When Voices of Fire, a six-part documentary series from Netflix opens we see a panel of five people listening to a singer audition for a new Gospel choir, a new kind of Gospel choir that is inclusive, diverse and multi-cultural. They are the judges, Bishop Ezekiel Williams (Grammy Award winning singer and producer Pharrell Williams’ uncle), choir master Patrick Riddick, Gospel singer Peggy Britt, music director Larry George, and Pharrell. They will choose from thousands of applicants who have come to Faith World Ministries church in Hampton Roads, VA to audition for a choir like the world has never heard before, according to Bishop Williams, and bring it to the first live performance.
What makes these auditions different is that there will be no call-backs. Those auditioning get one chance to make the cut – the first cut anyway. As the episodes progress, some singers are sent home but they all leave us touched in some way. (The whittling down of the choir size seems to come as a surprise to some of the singers.) While there is no competition per se, the singers strive to do their best in an an environment that is welcoming and kind.
While we only see Pharrell in one full episode and then at the end, the other judges contribute to making the series entertaining and inspirational. I especially enjoyed Patrick Riddick whose immense talent and energy could possibly wake the dead. There is a certain repetition to the songs the singers choose for their auditions. If there is ever another audition perhaps a list of suggested songs could be offered to choose from.
Pharrell Williams (l) and his uncle Bishop Ezekiel Williams at the auditions for Voices of Fire. Courtesy of Netflix.
I thoroughly enjoyed the series, especially the first episodes that concentrated on the auditions and the personal stories of the singers. While all the voices are special, one singer who had led a difficult life and even attempted suicide, made me cry when he sang. Voices of Fire shows that music has the power to change you, to touch your soul and convince you that beauty can save the world.