Published February 24. 2013 4:00AM
Groton - When life in the Navy was difficult, Joseph Brickhouse said he pulled through because he always had a song in his heart.
Gospel music, he said, "helped me my entire career."
Brickhouse, an ordained minister and a yeoman first class who works at Submarine Group Two, said he organized the Commander, Submarine Group Two, Black Heritage Month Gospel Choir Concert at the Seaport Community Church Saturday to bring the community together. It was the third annual event.
"Everyone has had struggles," he said. "This month we celebrate the struggles the African American race has been through and overcome."
Renee Sebastian, an alto with the choir from the Walls Temple AME Zion Church in New London, said, "Our children need to know about their ancestry."
About 150 people, a mix of military members and civilians, went to the concert to hear six choirs from southeastern Connecticut and New Jersey perform. Many stood, sang and clapped.
Lt. Roilynn Williams, a chaplain at the Naval Submarine Base, said the military is such a rigid environment, "you need an outlet where you can shout and cut loose."
"Particularly within the African American community, gospel music has been our way since slavery of expressing ourselves," she said. "It takes you out of your present reality. It's hard to describe. Gospel music is just awesome."
Louise Jaeger, of Mystic, said she went to the concert because she too, loves gospel music. Jaeger, who is 81, sang and performed in choirs for more than 70 years, she said, until she couldn't sing anymore.
The Joyful Silvertones, a male a cappella group from Summit, N.J., started off the concert with "Gospel Ship." Rod Williams, the musical director, said the performance, their first in Connecticut, was "an opportunity to inspire and motivate."
"Service members' lives can change in a moment," added Michael Miles, a tenor in the group. "It's good to know that they're going into service with one of our songs on their mind."
Rev. Milton Biggham, a Grammy award-winning artist with the Georgia Mass Choir, was the featured guest. Biggham said he served as an infantryman in the Army from 1967 to 1969, including a tour in Vietnam, so he understands what service members go through.
"They're put in harm's way so often and they need encouragement. They need strength. They need to know that we care and last, but certainly not least, they need to know that God cares," he said. "I feel like I'm an ambassador to bring that strength, that encouragement and that joy to them, for that is what gives them the strength to face tomorrow. And we don't know what our tomorrows hold."
Lt. Mark Dunning, the weapons officer at the submarine group, said spiritual music kept him going while he was at sea on submarines. Dunning said he brought his 17-year-old son, who is considering serving, to the concert to show him how supportive the military can be.
Capt. Dale Green, who represented the submarine group at the concert, said there are close ties between faith and service, and the concert is a "special, special event."