Grammy-Winning Gospel Choir Jubilation Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Kasi McCoy
Rev. Stefanie Minatee

Founder Rev. Stefanie Minatee reunites with group that has worked with Queen Latifah, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Jeff Beck and more.

It’s fitting that Black Music Month provides the backdrop for Rev. Dr. Stefanie R. Minatee’s full-circle career moment. After suffering a debilitating stroke in 2015, the founder and artistic director of Jubilation is reuniting with the Grammy Award-winning gospel choir for a 20th anniversary celebration concert.

The gala takes place Saturday (June 22) at the choir’s longtime home, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) -- the first time Minatee has performed on that stage since her stroke.

“God kept me here for a purpose,” says Minatee, who spent 18 months in bed during her recuperation. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be alive and still minister. Most stroke victims can’t talk or move, but he spared me. And I want to share with the world what he’s done.”

Jubilation has done quite a lot musically since Minatee -- who also taught music education for more than 30 years in New Jersey’s public schools -- was asked to form a choir for the newly built NJPAC in 1998. After auditioning 300 singers, she chose 120 charter members that included her dear friend Rita Owens, the mother of Queen Latifah.

An early one-off gig to perform in concert with gospel legend Shirley Caesar has since morphed into a diverse run for Jubilation. The group’s list of collaborations includes gospel stars such as Kurt Carr, Donnie McClurkin and Albertina Walker as well as Ray Charles, Jeff Beck, Isaac Hayes, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Loggins and other secular luminaries. Jubilation won a Grammy after being featured with Latifah on the 2009 compilation album, Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration, and also sang behind her at the 2010 Super Bowl. That's not counting five world tours over the course of the group's career.

Both Latifah and Warwick serve as honorary chairs for the Jubilation reunion concert. Warwick recently appeared with group members on ABC’s Good Morning America to perform the classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” It’s one of two songs, featuring Jubilation and Minatee’s vocal arrangements, that appear on the R&B/pop pioneer’s 2019 album, She’s Back.

Of teaming musically with Jubilation over the years and the forthcoming gala, Warwick says, “I’m proud of having the pleasure of working with them. And to be able to return to where it all started in celebration will be a wonderful experience.”

Latifah, whose mom Owens will be honored at the gala, also performed with Jubilation on the song “Spirit” at the 2011 U.S. Open. In a gala promo clip, Latifah talks about her charter member mom (“She loved singing with Jubilation and I loved watching”) and pays tribute to the group. “For the last 20 years … they’ve been changing the hearts and souls of people all over the world,” she notes.

Jubilation will perform songs from its six-album catalog as well as its new single, “It’s All About You.” Both testimony and inspiration, the track marks the first time that Minatee has written and recorded since her stroke. “I’m talking on the single as I couldn’t sing the way I wanted to,” she says. “But it’s a blessing.”

Past and present Jubilation members from as far as California are flying in for the reunion gala. Minatee expects more than 100 singers will be onstage singing with her once again. “This is going to be Jubilation at its finest,” she promises. “This will be history.”