As he extends a hand of welcome, a church member offers, “We’re a noisy church.”
The drum kit and electric and bass guitars on the altar at Rosehill American Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in the Haywood community of Moncure are the first clues that he’s right. When the service starts, the band is joined by four singers who make heartfelt invitations on this particular morning to “Come dance before the Lord.”
The band, called New Era, creates a wall of sound that dares one to remain motionless. The congregation sings along, claps hands, sways, dances, and stomps to join in with the joyful noise. Sitting still does not happen when New Era is in the room.
Martisla “Tissy” Cotton, founder and leader of New Era, is joined by sopranos Monique Cotton, Alicia Moffitt, and Tia Rogers, and tenor Kirstie Brooks. The band is Frante Matthews on bass guitar, Walter Cotton Jr. on lead guitar, Nicholas Moffitt on keyboard and Cameron Brooks on drums. New Era calls Rosehill A.M.E. home.
And home is an apt word. Much of New Era, like the membership at Rosehill, are family. In fact, New Era got their start at a family gathering. Tissy recalls that the family came together about eight years ago to celebrate the birthdays of a grandmother and aunt. The younger generation decided that they’d honor and express their love and respect for their elders by singing as a group. New Era was launched with an appropriate name.
New Era considers their music Southern Gospel. They perform traditional hymns from the African-American songbook with some contemporary works in a quartet arrangement that is exemplified by artists such as Li’l Roy & Revelation and Lee Williams and the Highway Spiritual QC’s.
When New Era isn’t raising the roof at Rosehill with drum and bass driven hooks and four part harmonies, they blend seamlessly to provide gentle sonic transitions from one part of the service to another. The band provides musical interludes that gently flow into prayers and out of announcements. These bridges serve to quiet those gathered to listen to the sermon, or to highlight a moment in the program, or generate excitement. The words and music New Era conveys is seamlessly blended into the service and is as much a part of the church’s message as the spoken words of Reverend Brooks’ sermon.
The band is tight and always appropriate for the moment throughout the service. One senses almost an unspoken understanding and rhythm between the band members, the church leaders, and the congregation. It’s as if they are one body operating from a common place of understanding that negates rehearsals and planning. Could the history of the land play a part in these remarkable connections?
On this hilltop defined by the Haw River on one side and Old Highway US1 and a rail line on the other, Rosehill has been a place for the exchange of goods and ideas for almost a century. A few yards from the church is the site of the former Haywood Public school, built in 1921 by monies granted by Julius Rosenwald for African-American schools in the rural south. Between the school, Rosehill AME Zion to the east and its neighbor to the west, Liberty Baptist Church, generations of African Americans have found safe spaces here to gather, learn, pray, sing, and grow as families and as a community.
“Noisy” Rosehill Church is one steeped in love and history and they welcome visitors every Sunday. Go See This: New Era.
• Event Name: Family & Friends Day
• Event Host: Rosehill A.M.E. Zion Church
• Day & Time: Sunday, April 24th at 10am
• Location: 1917 Old US Hwy 1, Moncure, NC 27312
• Cost of Admission: Donations are welcomed
• Parking: Parking lot in front and on the side
• Accessible: Yes