A search for the best church choir in America has begun, and choirs from as small as six members to as large as 100 are being encouraged to join in the competition.
"'How Sweet the Sound, The Search for the Best Church Choir in America' is the only nationwide, community-focused celebration of its kind," tout organizers of the annual competition, first launched by Verizon Wireless in 2007. "And not only will you get to sing in front of all your peers, but you could win up to $50K for your choir. 50K! That's something to sing about right there."
The grand finale winners of last year's competition, Acme Missionary Baptist Church from Chicago, took home $25,000, which their pastor, Bernard Sutton, said would help build the congregation a new sanctuary.
The 10 other choirs that were selected to compete in the finale in Atlanta, meanwhile, each took home a part of another $25,000 in cash and prizes.
But more than a competition, "How Sweet the Sound" is a celebration of a genre that has contributed economically, culturally, socially and spiritually to the nation and to the world.
"How Sweet the Sound is an opportunity to celebrate the unique ways that music connects people," says Mike Lanman, vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless. "Gospel is a genre that attracts people from all walks of life which is what makes this competition so exciting. We look forward to meeting and recognizing the many volunteers who make church choirs such an important part of the community."
To participate, a choir must be a tax-exempt religious organization or affiliated with one and be located in one of the 11 cities that the "How Sweet The Sound" tour will stop by. Each participant must also be 18 years of age or older.
Once a choir has registered online at www.howsweetthesound.com , they will need to submit a video no longer than three minutes in DVD, Mini DV, or VHS format that shows the choir singing a song from the approved song list for How Sweet The Sound 2009. Choirs can either submit the video by mail or drop it off at a participating Verizon Wireless Communications stores. Videos can also be uploaded online.
Once all videos have been submitted, judges will then choose the top 16 choirs, and invite people to log on to www.howsweetthesound.com to vote for their favorites.
The top eight choirs - four small (6-35 performers) and four large (36-100 performers) - will then go on to perform in the live regional event, where four winners (two small, two large) will be selected to win $10,000.
One overall winner will also be selected to win a Verizon Wireless handset and $50 gift card for each choir member and perform at the grand finale event where they can win up to $25,000.
An additional $5,000 will also go to the choir that wins the Verizon Wireless V CAST People's Choice Award.
Returning this year to host "How Sweet the Sound" is award-winning gospel songwriter and record producer Donald Lawrence, and returning to judge and perform is Grammy-winning singer Marvin Sapp.
While there is no registration fee, choirs must register before the 11:59 p.m. ET deadline on Monday, June 15, to be eligible.
The 11 tour cities include:
• Houston (Sept. 19)
• St. Louis (Sept. 21)
• Washington, D.C. (Sept. 24)
• Philadelphia (Sept. 25)
• Newark, N.J. (Sept. 26)
• Detroit (Sept. 28)
• Chicago (Sept. 30)
• Atlanta (Oct. 2)
• Memphis, Tenn. (Oct. 5)
• Los Angeles (Oct. 8)
• Oakland, Calif. (Oct. 10)