The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Transfigured jazz

Mardi Gras, love celebrated each February

This year Ash Wednesday arrives Feb. 13 — plenty early. But at churches like Christ the King Lutheran in West Chester, Ohio, members will do their best to celebrate Mardi Gras prior to the somberness of Lent. They'll have their annual "Fat Saturday" Dixieland Jazz worship service followed by a Cajun meal — it's what they've done every Transfiguration weekend for years.

"Kids love it, people look forward to it and invite their friends," said Betsy Williams, pastor. "People from the community come every year and it's a highlight for us. There aren't many sacred cows here, but this is one of those pieces of tradition that no one questions." 

The tradition dates back to the 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in northern Kentucky. A member's father, a jazz musician and music professor at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, was one of 165 people who perished — the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. The Dixieland Mass used by Christ the King was commissioned in Paul Smith's memory. Drew Cremisio, who has longtime connections to the congregation, wrote and adapted tunes for it. He also leads the Jambalaya Jazz Band that considers Christ the King its "home base" because of that service, but plays gigs in the area throughout the year.

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