On the African American Heritage Music Trail With Aquanetta Ferry Godmother

Posted in Uncategorized | Last Updated April 6, 2020

American History: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newburgh


You’d be hard put to find a more historically significant place in the Hudson Valley to stage an African American Musical Heritage concert than at the A.M.E. Zion Church located at 111 Washington Street, in Newburgh’s East End Historic District.

A.M.E. Zion, Newburgh, was established in 1827, and was directly related to the breakaway African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of New York.

New York Methodist Pastors at the John Street Church, in New York, permitted segregation of their black Methodist parishioners, who having embraced Methodism only a few decades prior, were forced to wait for the sacraments and to stand at the back of the church during service

To put it mildly, these congregants were understandably disgruntled and broke off to form their own churches, finally electing James Varick (born coincidentally in Newburgh) Bishop and launching the A.M.E. Zion sect in 1822.

A little background: John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman, broke with the Church of England and formed the Methodist Church. He was a foe of slavery, and he baptized slaves who then became active in Methodist Churches in the United States, particularly in Philadelphia.

Once Bishop Varick formalized the church, which was not a schismatic church based on doctrine, but rather a breakaway church owing to race, he helped unify other regional black Methodist churches.

In Newburgh, the church was formalized in 1827 by the Reverend George Mathews, as elsewhere, the congregation gathered in a variety of places until funds could be raised to build a church and in 1833, a lot was purchased and a church was built.

The A.M.E. Zion church was also known as The Freedom Church, and could boast members such as Frederick Douglas, the abolitionist, who visited A.M.E. Zion in Newburgh to rejoice in 1870 when slavery was effectively ended and voting rights given to black men.

Aquanetta Ferry Godmother

No surprise, then, that the impresario “Ferry Godmother,” of Ferry Godmother productions picked A.M.E. Zion, Newburgh as the location to kick off her series the “African American Heritage Music Trail.”

Aquanetta “Ferry Godmother,” is a self described “marketer” who works tirelessly as a kind of one woman tourism and arts promoter on behalf of the city and people of Newburgh to create cultural events (since 2005) that raise awareness about the City, it’s rich history, beautiful location, and impressive architecture, especially in the Historic District.

In particular, she runs a diverse summer musical series, featuring jazz, pop, and gospel on the banks of the Hudson in Newburgh, notably near the Ferry Landing, hence her name.

Each year Newburghers enjoy family-friendly concerts staged on the waterfront in Newburgh, with the Hudson as a backdrop, framed by mountains.

The free events are underwritten by corporations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield.


The June 15th Concert, an incredible evening of Gospel and Jazz

Saturdays event was billed as a fund raiser for Ferry Godmother’s Heritage Music Circuit, and at $35 a ticket was a steal for the talent on offer.

The first act featured performers from Harlem’s Convent Avenue Baptist Church, a prestigious church in Harlem   and it did a marvelous job of offering an audible history of, not only the musical stylings of Negro spirituals, but to the listening audience an anthology of all of the music that comprises the Great American Songbook, which includes jazz, blues, and pop standards.

The choir, lead by Dr. Gregory Hopkins, who holds a PhD from Temple University, took us on a musical journey of Gospel praise music which included rhythmically varied performances where the melodies shared by the choir were punctuated by a melodic percussive framework provided by Dr. Hopkins’ piano and reinforced by the drummer’s kit.

As the choir preached, the audience responded with claps and enthusiastic applause for the truly wonderful performances.

The Tyrone Birkett Emancipation Quartet.


After intermission, an interesting history talk by Newburgh’s City Historian, Mary McTamaney, shed light on the individuality of some of the early African American residents of Newburgh.


She observedfrom an historian’s point of view, for cultural literacy, documentation of black lives in Newburgh, and the lack thereof, is a concern that needs more focus and exploration. We all need to know more about the lives of every day Newburgh citizens, as well as those who were leaders of the community, such as the Alsdorf family, she argued. 

When Tyrone Birkett took the stage,  this saxophonist, composer, producer, and music director took control of the musicians and the audience and led the audience on an exploratory journey of  late 1970’s straight-ahead jazz blended with gospel music, soul music, and Negro spirituals.

His impressive saxophone technique, powerful and controlled, complimented  the equally controlled and powerful vocals of his wife, Paula Ralph Birkett. The accompanying pianist had a clean, deep, emotional touch, and the drummer was a powerhouse supported by a more than competent bassist.

If you missed this event, be sure to look for Ferry Godmother’s upcoming musical series starting in August, as she certainly knows talent and is able to book it. You can find updates on her website: www.ferrygodmother.com.