By John Armistead

Daily Journal

Crusade organizers expect a 1,200-voice choir drawn from over 100 Northeast Mississippi churches to anchor the musical offerings at tonight's Franklin Graham Crusade in the Tupelo Coliseum.

"I believe the ministry of the choir is such an integral part of preparing the way for the word to be preached," said Tom Wilson, committee chairman of the crusade choir and minister of music at Tupelo's First Evangelical Church. "Music sets the tone at a service and ushers in the presence of the Lord."

The choir will sing both traditional and contemporary music, according to Wilson, performing at least one song each night as well as backing up the crusade's worship team, Maranatha.

Before the 7:30 p.m. service begins tonight the choir will have rehearsed six times. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association musician Ted Cornell led each of the practice sessions, which were held at Booneville, Pontotoc and Tupelo.

Cornell, who holds two degrees from the Juilliard School of Music, will also lead the choir during the crusade each night. He has been a member of the Graham association since 1968.

Congregational singing at the Crusade will be led by Tom Bledsoe, who also will sing solos and serve as emcee. Bledsoe, in addition to coordinating music for Graham association crusades, serves as music director in the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism.

Pre-service concerts

A pre-service concert will begin each night at 7 p.m. Tonight's concert will feature Gary Chapman. Chapman has served as host of TNN and CCM programs, is a two-time Dove Award winner and has received numerous Grammy and Dove nominations.

Michael W. Smith will preform at the concert Monday night. Smith has won an American Music Award, a Grammy Award and seven Dove Awards. He is recognized as the best-selling male artist in Christian music.

Tuesday night will headline country singer-songwriter Paul Overstreet. Overstreet wrote country hits "Forever and Ever Amen," "When You Say Nothing At All," and "Love Can Build a Bridge."

Appearing at the crusades themselves will be the trio Friends, Dennis Ajajanian, an acoustic guitar player, and The Praise Band, a group of writers and musicians who use a pop approach to worship music.

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