Middle-class suburbia is not the first place people seeking the spirit and soul of a black gospel choir might look. But on a cool November evening in a suburban Chicago auditorium, about 2,000 normally sedate and proper citizens are helping themselves to a hearty offering of real soul food.

The musical feast is being served up by about 120 African-American youth ranging in age from 7 to 17. Clad in dazzling blue-and-white robes, their clapping hands, choreographed moves, and impassioned voices sing, hum, chant, and shout.

Their spirit is immediately contagious, and the suburban crowd, normally stiffened by suits and ties, is loosening up; routinely somber and reverent faces give way to smiles of joy; children and adults alike unabashedly dance in the aisles.

And, most intriguingly, at least for this evening, a cosmopolitan brew of Christians—black, white, Asian, and Hispanic—are worshiping together in a fashion that arguably could well be a primer for heaven itself

A little child shall lead them

The Soul Children of Chicago seem to have the same effect just about everywhere they go. The group’s founder, Walter Whitman, says these little children see soul as more than music and emotion—it’s a call from above.

Every Saturday morning the group gathers in a haven of sorts from the stark, inner-city woes of Chicago’s rough South Side. In the basement of Saint Sabina Church, soul may come naturally, but good music takes practice.

Mister Whitman, as he is known by his choir, darts to and fro at the front of the rehearsal hall. One moment he is teaching new choreography, the next he is plunking out a tune on the piano for the aid of his musicians, and the next he is pulling every ounce of sound out of ...

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