Total Experience Gospel Choir (Courtesy Photo)

Islander shares three decades of inspiration

It was 1988, and the second annual Seattle AIDS Walk was about to begin, but not before the Total Experience Gospel Choir serenaded the walkers. Islander Larry Flynn was there, and hearing the choir sing led to almost three decades of inspiration and friendship with the group’s director, Pat Wright, and multiple Vashon concerts.

Wright is set to retire this year, but before she does, she and the choir will perform a final concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Vashon Island Community Church on Flynn’s invitation.

“The choir’s job was to sing us into a good mood for the miles we were going to walk through the streets of Seattle to raise money for the Northwest AIDS Foundation,” Flynn recalled. “After I heard Pat sing, I went over to her and asked if she would come to Vashon. She agreed.”

Flynn said it took a couple of years to produce the first concert, but “the rest has been 26 years of joy in the organization of these shows.” He chose Seattle’s Bailey-Boushay House, which cares for people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening conditions, as the recipient of funds generated by the concerts because, he said, resources to combat AIDS were scarce in the early years of the epidemic.

The Total Experience Gospel Choir (TEGC) began in 1973, when Wright started the group as a gospel music class at Seattle’s Franklin High School. Since then, the choir’s reputation has grown nationally and internationally. Over the years, the choir has also integrated, but always maintained Wright at the helm. Flynn said that one of Wright’s regular performances takes place in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief, and at the same time, he said with obvious delight, “She tells me that she’s happy to sing for Vashon as long as Larry wants us to come out here.”

Flynn is inspired by the choir’s dedication to “spreading the Gospel through music.”

“Their songs take us away from the affairs of our daily lives and lift us up to a place of joy and peace,” he said. “I enjoy hearing them each and every time they sing.”

Flynn also sings the praises of Wright and her commitment to helping others.

“In addition to worship in song, Pat is a ‘mother’ to a lot of children who might otherwise end up on the streets doing crime,” Flynn said. “She has cared for many of her family, as well as her friends who aren’t able to care for their own children. I have always loved those who take the love of Christ out of their heart and into the streets. The streets can be your home or your next door neighbor’s or (anyone’s). She is a powerful woman.”

Meanwhile, Flynn is no slouch in terms of helping others. The concert series is one of four events he’s been participating in to help others over the past quarter century. For 17 years, he worked with the Chicken Soup Brigade, three years with Sci-Fi Saturday, and for three years he has ridden with AIDS Life Cycle, a seven-day, 545-mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“Serving those in need is truly a reward in and of itself,” Flynn said.

Perhaps Flynn’s greatest passion is to educate youth about AIDS.

“I begin each show with a story about how far life goes wrong when kids shed their virginity and don’t observe rules, which leads to a life full of consequences,” he said. “I use my experiences with AIDS to help them see that consequences can be far worse than Mom and Dad’s edicts.”

In 1991, Flynn founded a nonprofit called “Shade for the Children.” He said Shade is a reminder to use common sense in a “reckless world” because “after 35+ years of AIDS being around, it isn’t anything to mess with.”

Flynn chose the name for his organization from the eponymous contemporary gospel tune by Steven Camp that praises the axiom knowledge is power.

“By arming our children, as it were, with the dangers of the world, they are ready for life’s battles,” Flynn said. “I took (the song’s) meaning to a motto level: Making a difference in an indifferent world.”

Tickets are by donation at the door.

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