It was one of the highlights of the royal wedding. A gospel version of Stand By Me changed the life of choir leader Karen Gibson and, she believes, marked a cultural shift in Britain.
With her luxuriant silver curls pinned to the top of her head, the Londoner is instantly recognisable for anyone who watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, and she is getting used to the attention.
“I have had people screaming at me from the car window,” Gibson told Reuters during a break in rehearsals with the Kingdom Choir.
“I do get stopped every time I go down the road - photos being taken - sometimes they’re trying to pap you (take paparazzi photos) on the sly when they think you’re not looking. It’s beautiful!”
The performance at Windsor Castle has been a massive boost for the choir: “I physically cannot even keep up with the emails and the messages - requests for interview and tours and weddings.” But it was also part of a cultural shift as a woman of colour married into the very top of British society - showcasing a part of black culture in what was once a very white establishment.
“Maybe it’s a big ask for one song from one choir,” Gibson said.
“What you have seen from the wedding is the coming together of two different cultures. I feel like there’s been a shift, I do.”
After the wedding, a mother told her that her four-year-old daughter watching the choir had said: “Look mummy — there’s people like me.” “
I didn’t realise that was still a thing for children that young in 2018,” Gibson said.
For many viewers, the choir, and an impassioned sermon by Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, countered the stiff decorum expected of such a formal occasion. But Gibson says she and her singers had to rein in their usual exuberance.
“Normally with that kind of message, we would be joining in [with the sermon]. As black, Pentecostal folk there will be the amens and hallelujahs. I could see them twitching,” she said of the choir members.
“They were wanting to move and we couldn’t. We just had to hold it all down.”