Tuskegee Golden Voices Concert Choir Coming to Canada

First time in Canada  – March 2018 !

The Tuskegee University Golden Voices Concert Choir, a 50 member choir led by Dr. Wayne Anthony Barr, will perform in four Ontario cities — Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto and London — in March 2018.

Tuskegee University in Alabama, aside from having been founded by ex-slave Booker T. Washington and being home of the famed Red Tails, has a powerful reputation for its music.  The choir has sung by invitation for four US presidents (Hoover, FD Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton), has performed at Carnegie Hall and Radio City, and had the celebrated composer William Levi Dawson as its choir director from 1931 to 1956.

“Tuskegee is the crucible where contemporary gospel music was forged” says Andy Rush, founder and director of the 100+ member Kingston Open Voices Community Choir.  WL Dawson was the first to arrange spirituals and songs emerging from the period of slavery in the USA for four part choirs, and his arrangements are still widely known and loved.  The choir maintain his songs as a core component of their repertoire.

“With the Negro slave, who was kept in continuous bondage in this country for nearly three hundred years, and deprived of every medium for mental and emotional expression, the folk-song was his only means of getting relief from pain and frustration.”
– William Levi Dawson, 1992.

Tuskegee was ranked fourth of 107 Traditionally Black Colleges and Universities by USA News and World Report in 2017.  Michelle Obama spoke at their spring convocation in 2015, specifically addressing civil rights and race relations.  The choir has a presence which honours their unique heritage, supported by their intense work, practicing 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Commentary about the choir’s repertoire – Tom Mawhinney

It is exceptional to find a repertoire whose songs are anchored in experience, developed over generations, and respectfully, and even reverently, maintained over not only decades, but centuries.  The Tuskegee Golden Voices Concert Choir presents just such a repertoire.  It is a great pleasure at any time to encounter a pool of beautiful songs, filled with grace, rich in meaning.  This is what you will hear from the choir.  The songs, however, though often very spirited, also contain representations of suffering which it is important not to forget.

In an essay accompanying the Tuskegee choir’s 1992 recording “Spirituals”, WL Dawson uses lengthy quotations from the Virginia and South Carolina legislatures of previous centuries to demonstrate the severity of punishments allowed in the period of slavery which are nothing short of chilling.  He exhorts listeners to acquaint themselves with the realities of the experience of slavery, the wellsprings from which the songs the Golden Voices sing emerged.       

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