On Monday morning, as we were wrapping up what we've been calling our "Charlotte soul" issue, I read The Washington Post's news account of the Sunday Mass held at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.
"With prayers, tears, hymns and even a handful of humorous T-shirts," the article began, "more than 1,000 parishioners celebrated Mass in New Orleans' historic Roman Catholic cathedral, the place its archbishop called 'the soul of our city.'"
He was referring to the soul of a city known for its soul. New Orleans, in the best of times, is the one city in this country that most Americans would point to as an example of soulfulness incarnate. Its music, its food, its clash of cultures, its deep, spooky spiritual underpinnings -- the city's very economy has long been based on the raw materials of soul.
Charlotte might be the city folks point to as sterility incarnate, a city known more for its lack of soul. And yet behind the cold bank buildings and glitzy sports teams is a rich history of gospel music, which of course is one of the key elements of soul. But gospel is not what Charlotte leaders trumpet. They trumpet NASCAR, Wachovia, the Panthers, Bank of America and Billy Graham.
Charlotte does have soul, though, and this week we introduce you to some of the people, places and things that bring this intangible quality to the city's theaters, galleries, music halls and greenways.
We also introduce you to our new guest columnist, Hernan Mena, whose bi-weekly commentary begins on page 18. Hernan is the associate editor of the Hispanic weekly newspaper Que Pasa. He wants you to know what's on the mind of at least one professional who came to this country from Mexico -- him. His views no more represent the collective perspective of all Hispanics and Latinos than mine do all Anglo Americans -- or even all liberal Anglo Americans. Hernan's views are simply his own, and we're happy to have him on board to express them.
Next week, in the same space, we'll introduce you to Nsenga Burton, another guest columnist whose commentaries will rotate with Hernan's. It's my hope that both Hernan and Nsenga will raise new issues and help spur more dialog across Charlotte's cultural spectrum.
Dialog -- that's another sign of soul in a city.
-- Mark Kemp, editor