Jackson resident Mosie Burks, 77, thought she'd live a quiet existence after retirement and travel the country with her husband, but 15 years ago, she embarked on a journey that gave new spiritual meaning to the term "the golden years."
At the suggestion of Mississippi Mass Choir Music Minister Jerry Smith, Burks auditioned for a spot as a singer.
"I just really went for the heck of it," she said. "I had no notion they would choose me. I told them I felt I was of age, and I wanted young people to have the privilege of being a part of it instead."
But Burks soon began to rethink things. Shortly after being selected, she performed a song called When I Rose This Morning that topped the charts, affirming that she'd found her new calling. The lyrics are about waking up with faith that God will take care of you.
Today, some consider Burks the face of the Mississippi Mass Choir. The group released its ninth album this week called Then Sings My Soul. It contains Burks' featured song I Love to Praise Him and the album's debut single God Made Me, sung by second-generation choir member Benjamin Cone III that is now No. 16 on Billboard's Top 20 Gospel Songs chart.
"We have to keep our aims and desires on why we are singing, what we are preparing for and for whom," Burks said. "We want to lift his people so they can do his work."
The Mississippi Mass Choir was founded 22 years ago by the late Frank Williams. Choir Director Jerry Mannery said, "God has kept us relevant."
"God is still showing us favor, and we are still out on the road touring," he said.
The group has won or been nominated for every major music industry award. It has performed in Japan, Italy, the Bahamas, Greece and Spain. And in June, it will perform in South Africa. Two weeks ago, the choir sang at Jackson State University's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, and the members will appear at Beth Israel Congregation's 150th anniversary interfaith celebration in September. Their ninth album was recorded June 19, 2009, at First Baptist Church of Jackson.
"We actually did a song (God Gets the Glory) with the First Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir and their orchestra," Mannery said. "We wanted to tell about the good news of Mississippi. So many people still have old misconceptions about Mississippi, and we wanted to show that Mississippi has indeed changed. These two bodies of Christ coming together was a statement about that change."
The new album features original songs and Gospel classics.
"We are kind of like a tree," Mannery said. "Our roots are going to always be the same, but we branch out a bit."
The chart-climbing God Made Me is about valuing ourselves, he said.
"So often, we don't realize we have been wondrously made," he said. "God is our creator, and our creator 'don't make junk.' It's just a song of encouragement that all of us are important, and it encourages people to accept and know that their creator is God."
Mississippi embraced the choir 22 years ago and never let go, Mannery said.
"We truly appreciate that, and we don't take that for granted," he said. "We are vessels for Christ first and foremost, but we always realize we are ambassadors for the state of Mississippi."
The Rev. Benjamin Cone Jr., father of one of the album's featured performers, has been the choir's spiritual adviser since it was founded.
"I hope they take away that we are more than just a choir; we are children of God," he said. "God has given us a message of love for the world."
Burks found a way to share that message later in life and continues to answer the call at 77.
"Most friends my age are watching soap operas," she said. "They can't figure out how I do it, traveling all over America and the world.
"I was chosen to do this job, but you have to work at it. Studying the Word, meditating in prayer and physically working out is daily work for me, and you have to have a positive mind.
"You might think, 'I can't do it. I'm old.' Forget that. God has a reason for me being here, and I want to find out what it is."