COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A Grammy-winning singer whose role in a Barack Obama campaign event riled gay activists served as master of ceremonies of a gospel concert promoting the Democratic presidential hopeful Sunday night.
"We're here," Donnie McClurkin told a cheering crowd. "We're here and we're glad we're here."
McClurkin, who has angered gay rights groups by saying homosexuality is a choice, told the crowd the musical acts were there "in the name of unity" and "in the name of change."
An hour earlier, outside the concert venue, about two dozen gay and lesbian group supporters marched and carried a rainbow flag.
McClurkin was headlining an "Embrace the Change" concert that capped a weekend of gospel music that Obama, an Illinois senator, is hoping to use to recruit churchgoers _ and music lovers _ in this early voting state.
But McClurkin's presence created a rift as gay and lesbian activists tried to force Obama to boot the singer from the lineup. Obama wouldn't budge, but he tried to quell the anger by adding an openly gay pastor to the event. McClurkin, who has said he does not believe in discriminating against homosexuals, spent much of Sunday evening introducing the acts.
Obama did not attend the event, but in a video played for more than 2,000 at the Township Auditorium he called the evening's acts "inspirational talent" that were among his favorites.
The people in the crowd agreed with their feet, standing and waving and clapping hands to the blaring music, regularly joining in to sing.
Obama has been courting churchgoers heavily in South Carolina. Earlier this month, he spent two Sundays at churches in Columbia and Greenville.