, when Minatee, known to all as Rev. Stef, auditioned more than 300 singers from the tristate area for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at NJPAC. She selected 120 from that group, including Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens. The group went on to sing that year with Shirley Caesar, another gospel giant. In 2002, Jubilation was tapped as the choir on Ray Charles Celebrates: A Gospel Christmas Album. In 2010, the choir earned a Grammy with Latifah and other artists for a track on the compilation album Oh Happy Day. In between, there were gigs with the likes of Isaac Hayes and tours to places like Japan. This year, Jubilation joined Warwick for a pair of songs on an as-yet-unnamed forthcoming album by the 78-year-old Orange native.

Despite the lofty credentials, the now 75-member choir, with members from as far away as Virginia, has stayed humble, says Minatee. At the anniversary show, they will offer a tribute to Owens, who died in 2018, and present a scholarship to a deserving young artist from a historically black college or university. Latifah may attend, says Minatee, and honorary chairpersons, including gospel great Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney) and Warwick, as well as Governor Phil Murphy, may also appear.  

“This will be a time for celebration,” says Minatee, who is still recovering from a stroke she suffered in 2015. “We’re grateful to God for all of it.”

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