CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Kimble Sherwood was practically raised in a choir loft. He joined his first choir at the age of eight, practising four times a week. By the time he grew up, he was lead vocalist of the internationally acclaimed Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.
As a young man, however, he wasn’t sure he could make a living at it. For seven years, he worked odd construction jobs. But his love of gospel music kept tugging him back.
“The music was still calling me,” he said.
Sherwood has shared his passion with generations of Montrealers ever since, as Men’s Gospel Choir director at the Union United Church, and as the founding director of the People’s Gospel Choir of Montreal.
Thirty years after its founding, the People’s Gospel Choir is still going strong. The choir has performed for audiences large and small, at the Governor General’s Awards and the Montreal International Jazz Festival, even winning a 2004 Vibe Award for its recording Live at St. James United Church.
“It’s a music that is heartfelt,” Sherwood said. “It soothes, soothes the heart. It allows you to reminisce and to think of the good times.”
Sherwood said he’s had plenty of those good times, from performing in all-Black casts of Broadway shows and singing alongside the likes of Patti LaBelle, the Neville Brothers, Charlie Biddle and Oliver Jones.
“But Nelson Mandela is right up there at the top,” he said.
Just four months after he was released from prison in South Africa in 1990, the hero of the anti-apartheid movement paid a visit to Canada, deciding at the last minute to include Montreal on his itinerary. Mandela went to Union United Church to attend a service.
Sherwood, in charge of that choir at the time, was tasked with preparing the music.
“When I got to the church, people were all in the streets because they couldn’t fit,” he recalled. “They had speakers coming out of the church.”
“When he walked in, and the aura that we felt about this man — that was special.”
Sherwood, who is also a teacher at the Lester B. Pearson School Board, has packed a lot in to his nearly seven decades of life. But much of it wouldn’t have been possible had he not followed his heart and pursued music.
“If you go to sleep with it and it still burns, and you wake up and it’s still in your mind, if that’s you, you need to pursue it,” he said. “Because that’s what God put in you to do.”
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.