Langston Hughes, famed Harlem Renaissance poet of the 1920s and 1930s, understood the life and struggle of someone who wants to pursue his or her artistic passions. “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose,” the poet once said.
During Hughes’s time, Harlem was called “home” by numerous creative souls who were inspired by the energy of the community in upper New York City. These were artisans who were never afraid to pursue their passions.
Eighty years later, Hughes’s notion of pursuing one’s passion rings true once more with an innovative and refreshing venue in Harlem by the name of Gospel Uptown, also known as GU Harlem. Veteran Harlem real estate developer Joseph H. Holland combined his passions for the arts, music and commercial development by creating Gospel Uptown, the new entertainment center in Harlem.
Gospel Uptown is a state-of-the-art, chic venue serving the Harlem community with delicious soul food-fusion fare and the best performing artists, both independent and established, in New York City. “My vision was always to do something that was a destination for the community and the visitors who come to Harlem from around the world,” Holland says. “Gospel Uptown intends not only to create new opportunities for employment and creativity, but also to take the commercial resurgence of Harlem to new levels of culinary, cultural and spiritual expression.”
Holland’s partner in this trailblazing venture is Chef Kenneth Collins. Inspired by the culinary mastery and creativity of his grandmothers in Dallas, Texas, Collins is pursuing his own passions with Gospel Uptown. An experienced chef and businessman, he creates exciting menu combinations of healthy Southern cuisines that are pleasing to the eye and welcoming to the palate. “GU’s healthful soul-fusion cuisine ventures beyond the traditional soul food items to bring Asian, Latin and Italian accents to Southern fare executed with health-conscious ingredients and preparations,” explains Chef Collins.
Tying together the venue’s upscale atmosphere and tantalizing cuisine is a roster of high-caliber performing artists who grace the stage at Gospel Uptown. The 500-seat space hosts live jazz, weekend gospel brunches, open mic nights and variety shows. From WLIB’s Liz Black’s Gospel Variety Show and K. Lamonte’s Gift Soul Showcase to solo vocalists like crooner Gordon Chambers and American Idol’s Anwar Robinson, the entertainment presented at Gospel Uptown never disappoints the venue’s guests.
Holland and Collins say that their “ultimate goal is to position Gospel Uptown to become the gospel music version of the Hard Rock Café.” They envision Gospel Uptown Harlem as a hot spot in the northern reaches of the city that attracts tourists, churchgoers and locals alike, “be-coming both spur and symbol of Harlem’s second Renaissance,” and helping to redeem dreams long deferred through its emphasis on community empowerment.
For today’s creative souls who perform on its stage, Gospel Uptown is clearly delivering on that vision. Upcoming events include GU’s Comedy Uptown Live, March 10; K. Lamont’s Gifted Showcase, March 16; George Sykes & Band, March 14; Liz Black’s Gospel Variety Show, March 21; and GU’s Turnstyle Sundays, March 28.