Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir to Perform

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The world renowned Tuskegee Golden Voices.
The world renowned Tuskegee Golden Voices.

The famous Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir, an organization steeped in more than a century of pride, will be holding a concert at High Street Baptist Church on Friday March 9 at 7:00 p.m.  The public is welcome to attend the concert, presented by Friends of Booker T. Washington National Monument and the High Street Baptist Church. Admission is a free will offering.

From the beginning years of its history, students at Tuskegee University were encouraged to express themselves in communal singing.  First Principal Booker T. Washington insisted on the singing of African American spirituals by everyone in attendance at the weekly chapel worship services, a tradition which continues today.  He stated,” If you go out to have schools of your own, have your pupils sing as you have sung here, and teach them to see the beauty which dwells in these songs.”  Thus, the school developed and passed on a singing tradition.

In 1884, Booker T. Washington organized the Institutes first singers.  This group was sent out by the founder to promote the interest of Tuskegee Institute by acquainting benevolent audiences to the Tuskegee name and the Washington philosophy for several brief years.  The quartet was reorganized in 1909 and intermittently traveled until well into the 1940s, sometime adjusting its members to five, six or even up to eight.

The school choir was developed in 1886 because Dr. Washington had determined that the Institute was in need of a group of singers who could lead vesper services and sing for special campus occasions.  The school choir would expand its role to providing vocal music for all cultural and religious campus activities.

In 1932, the 100-voice choir appeared at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  This event expanded Tuskegees prestige worldwide.  The Tuskegee Choir was invited to sing at the birthday party of President-elected Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York.  A few days later, the Choir presented a concert at the White House at the request of President Herbert Hoover.  In the years to follow, the Tuskegee Choir would perform a series of concerts on ABC, CBS, and NBC radio networks.  It would become the first African American performing organization to appear at Constitution Hall (1946), Washington, D.C.

The Choirs television debut came in 1950.  On February 5th, Edgar Bergen (the father of actress Candace Bergen) introduced the Tuskegee Choir to a national audience on his television program, The Edgar Bergen Show.  The Choirs popularity continued to extent across the television airwaves as invitations poured in for appearances on the The Kate Smith Show (1952), The Ed Sullivan Show (1952), The Eddie Fisher Show (1953 and 1954), Frontiers of Faith television program (1954) and the Arthur Godfrey Show (1954).  A record album, The Tuskegee Institute Choir Sings Spirituals (1955), closed out the 1950s.

During the term of President John F. Kennedy, the Tuskegee Choir received special commendation from President Kennedy at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C. (1962 and a concert at the United States State Department (1962).  Dr. Reliford Patterson would amplify and complete his directorship at Tuskegee with appearances at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (1966) and Town Hall (1967), both in New York City.

In 1970s, the Choir made concert appearances at the Julliard School of Music (1972), the New England Conservatory of Music (1972) and recorded the Tuskegee Institute Choir Live album (1979) .  However, the highlight of these years was a series of five concert tours to the Northern Tier of the United States Air Bases for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980.

In 1993, Stephen L. Hayes led the Choir to Washington, D.C. for an appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast (1994).  Mother Teresa was the speaker for the event.  In 1997, the Choir became the first place trophy winner at the prestigious American Negro Spiritual Festival, Music Hall in Cincinnati.  Additionally, the Tuskegee University Choir was honored to sing in the East Room of the White House in December1997.  In 1999, the Choir continued on campus and out of town presentations, including a performance of Adolphus Hailstorks cantata I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

In 2001, Dr, Wayne Anthony Barr became Director of the Choir.  Dr. Barr holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan with the organ as his major instrument: two masters degrees from Southern Methodist University, one with emphasis in organ performance and a second in choral Conducting; and his undergraduate work was completed at the University of Michigan focused on The History of the Pipe Organ in Black Churches in the United States

Dr. Barr’s goal has been to build on the tradition and legacy of the Tuskegee University Golden Voices.  He is taking the name of Tuskegee University out into the larger community, including annual choir concert tours saying,  “Wherever we can go, wherever we can take the name of Tuskegee, even Europe, no place is too far for the choir to travel.”

The concert will be held at High Street Baptist Church , 2302 Florida Ave. N.W. on Friday March 9 at 7:00 p.m.