Gospel stories

God’s Trying to Tell You Something

Actor David Whitfield tries to convince two slaves to flee north with Sojourner Truth in <i>God’s Trying to Tell You Something</i>.

Actor David Whitfield tries to convince two slaves to flee north with Sojourner Truth in God’s Trying to Tell You Something.

A light-hearted musical about slavery and racism may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Delilah Rashell Williams insists that it’s possible. She should know, since she’s written, directed and produced one. God’s Trying to Tell You Something, a benefit production for local at-risk youth, will play at the Silver Legacy for one show only on Aug. 13.

“It gives you the singing, the dancing, the music, the acting,” says Williams of her musical, which has been around for more than 20 years. “You cry, you laugh—it’s one of those shows that’s just full.”

The topics it addresses are serious, and the first half of the show has a darker tone, explains Williams. “We go into slavery—the auction block, the master that sells the little girl with the mother crying, and songs portraying the grief and the faith,” she says. “We do old gospel standards like ‘Kumbaya,’ in the African tongue, as well as the American tongue. Then we visit Harriet Tubman, who comes to take the slaves to freedom, so you get to hear about the underground railroad and how many slaves she was able to free.” Other notable historical figures, such as Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, also make appearances.

But things brighten up after the intermission. “The second half is more light-hearted,” says Williams. “We visit the church and talk about the tensions between uppity people, bourgeois people, and down-to-earth people. We pay homage to people who influenced theater, like Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr.”

Williams wrote the musical in 1986, while she was living in Anchorage, Alaska. “There’s not a lot to do in Anchorage if you don’t hunt and fish,” she says with a laugh. “I was approached by someone who wanted me to help with a show for church, and then they would say, ‘This is great, can you write a little more?’ But they kept coming back and coming back. Then I got involved in this [production] and said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.'”

Encouraged by a strong positive response from audiences, Williams took her show on the road to the lower 48 states, complementing the touring cast with local performers in each city. “The entire show is anchored by a five-piece band,” she explains, “and we normally use a local choir in each city that also shares the stage.”

Although the show has its roots in the gospel tradition, Williams says people of all faiths and backgrounds can enjoy its message. “There’s no preaching; you just hear our story told in song,” she explains. “It’s for people of all races, colors and ages. It’s very spiritual, very warm and reaffirms our faith in God—that if He can bring us through slavery, He can bring us through anything.”

Proceeds from the show will benefit Ambassador Production Outreach, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youth. The organization provides after-school programs, tutoring and other social activities aimed at getting kids off the streets and offering them positive alternatives. This is the largest fundraising effort in Ambassador’s 18-year history. That makes this one musical that can provide a lot of happy endings.