Singing in gospel choirs is a favorite pastime for Francia Scott.
The legal secretary for the Tampa Police Department has sung for years in the choir of her church, New Mount Zion Baptist. Scott also is a longtime member of the Tampa chapter of the famed Gospel Workshop of America, an organization founded in 1967 by the legendary Rev. James Cleveland to showcase choral talent.
"Music for African-Americans goes back (hundreds of years) and that's what we had to get over," she said. "For me, it's uplifting and helps me through hard times."
But Scott hesitated when she was approached last month to join a newly formed choir composed of city employees.
"At first, I thought I was too busy," she said. "Then I got phone calls from co-workers who know that I sing. (Their persuading) helped me change my mind."
Now, Scott is part of a group set to make history at the city of Tampa's 25th Annual Black History Celebration. Made up of 30 city employees from various departments, the choir is the first of its kind, said founder and coordinator Regina Lock-DePass.
This year's program will spotlight the accomplishments of city employees and will feature Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Council member Frank Reddick. Rod Carter, news anchor for WFLA-TV Ch. 8, will emcee the event.
Lock-DePass, an insurance and benefits supervisor, said she came up with the idea of the gospel choir after learning that the city's black history program was reaching a milestone year, but was unsure that the choir would catch on with other employees.
Her phone began ringing shortly after a notice to recruit singers was released — and she knew her idea was a hit.
Choir members aren't looking for fame or to impress their co-workers, but instead to inspire the audience, said Lock-DePass.
"It's a group that wanted to see something different and to bless the people," she said.
On a recent night on the city's east side, the choir's harmony fills the sanctuary at Victory Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
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It's the last rehearsal before today's performance. After a spirited run-through of Awesome, director Steve Marshall cautions members — a few whom have never performed in a choir — to preserve their voices and offers them some words of encouragement.
"If he's awesome to you . . . it'll come out," he said.
Over the course of an hour, the group claps and sways to the rhythm while smoothly belting out a medley of five gospel songs, including God Is Great and The Lord is Blessing Me. Voices blend together as if they have been singing together for years.
The truth is that Monday's rehearsal was just the fourth time they'd ever gathered, said Lock-DePass.
Connecting well with new voices in just a few weeks was a learning experience, Scott said.
"I have a strong voice, so I try to help the others to harmonize," she said.
Thomas Hester, a project architect in the city's contract administration department, said he isn't surprised at how quickly the group jelled.
"Most of the time when you have people coming together for one purpose, it goes well," he said.
Keeping the choir intact after today's performance is up to its members, Lock-DePass said.
"If they want to still sing, we'll keep singing," she said.