North Central's Gospel Extravaganza aims to be a joyful celebration of Black History Month

At North Central College in Naperville, Black History Month begins with energy.

The college will present its 28th annual Gospel Extravaganza Saturday, Feb. 6, featuring gospel star Anita Wilson along with a slate of student performers and community groups that include Roosevelt Deal and DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church's Voices of Praise.

"This time of year is rooted in the celebration of Martin Luther King Week and Black History Month, which brings a lot of thought-provoking speakers and events," said North Central Chaplain Eric Doolittle, who is organizing the Gospel Extravaganza.

"But this event is a great time for our community to come together and celebrate in a different kind of way, and to let our hair down and have fun with it. The Gospel Extravaganza is a high-energy celebration of many of the same themes you will hear in the more traditional talks and lectures."

Though the show is rooted in the Christian gospel tradition, organizers and performers welcome everyone regardless of religious background or heritage.

"The most common question I get is, 'Should everyone feel welcome?'" Doolittle said. "The answer is yes. Our audience is a mix of students, families, churches and seniors, and this event really celebrates the diversity of Naperville."

The Gospel Extravaganza also showcases professional and budding talent, including the creativity of several North Central students. Here, learn a bit more about who will be on stage Saturday - and why the students hope to see you there:

Grammy nominee Anita Wilson will headline the annual Gospel Extravaganza, part of North Central College's celebration of Black History Month. Courtesy of North Central College/Moses Robinson, O. P. M Photography

Anita Wilson

The show's headliner has been nominated for Grammy, Stellar and Dove awards for her fusion of gospel and soul music. Wilson first found recognition as part of the Grammy-nominated ensemble Donald Lawrence and Co. Then in 2012, Wilson debuted her first solo album, "Worship Soul."

Danara Barlow, who graduated from North Central and is now a graduate student, returns to the stage with the school's Voices of Praise for the Gospel Extravaganza. Courtesy of North Central College

Danara Barlow

After earning her undergraduate degree from North Central College last year, Barlow is now a graduate student at the college. In 2014, she earned the school's Mironda K. Heston Scholarship for Human Service, which gave her a $2,500 budget to fund work in human rights and services. With that, she created Project Better, a program that focuses on inspiring youth and preparing them for college.

But Barlow is talented outside the classroom, too. After previously taking on leadership roles for Voices of Praise, Barlow will be back on the stage Saturday.

"I love God, so any celebration that involves Him and my education - it's a win-win," Barlow said.

And after last year's Gospel's Extravaganza brought the audience to its feet for dancing and singing, Barlow says she only has one piece of advice for anyone considering how to spend this Saturday night.

"I just think that they should be there. I mean capital B-E T-H-E-R-E. Because if you don't, you're going to miss something great," she said.

North Central senior Odell Zeigler will accompany Gospel Extravaganza performers on piano. Courtesy of North Central College

Odell Zeigler

When Barlow and other performers take the stage, audience members might notice a musician on piano helping to bring their songs to life.

That's North Central senior Odell Zeigler, a double major in music and psychology, who has played piano since age 6.

Thought it's his first time performing in the event, it's his third year attending the show he says is an unusual gem on the campus - especially for music lovers.

"Though we have other Christian events, this is the only gospel event of the year," Zeigler said. "It allows people to become connected through both the music and text. People will walk away with something, even if it's just learning how a gospel song is played and what gives it its distinct sound."

As host of the Gospel Extravaganza, Johnny Arrington says his sole focus is ensuring the audience enjoys the show. Courtesy of North Central College

Johnny "Blaze" Arrington

As host of the Gospel Extravaganza, this North Central senior says the crowd is his sole focus.

"You have to make it about the audience and not about you, and our audience really gets into the show," Arrington said. "As the host, I want to interact with everybody and make sure we're having fun, we're grateful and we're happy to be here."

Arrington says the show is always interactive, with the audience dancing and singing along rather than just sitting and listening. And while the crowd often draws from throughout the Naperville community, Arrington wants to make sure North Central students aren't missing out on the free celebration happening in their own backyard.

"I actually wish more students from our own school went," he said. "A lot of people hear the word 'gospel' and it does not always register. But I really think they would enjoy this show."

If you go

What: North Central College Gospel Extravaganza

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6

Where: North Central College, Pfeiffer Hall, 310 E. Benton Ave., Naperville

Cost: $20; $15 for students and seniors; free for North Central students and staff

Info: (630) 637-7469 or

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