The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Verna Holley

Retired choral music teacher Verna Dorsey Holley was born on April 29, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan to Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey. Holley attended Dwyer Elementary School in 1948 before graduating from Northern High School in 1952. Holley completed her B.A. degree in music education at Wayne State University in 1956 and went on to earn her M.A. degree in music at Michigan State University.

Holley was hired as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She then continued to give piano lessons in her home. Holley became the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers. Founded in 1963, by Earl Nelson, The Earl Nelson Singers Company is an integrated ensemble of singers from the Lansing, Michigan area. As the company’s musical director, Holley selects the sacred songs of slaves for them to perform. The group’s repertoire included songs reflective of the early “gospel” style. Holley’s work has also been associated with the Okemos String Program.

Holley is a member of the Religious Conference Planning Association, United Conference for Women and the Capital Area Music Teachers Association. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband, Melvin Holley. They have three adult children: Mark, Timothy and Millicent.

Holley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 29, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.039

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/29/2008

Last Name

Holley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Northern High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Trowbridge Elementary School

Wayne State University

First Name

Verna

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

HOL10

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Midwest

Favorite Quote

Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart And Lean Not On Your Own Understanding; In All Your Ways Submit To Him, And He Will Make Your Paths Straight.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

4/29/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Lansing

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

High school music teacher and choral director Verna Holley (1936 - ) served as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She was also the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers.

Employment

C.W. Otto Junior High School

J.W. Sexton High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Sampson Elementary School

Balch School

A.L. Holmes Elementary School

Cedar Street School

Oak Park School

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:936,14:1248,19:2106,35:6162,163:6474,168:9516,219:9906,225:10764,238:19734,382:28082,426:29522,458:31826,499:32114,504:32690,514:34562,543:35570,568:36002,616:36794,631:37154,637:47404,724:47824,735:48160,740:70560,1091:82550,1279$0,0:4514,164:6660,195:8880,229:9250,235:22014,360:22506,367:28902,479:30378,506:30706,511:32428,535:33002,543:38085,561:38596,568:39691,585:41224,607:41662,614:49688,755:50133,761:51379,779:52091,789:52536,794:53248,804:54583,821:55117,829:57462,891:58560,915:59231,923:59475,928:60695,952:61183,966:64140,985:66570,1018:67020,1024:68100,1041:68550,1047:69810,1056:70260,1062:71790,1086:77010,1154:82904,1168:83765,1176:84257,1181:85487,1194:91050,1235:91788,1247:92116,1252:92690,1260:93920,1276:94658,1286:95642,1297:96626,1313:99250,1364:100234,1384:111385,1496:112065,1505:114190,1534:114615,1540:118270,1595:118865,1603:128824,1656:129296,1661:129886,1668:132482,1710:142529,1821:143759,1837:154576,1982:167660,2222:179910,2365:180498,2378:180890,2383:181772,2392:182360,2399:190645,2508:191580,2519:192260,2529:202504,2665:203930,2679:214355,2832:214949,2870:219008,2944:223538,3014:224644,3031:227630,3055
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Verna Holley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Verna Holley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Verna Holley describes her mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Verna Holley talks about her father's activities as a young man

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Verna Holley recalls how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her family's migration to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes her parents' personalities and her likeness to them

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Verna Holley lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Verna Holley describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Verna Holley remembers the neighborhoods of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Verna Holley remembers her early education at Trowbridge School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes Paradise Valley in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about Black Bottom in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the riots of 1943

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes herself as an elementary school student

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls attending Bethany Tabernacle church in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers her neighbors in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls attending Northern High School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Verna Holley remembers notable African American musicians from her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls African American publications from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Verna Holley recalls attending concerts as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Verna Holley describes her decision to attend Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Verna Holley lists her music teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Verna Holley describes her musical influences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Verna Holley recalls teaching music at Dwyer Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Verna Holley reflects upon her strict religious upbringing

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at William T. Sampson Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes how she met and married her husband

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at A.L. Holmes Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers the 1967 Detroit Riots

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Verna Holley talks about relocating to Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls her early teaching assignments in Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Verna Holley talks about serving as director of fine arts at J.W. Sexton High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Verna Holley recalls guest vocalists for the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Verna Holley reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about her taste in music

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Verna Holley describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Verna Holley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes her family

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her religious faith

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Verna Holley narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities
Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers
Transcript
What were you like when you were a little girl? What were you interested in?$$Well my folks [Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey] made me take piano. We had this large upright piano that they had purchased for my older brothers and sisters to learn and they refused, so they were determined that my sister [Grace Dorsey] and I would take piano and learn to play the piano so, that was their goal for us.$$Okay.$$And we, that was one of the, one of the things that we had to do. We had to get good grades at school, we had to take piano lessons, we had to go to church [Bethany Tabernacle, Detroit, Michigan], those were the three things that were primary in our lives.$$Um-hm. Now--$$We weren't allowed to, you know, visit with many neighbors, we weren't allowed to, we couldn't even go to the show, (laughter) it was just that, that tight. The only time when we got a chance to go to the show is when we went to visit my aunt who lived in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Well she didn't mind us going to the show, so sometimes we would go and we would stay for, to see the picture two or three times, 'cause we knew we wouldn't get back (laughter), until the next year when we went to visit her in the summertime. But my, my parents were very, very strict. Very, very strict.$You're involved in other activities here in Lansing [Michigan] other--$$Yes (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) than the school?$$Um-hm.$$And so, tell us about some, some of those?$$Okay. When we first moved here we--about two or three years after we had moved here we, we became involved with a group called the Earl Nelson Singers. Earl Nelson had started a choral group and the purpose of this choral group was to keep the heritage of the spirituals alive. And so most of the people in the group at the time when he started it were African Americans, he was also a teacher, a vocal music teacher at Otto Middle School, or Otto Junior High [C.W. Otto Junior High School, Lansing, Michigan] as it was at that time. And so he started this group in 1963, their first concert was given two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy]. They started to cancel the concert, but decided they should do it in, in his honor, in his memory and so, the group was started then and it is still going on now, he later became a state representative and then later a state senator, and then moved to the department of minority education and retired from that job and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida. In 1978, when he was very heavily involved in the political scene, the group wanted to continue singing after he had decided not, that he didn't have time to continue directing the group, so the singers said, well why, asked me, "Why don't you take the group." And so, somewhat reluctantly I did and we are still singing and we do a concert every year plus we sing at various churches and we sing for banquets and several venues like that. There are about--$$Okay so, when you took over in 1968?$$Seventy-eight [1978].$$Seventy-eight [1978]?$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$$All right.$$And so, we, the group is now of about, has about forty-two, forty, forty-one, forty-two people in it and we still sing the spirituals, we sing the classical arrangements of the spirituals. The (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So this is similar to the Fisk Jubilee Singers?$$Yes. Yes, yes. Now--$$Or John Ward Chorale [ph.]?$$Um-hm. Um-hm.$$Yeah. All right.$$The Brazeal Dennard singers [Brazeal Dennard Chorale] in Detroit [Michigan], we do the classical arrangements like the one, the, the arrangements by William Levi Dawson, Harry Burleigh, Hall Johnson, Moses Hogan, most recently Robert Morris [sic. HistoryMaker Robert A. Harris]. Those men who have classical music training and are using, have used their skills to arrange these spirituals so that a choir such as the Earl Nelson Singers can, can continue to sing them and keep them in the ears of as many, as will listen to them.$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$Now, so though the group is or--organized in '63 [1963]?$$Um-hm.$$And it continues to this day?$$Yes. And there are two people who are still in the group who were in the charter group (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay.$$The, the original group.$$Okay.$$Um-hm, they are--one is in the, one is in his eighties and the other is late seventies.

Matthew Kennedy

Retired director of the historic Fisk Jubilee Singers, Matthew Washington Kennedy was born on March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. His parents were educator, Mary Dowdell Kennedy and mail carrier, Royal C. Kennedy, who died when Kennedy was fifteen months old. Kennedy attended McCoy Hill Elementary School between 1926 and 1934. A prodigy of piano and choral music, Kennedy was inspired by a Rachmaninoff concert in Macon, Georgia when he was eleven years old. Moving with his mother to New York City in 1934, Kennedy enrolled in DeWitt Clinton High School. With help from his music teacher, Lois Adler, Kennedy entered the Juilliard Institute of Music. Graduating from high school in 1939, he also earned a diploma in piano from Juilliard in 1940. Kennedy went on to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While attending Fisk University, Kennedy became piano accompanist to the historic Fisk Jubilee Singers under the direction of Ms. J.A. Myers on their tour of Europe, North Africa and Israel. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, he served in Southern Europe and North Africa before returning to graduate cum laude with his B.A. degree from Fisk University in 1947. Kennedy went on to earn his M.A. degree from Juilliard in 1950 and completed course work toward his Ph.D. from George Peabody College in Nashville.

Employed by Fisk University as an instructor in 1947, Kennedy became a member of its music faculty in 1954 as an associate professor. In 1956, he married piano soloist, Anne Gamble. Kennedy was appointed director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1957, and he mentored hundreds of young students for the next twenty-three years. In 1958, Kennedy made his own solo piano debut at Carnegie Recital Hall. Over the years, Kennedy toured the world as a soloist and as director of the Jubilee Singers. He was appointed acting chairman of the Fisk University Music Department from 1975 to 1978. Kennedy retired from Fisk University in 1986.

Kennedy has served on resource panels for the Tennessee Arts Commission and on boards of the Nashville Symphony Association and the John W. Work, III Memorial Foundation. He received the Achievement Award from the National Black Music Caucus of the Music Educators’ National Conference, distinguished service awards from the National Association of Negro Musicians, Fisk University Alumni Association, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Kennedy holds lifetime memberships with the NAACP and the Fisk University General Alumni Association. He is a member of the Nashville Fine Arts Club where he serves as President. He is also a member of the Nashville Symphony Guild, Gamma Phi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill and a recent inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia.

In 2003, Kennedy released his first album, Familiar Favorites. It is dedicated to the memory of his late wife, Anne, and to their daughter, Nina who is also a concert pianist. In 2006, Kennedy received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, from Fisk University. In 2007, Kennedy’s daughter made a film entitled, Matthew Kennedy: One Man’s Journey, which won the Rosetta Miller-Perry Award for Black Filmmakers.

Kennedy was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 13, 2007. Kennedy passed away on June 5, 2014.

Accession Number

A2007.086

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/13/2007

Last Name

Kennedy

Maker Category
Schools

DeWitt Clinton High School

McKay Hill School

The Juilliard School

Fisk University

First Name

Matthew

Birth City, State, Country

Americus

HM ID

KEN03

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Charles and Anne Roos

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

I'm Blessed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

3/10/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Nashville

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

6/5/2014

Short Description

Music professor, choral director, and pianist Matthew Kennedy (1921 - 2014 ) was the former director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University.

Employment

Fisk University

Interlochen Center for the Arts

U.S. Army

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:2910,37:4660,67:8060,85:10500,100:14212,123:15820,132:20937,165:26330,182:26805,188:27850,197:29370,216:40156,391:43094,407:43499,413:51430,548:51994,556:52370,561:52934,568:53404,574:56694,617:67415,719:68010,730:78720,780:83616,837:96798,985:97114,990:97667,998:111701,1175:122406,1291:122738,1296:126381,1330:132398,1398:142920,1461:146040,1490:146444,1495:147555,1509:148767,1534:152990,1566:156190,1591:163450,1638:170830,1729$0,0:14890,204:23096,255:34358,350:37326,412:44340,430:44620,435:48570,473:49214,481:55287,532:62162,561:62828,571:63420,580:63790,587:64382,597:66306,631:72366,689:74382,711:75054,720:75810,730:76398,738:77322,756:77742,761:78666,775:91680,801:92240,807:98672,837:103444,898:104812,967:122894,1120:125178,1126:125736,1138:129674,1178:135730,1210:142618,1286:145958,1312:146854,1321:150307,1330:162720,1415:163294,1423:163950,1434:165344,1451:166164,1462:168910,1474:169438,1481:182794,1589:188230,1652:190260,1664:192861,1682:195742,1706:200694,1804:201474,1816:207180,1839:207460,1844:208370,1864:209840,1889:210120,1894:216340,2007
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Matthew Kennedy's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy describes his mother's upbringing and career

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes his parents' careers and personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his neighborhood in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Matthew Kennedy describes his early music lessons

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his early musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his academic ability

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his early exposure to music

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his first musical performances

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers singing at the Bethesda Baptist Church in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the difference between hymns and spirituals

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the influence of Eva Jessye and Hall Johnson

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy talks about gospel music

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy recalls performing on WENC Radio in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy remembers playing the organ at the Rylander Theatre in Americus, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers a concert by Sergei Rachmaninoff, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers a concert by Sergei Rachmaninoff, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his isolation from other children

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his awareness of black classical musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his mother's decision to move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his family's move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his enrollment at the Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy recalls the students at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy remembers receiving a piano from his teacher

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy describes completing Dewitt Clinton High School in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy describes his admission to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about being drafted into World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy recalls playing piano for the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy remembers meeting and marrying his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy remembers John Wesley Work III

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his time in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy describes his assignments in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy recalls earning a master's degree at the Juilliard School of Music

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the formation of the Famous Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the Famous Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers John Wesley Work III's directorship of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy recalls his appointment as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes the Fisk Jubilee Singers' concerts

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the history of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the role of spiritual music in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes his tenure as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes his work in the music department of Fisk University

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his first album

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Matthew Kennedy talks about the John W. Work III Memorial Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Matthew Kennedy remembers his students

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Matthew Kennedy reflects upon his legacy and hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Matthew Kennedy talks about his daughter's documentary project, 'Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Matthew Kennedy describes his doctoral studies

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Matthew Kennedy describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Matthew Kennedy narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Matthew Kennedy remembers receiving a piano from his teacher
Matthew Kennedy remembers his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City
Transcript
When we went to New York [New York], Depression [Great Depression] days, there was a movement where schools were set up to actually help artists and performers, all part of the WPA, Works Projects Administration, or something like that [sic. Works Progress Administration; Work Projects Administration], but anyway, it was the WPA, and I entered the school that was established there on 7th Avenue, and the piano teacher that I worked with there had attended Juilliard [Juilliard School of Music; The Juilliard School, New York, New York], and she gave us some advice about actually applying for the audition and the scholarship; I had left that out before.$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$Okay. So, how did you like Juilliard?$$Very much, very much, and there were problems there. I look back sometimes and say I probably could have made much better progress if I'd had a piano in the apartment where I was staying with the Wilsons [ph.], but when I first started, I had no piano. I would have to walk several blocks to another acquaintance who had come originally from Americus [Georgia] years ago; they had a piano and that's where I went to do my practicing, and of course I could do lots of practicing at school, at Juilliard, but it would have been so nice. And Miss Adler [Lois Adler] knew about that hardship; she brought that to the attention of one of her students, as she knew this student had, had some means--from Albany, Georgia. Her parents were into pecan plantations, and anyway, she told this student, this student arranged to have a piano, an upright piano, brought to the apartment where I was living, and that, that was a great help.$$That certainly sounds like it was, so, yes (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yes, yes.$You, in 1958, experienced a sort of a personal triumph of your own by getting this--a solo--your solo piano debut at Carnegie Hall--$$Right.$$--in New York City [New York, New York].$$Um-hm.$$Now how did this come about?$$Well, Ms. Adler [Lois Adler] was still encouraging me, and she was so encouraged at the experience I was having in giving these solo selections on the Jubilee Singers [Fisk Jubilee Singers] concerts, and she just wanted to see how far I might go as a concert pianist I believe, so she encouraged me to get the services of an agent, and of course he told her that I needed to have a New York debut, and so one thing led to the other and I was so, so, so happy the way things turned out. I received favorable reviews from both The New York Times and the Tribune, and so--but, but even, even so, things didn't really open up suddenly or quickly enough for me because see, I was already at Fisk [Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee], on the Fisk faculty, when I made the debut there in '58 [1958], so if it had been an overwhelming success, I guess I would have had big headlines and all that. And that, that didn't happen, and I, I couldn't even think of giving up my teaching to pursue just the concert career, but it was nice to have, it was nice to give a few more concerts and use the comments from the critics that I had earned.$$Were your students proud of you?$$Very much so. And the faculty would give faculty recitals also, as a part of the year's activities; those were very well received. But I was finding it difficult as, as, as involved I was now as director of the Jubilee Singers, to keep up my repertoire as a pianist, so that, that had to suffer as a great--as a consequence.$$Now, did your mother [Mary Dowdell Kennedy] get a chance to hear you?$$Yes, she was present for that debut, yes, very, very happy. I think she felt that her dreams had been fulfilled.$$That must have been wonderful to have her there (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Right.$$Yeah.$$Um-hm.

Delano O'Banion

Delano O’Banion was born on November 3, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Chicago public schools from elementary through high school. While a student at Phillips High School, he played the clarinet and bassoon in the Phillips Concert Band. As a senior at Phillips High School, O’Banion became a student assistant band director and drum major under Professor Earl Madison. In addition to singing various classical styles of choral music, he learned to sing oratorio and opera in the Hartzell Methodist Church’s Young People Choir (1951-1955). During this period, he received a scholarship to study voice with Madame Elsa Harthan Arendt at the Sherwood Music School in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1955, O’Banion received an academic music scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Fisk University, O’Banion toured the United States and Europe with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers. During his junior year at Fisk University, O’Banion sang as guest soloist with the Tuskegee Institute Choir at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. In 1958, O’Banion worked with renowned musician, composer and conductor Professor William L. Dawson.

Upon graduation from Fisk University in 1959 with his B.S. degree in music, O’Banion began a teaching career that spanned forty-six years. O’Banion became quite active as a classical soloist, singing oratorio, opera, recitals, and major orchestral works throughout the Midwest. In 1961, along with several alumni friends from Fisk University, O’Banion established The John Work Chorale. His love for conducting this choral group became his primary work. The John Work Chorale specializes in preserving nurturing the perpetuation of singing Negro Spirituals in the original style of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. O’Banion also served as the choral director at Marshall High School for several years.

O’Banion served as minister of music for Grace Presbyterian Church (1960-1966), and serves as minister of music at Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church, (1977-present). In addition to his work as minister of music, O’Banion serves on the board of the Chicago Dance and Music Alliance, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Board of Trustees at Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church. O’Banion has received numerous awards for excellence in music, education, and community service.

O’Banion was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 15, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.143

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/15/2006 |and| 4/16/2008

Last Name

O'Banion

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Doolittle Elementary School

Fisk University

DePaul University

University of Chicago

Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Delano

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

OBA01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Guatemala

Favorite Quote

An Unexamined Life Isn't Worth Living.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

11/3/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Comfort Food

Short Description

Music instructor, choral director, and classical singer Delano O'Banion (1936 - ) helped establish the John Work Chorale which specializes in singing Negro spirituals in the Fisk Jubilee Singers' style.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:4212,89:8991,168:9558,184:14094,293:31312,505:54624,858:60245,960:63094,1030:71160,1128:71540,1203:73212,1257:76860,1345:96624,1578:102856,1726:112682,1850:122273,1952:124854,1993:132980,2070:140459,2151:149570,2254:166030,2446:166450,2453:167150,2458:167780,2522:186270,2776:187494,2798:192956,2842:199080,2908:214090,3114:214440,3120:219270,3184$0,0:1241,58:2336,87:2628,92:5694,166:6497,176:26710,498:35635,672:40330,705:40841,718:44345,787:51134,928:75802,1100:78350,1134:80668,1143:83374,1216:83638,1221:93208,1435:93604,1442:109080,1719:114971,1778:116075,1801:117179,1835:118628,1871:120974,1930:133394,2242:144391,2404:149242,2514:149498,2526:157050,2733:171698,3008:175874,3075:176594,3111:182560,3156:184285,3181:185458,3278:189115,3350:192151,3444:192703,3454:198085,3592:207200,3682
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Delano O'Banion's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion talks about his mother, Sarah Breckenridge O'Banion

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about his father, Julian O'Banion

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion describes being named after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion describes his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about his earliest childhood memories of growing up with three brothers

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion talks about his childhood neighborhood and early school years

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion remembers Christmas celebrations as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion talks about his experience at Doolittle Grammar School and why he started singing

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion recounts his experience at Doolittle Grammar School and joining the band at Phillips High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Delano O'Banion talks about learning to play to clarinet and his early music teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion recalls his favorite teachers from Doolittle Grammar School

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion remembers joining the band at Phillips High School in Chicago, Illinois where he served as Earl Madison's student assistant

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion recalls being offered a full scholarship to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee as a Jubilee Singer

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about the history of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion talks about composer William L. Dawson

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion talks about minstrelsy and the Fisk Jubilee Singers' initial perception as a minstrel group

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion describes touring in Europe with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1956

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about the pathos of spirituals and the impact of spirituals on American music

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion describes his decision to major in music at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion talks about studying conducting under John Work and William L. Dawson while a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion talks about John Work, III's reorganization of the Jubilee Singers and the ensemble's 125th anniversary concert

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion describes the universal impact of spirituals as well as his experience in the Jubilee Singers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion talks about the difference between gospel songs and spirituals

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion talks about the music at Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the origin of spirituals

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about the career of composer William L. Dawson

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion talks about African American composers like Scott Joplin

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion describes singing at Radio City Music Hall with the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1958

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion distinguishes between anthems, spirituals, and gospel songs

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about the Jubilee Singers' repertoire, and the difference between spirituals and art songs

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion talks about his early teaching career at Beidler Elementary School and Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion talks about the founding of the John Work Chorale in 1960

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion sings excerpts from a gospel song, a hymn, and an anthem

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion describes various career opportunities in his life

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion talks about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's collaboration with the John Work Chorale in Brazil

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion talks about the John Work Chorale and how his trip to Brazil influenced his direction of the group

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion talks about directing the choir at Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about teaching at Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion describes directing the Theater-In-The-Streets program in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion talks about returning to Marshall High School to teach music after studying at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion talks about pilot program of Theater-in-the-Streets in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about his legacy at Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion talks about his retirement and his parents' careers

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion emphasizes the value of education

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion describes his future aspirations

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Delano O'Banion talks about the blessings in his life

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Delano O'Banion talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - Delano O'Banion reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion narrates his photographs

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Second slating of Delano O'Banion's interview

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion talks about his name and his three brothers

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion describes the impact of his brother's death on his family

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion describes his mother, Sarah Breckenridge O'Banion

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion describes his father, Julian O'Banion

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion talks about his childhood in Chicago's Lake Meadows neighborhood

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion remembers his close relationship with his father

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion talks about his parents' separation after his brother's death

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion talks about his religious upbringing in Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion recalls singing at an early age

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion talks about the church choir's repertoire at Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion talks about the music program at Doolittle Grammar School

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion talks about Earl Madison's band program at Phillips High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion describes his experience at the Sherwood Music School in Chicago, Illinois where he studied with Elsa Harthan Arendt

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about his vocal training with F. Bertram Briess and Elsa Harthan Arendt

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion describes his admiration for William McFarland, Roland Hayes, and HistoryMaker William Warfield

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion recalls receiving a scholarship to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee after singing for John Work, III

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion describes his experience at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion recalls the campus environment and his professors at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion talks about John Work, III, the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion talks about the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion talks about the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, pt.2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion describes campus life at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion recalls touring in Europe with the Jubilee Singers, pt.1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion recalls touring in Europe with the Jubilee Singers, pt.2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion talks about working for the Sante Fe Railway as a college student

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion remembers joining the Tuskegee Institute Choir at Radio City Music Hall in 1958 to sing 'Old Man River'

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about limited opportunities for African American singers in the 1950s

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion recalls his music education at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion talks about the impact of Charles S. Johnson's death on Jubilee Singers director John Work, III

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion remembers his good friends at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 8 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion talks about William L. Dawson's residency at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion contrasts the Tuskegee Institute Choir and the Jubilee Singers, and the conducting styles of John Work, III and William L. Dawson

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion describes the compositions and musical arrangements of William L. Dawson and John Work, III

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion talks about Thomas A. Dorsey and William L. Dawson

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion describes the impact of his experience in the Fisk Jubilee Singers on the John Work Chorale

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion talks about William L. Dawson's well-known compositions and arrangements

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion describes the challenges of his early teaching career in the Chicago Public School system

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion talks about how the John Work Chorale was invited to perform in Brazil with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion recounts the formation of the John Work Chorale

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion recalls how Theodore Charles Stone, president of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) inspired him to become a singer

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion talks about the John Work Chorale's temporary hiatus, and the group's longevity

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion describes the challenges of syncing musicians with dancers while on tour with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Brazil

Tape: 9 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion talks about his teaching career at Beidler Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion talks about his teaching career at Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Delano O'Banion describes how he is a combination of his mentors

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Delano O'Banion describes how he transformed the band program at Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Delano O'Banion talks about his theater career

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Delano O'Banion talks about his graduate studies in social psychology at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Delano O'Banion talks about his return to Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois after completing his graduate studies

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Delano O'Banion remembers a mentee named Clarence Thomas

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Delano O'Banion talks about the ethos of his singing and his connection with audiences

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Delano O'Banion describes the expansion of his vocal range under the tutelage of F. Bertram Briess

Tape: 10 Story: 10 - Delano O'Banion sings an excerpt from Handel's 'Messiah'

Tape: 10 Story: 11 - Delano O'Banion reflects upon his career

Tape: 10 Story: 12 - Delano O'Banion talks about his desire to travel the world

Tape: 10 Story: 13 - Delano O'Banion reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Delano O'Banion talks about the importance of Negro spirituals

DASession

1$2

DATape

2$10

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Delano O'Banion describes touring in Europe with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1956
Delano O'Banion talks about his teaching career at Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois
Transcript
So when the [Fisk] Jubilee Singers began touring the country singing spirituals, I guess that was a unique sound for anyone other than African Americans at that time.$$There's a play, there's, there are several instances where they were ready to be mobbed by lynch mobs. People were ready to stone them and run them out of town. And they began to sing. And quell the crowds when they sang Negro spirituals. People would stand up, literally start crying, you know, and their tracks--stop dead in their tracks to hear this beautiful music. And they turned away from their evil ways. That's, that's history. That's not, that's not just--that's not a theory on my part now. While I was in Fisk, at Fisk [University, Nashville, Tennessee] with the Jubilee Singers, I had the privilege in 1956 of touring Europe. Negro spirituals is not a--were not songs that I really--we sang them in the church choir before I went to Fisk. We sang all the regular songs that they sang, but we also sang Negro spirituals. But they were not special to me at that point. When I studied with Madame [Elsa Harthan] Arendt, she almost had to force me to sing Negro spirituals at the student recitals, you know 'cause that was not, you know particularly any part of music that I really--I was into classical music, I was into Beethoven and Handel and Bach and that kind of stuff. And so I sang, I sang Negro spirituals but they weren't, they weren't special to me. It was only after that experience at Fisk that the music really became special to me. In Europe one of the things I remember definitely, we had three different concerts that we did. We were supposed to do, we were supposed to do a all Negro spiritual concert, then we did some Palestrina, and some modern music. And then we did a mix of, mix of the three, you know, the three different kinds of music. And in Europe where we went from town to town, we did 66 concerts in 56 days in 1956. And in Europe, whenever we sang the predominant choice was the Negro spiritual concert. Almost all Negro spirituals. A few work songs, a few camp songs, you know, but people really--and after we sang our first concert in Germany, it was standing room only across the entirety of Europe. In England, Spain, Portugal, France, Sicily, Italy, all standing room. People would literally be--like a, a--like a rock concert today. People in Paris [France] on the--in the south of (unclear), people were, people were stationed behind us. We're on the stage and they put platforms behind us so people could sit and watch us at the concerts. These places would be--these huge halls would be filled with people to hear the Negro spirituals from the Jubilee Singers. This is 1956. And I began to think, you know, I mean over, over the years I mean I--since that time, you know, that this was really a strong statement, a strong-filled music that had a pathos, ethos, that really kind of, kind of stirred people to more than regular music would. And when we got out of--when I got away--graduated from Fisk and came to Chicago [Illinois], we formulated the Jubilee Singers which specializes in, even now today, specializes in Negro spirituals.$So talk about Marshall [High School, Chicago, Illinois]. Just re--you know 'cause you were saying when you came--$$When I came to Marshall, they brought me there to organize, organize a boys chorus. I was blessed because I had a chorus, I had an eighth grade chorus at, at Beidler [Elementary School], and those kids who came from Beidler to Marshall were the, were the gen--were the heart of my chorus at, at Marshall. So the guys who came there, they became the chorus at Marshall. So in the first year there we had about twenty-seven guys who--some kids who came into the chorus that were, weren't from Beidler. And won the competition, took a superior rating the first superior rating of a black choir out of Marshall in its history. So we took a superior rating that year and continued on the next couple of years. And then I finally went to human relations coordinator. But Marshall at that time had, it had 5,000 students in it. That's the population of Marshall. Almost on the--I think it was two, two, two double period day, yeah.$$Can we talk about were you--how did the students that you were dealing with differ from the students you went to school with, or the student that you were? Did you find things had changed much in that sort of--more, more like twenty-five year period, you know.$$Not really, not really.$$No, not really.$$Because even today, you know, you got all kinds of crap going on in the public school system, but that's primarily because of the adults. The adults have abdicated their authority, abdicated their ability to teach. And so the kids are gonna respond. There's a vacuum there, so kids responding to that vacuum. In my classroom, in my situation at Marshall High School, there was never a vacuum, you know. I taught boys chorus. We would--the first boys chorus, they gave me a room up in the, in the attic of the school first, when I first came there. It was a classroom that didn't have a door out to the hallway. Had to go through either the orchestra room or the music room next door. It was a room between two rooms. It had one incandescent bulb in the ceiling and a, and an attic window about twelve feet off the floor at the front of the room, okay, and I had a portable, a portable blackboard in that room. And that's where the boys--piano, they rolled a piano in there for me. So that's where the boy's chorus was found, founded in that room. But--and these guys were--some of them were Vice Lords [now the Almight Vice Lord Nation (AVLN)], some of 'em were Cobras at the time, Vice Lords and Cobras. But every morning at 7:30 we met together and there was no gang, there was no, you know, at least I didn't find out these gang members, some of 'em were gang members, until long after there, after I had left, they had left. And the reason, I was talking to the guys who came back and said well you know me, Mo [ph.] he was such-and-such a. So-and-so, he was a so-and-so. And so but when they came together, we sang together. And that was, you know the way it was. And then when I taught general music, I had no problems, really no problems because I--old school teacher. Not vicious or anything like that, but just put what, what I needed to put out there in front of the kids and they respond to that. There were other teachers like that all through Marshall at that time. The teachers who were really concerned and cared about the kids and weren't a--weren't afraid of them. You know I think a lot of the thing now is that we're running into is fear, you know.$$But see you had a forty-year career over at Marshall [High School], right?$$Forty, forty-one and a half, forty-two years.$$Okay, okay.

Walter J. Turnbull

Founder and director of the Boys Choir of Harlem, Walter J. Turnbull was born in Greenville, Mississippi on July 19, 1944. He has traveled a long road from the fields of the South where he chopped cotton as a child to attend Coleman High School where he joined the choir directed by Herticene Jones. Jones, a demanding teacher, encouraged Turnbull to attend Tougaloo College where he graduated with honors in classical music and vocal performance.

Turnbull eventually settled in New York City where he aspired to have a career as an operatic tenor. He continued his musical training at Manhattan School of Music and began performing with the New York Philharmonic. His professional career was sidetracked after taking a job teaching music in the basement of the Ephesus Church in Harlem. The choir quickly moved from being a performing ensemble for the church services to one presenting concerts and recitals in public venues with its repertoire of Bach chorales, Mozart, spirituals and hymns. The choir was eventually named the Boys Choir of Harlem. In 1986, Turnbull created the Choir Academy of Harlem as a school serving fourth through eighth grades. The program has expanded over the years to become a college preparatory school serving over five hundred students in grades four through twelve.

In 1997, Turnbull was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998, he received the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the Readers Digest American Heroes in Education Award. He was also named to the New York Black 100 by the Schomburg Center. In 2003, Turnbull received an honorary doctorate of music degree for his lifelong commitment to music, both as an accomplished performer and as the founder of the Boys Choir of Harlem.

Turnbull passed away on March 23, 2007 at the age of 62.

Turnbull was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 31, 2005.

Accession Number

A2005.175

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/31/2005

Last Name

Turnbull

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Lizzie Coleman Middle School

Melissa Manning Elementary School

Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist School

Tougaloo College

Manhattan School of Music

First Name

Walter

Birth City, State, Country

Greenville

HM ID

TUR04

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/19/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cornbread

Death Date

3/23/2007

Short Description

Choral director Walter J. Turnbull (1944 - 2007 ) is the founder and director of the Boys Choir of Harlem.

Employment

Boys Choir of Harlem

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:1328,35:1660,40:2158,117:3320,142:3735,148:17588,384:18506,394:22880,413:23654,423:24256,431:27352,490:28814,512:29158,517:34748,590:36554,619:44274,670:44678,676:47607,727:61472,867:70446,1047:70758,1052:71382,1062:71772,1068:73410,1093:74190,1106:80508,1197:81476,1234:82708,1251:84732,1283:93515,1361:93839,1366:94730,1387:95135,1393:104010,1503$0,0:7020,156:9900,198:10710,219:13140,255:13500,260:14580,275:15390,286:26442,424:27234,442:54980,739:62776,901:100568,1248:101780,1263:103194,1279:105113,1306:115022,1410:115550,1418:116078,1425:117750,1458:125360,1607:143660,1792:150830,1824:151802,1838:161420,1938:161756,1943:162176,1949:163688,1968:164276,1977:164696,1983:175674,2072:181991,2143:183201,2155:184900,2165
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Walter J. Turnbull's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers attending Julia Armstrong Elementary School

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull describes attending Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist School

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his personality as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls his early interest in singing

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the influence of Herticene Jones at Coleman High School

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers choosing to attend Tougaloo College

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers listening to classical music as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the importance of spirituals

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls attending Tougaloo College in the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the impact of Emmett Till's murder

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon the impact of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls James Meredith's activism

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers his time at Tougaloo College

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Chautauqua Institution in western New York

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the effects of racism on his career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his teaching method

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers applying to the Manhattan School of Music

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers moving to Harlem, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers founding the Boys Choir of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers studying opera in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the value of his opera training

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull recounts developing the Boys Choir of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem's distinct sound

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the Boys Choir of Harlem's critical acclaim

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers receiving the Heinz Award

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem's financial setbacks

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the partnership between the Boys Choir of Harlem and the New York City Department of Education

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem facing controversy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his autobiography

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the Boys Choir of Harlem's international performances

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon the importance of history

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon being interviewed by The HistoryMakers

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

11$5

DATitle
Walter J. Turnbull remembers listening to classical music as a teenager
Walter J. Turnbull remembers the Boys Choir of Harlem's international performances
Transcript
During those years, like your late high school [Coleman High School; Coleman Middle School, Greenville, Mississippi] years and just say, your first year at Tougaloo [College, Tougaloo, Mississippi], who inspired you musically? What type of music were you listening to as a teen and in young adult (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh, interesting, yeah. I remember listening a lot to classical music. Now, why? Basically because trying to be the good Christian, and not listening to that radio stuff. I mean, they were, you know, the, the church had a big influence on, on us because we were totally involved in the church with our mother [Lena Green Turnbull]. So, well, then the best thing would be--I guess to go to, to listen to classical music. So, all of those classical records that some of the teachers, who lived with us--some roomed in our home--young teachers. They might have belonged to the record club, Columbia [House], or whatever those record clubs are, RCA [Record Club; BMG Direct Marketing, Inc.], blah, blah, blah. And they would get these records as a part of the package, and some of them would be classical, and they would give them to me. So, I began to listen to that a lot. I remember the [George] Gershwin and how much I enjoyed the 'Rhapsody in Blue,' and all of that kind of stuff, so I began to acquire a taste. By that time also, I was studying piano with Ms. [Herticene] Jones and so, you know, the classical repertory was, was something that I began to enjoy.$So, at one point, you took the choir to the Guggenheim Museum [Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York] to perform?$$Yes, we went, went to the--we performed a lot, the Guggenheim, and, and just all over in the major venues in, in this city. But more importantly, I think, our first big trip to Europe, Haarlem to Haarlem, we went to Haarlem, Holland [Haarlem, the Netherlands], which is the namesake of our Harlem because there, of course, the Dutch owned everything in New York [New York] (laughter). And it was great. And to go to Breukelen in Holland and understand, or Bronx, you know, you were going up to the Bronc, B-R-O-N-C [sic. James Bronck], you know, and it became the Bronx. All Dutch settlers are--it's all very interesting. And so, we performed in the cathedral, the Grote Kerk, in Haarlem, Holland. And that was the beginning. I remember (laughter) a kid who wrote his home to his mother that there were thousands of people in a line around the cathedral to get in to, just to hear us. There simply wasn't, but when we went to Notre Dame [de Paris, Paris, France] on that same trip, we were singing Notre Dame. The kid wrote home and told his mom--it was so wonderful, but he didn't see the hunchback (laughter). Those kinds of experiences for children, and for me, were wonderful. So, where did I travel that was my favorite place? It could have been anywhere--Europe, we went to Europe five times. We've been to Japan three times.$$What was the experience in Japan like?$$Oh, wonderful. The Jap-, the Japanese really loved the Boys Choir of Harlem. And the--it--at which brings me to a point that all of our audiences respond exactly the same way, no matter what country, what continent, to the Boys Choir of Harlem, as the people here. Mothers see children, and they adore them. Educators see children that are disciplined and purposeful, and they adore them and respect them. They don't see what makes their face and the color of their skin important is that--oh, wow, this is not what we've heard that they do. Everywhere, people respond to the Boys Choir of Harlem the same way--with a lot of respect for hard work.

Alfred Cain

Musical director and writer Alfred Earl Cain was born October 5, 1921, in Warrior, Alabama. Cain's mother was the former Helen Hazel Moore and his father, Louis Cain, was a graduate of Tuskegee Institute. Cain attended Trinity School in Alabama and Nathan Hale Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York; he graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in 1939, where he was a member of the school chorus, the Frederick Douglass Society, and wrote for the Hamiltonian. Drafted in 1943, Cain was stationed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Cain earned a B.A. degree in 1949, and an M.A. degree from Columbia University in public law and government in 1951; while at Columbia, he became president of the local chapter of the NAACP and formed an NAACP chorus, which featured Doug Pugh, Deke Johnson, and future opera great, Leontyne Price. Cain served as a social investigator for the New York City Department of Welfare from 1951 to 1959, when he decided to serve as his church’s full time musical director.

Cain worked as the musical director for Vinette Carroll’s production of Dark of the Moon in 1950, and recorded with Fred Norman’s The Normanaires Quartet in 1953, featuring Brock Peters and Theresa Merritt. Cain was also musical director for Trumpets of God and James Baldwin’s Amen Corner in 1960. Some of the talent that Cain worked with included: Cicely Tyson, Roscoe Lee Brown, Clarence Williams III, James Earl Jones, Frank Silvera, Juanita Hall, and Isabel Sanford. A talented writer, Cain worked for Educational Heritage of Yonkers as editor of The Negro Heritage Reader for Young People and The Winding Road to Freedom: A Documentary History of Negro Experiences in America, both published in 1965. Cain also served as an editor of the syndicated insert Tuesday Magazine in the 1970s and as a staff writer at Prentice-Hall Publishers.

After moving to Chicago in 1981, Cain served as communications director and speechwriter for former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris. He was an active member of Ingleside-Whitfield United Methodist Church where he served as a columnist for the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference Reporter.

Cain passed away on December 30, 2011 at age 90.

Accession Number

A2004.263

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/15/2004 |and| 1/4/2005 |and| 1/19/2007

Last Name

Cain

Maker Category
Middle Name

Earl

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Alexander Hamilton High School

MS 293 Nathan Hale Junior High School

Columbia University

First Name

Alfred

Birth City, State, Country

Warrior

HM ID

CAI01

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/5/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish

Death Date

12/30/2011

Short Description

Choral director Alfred Cain (1921 - 2011 ) worked as a musical director with a range of talented actors, including Cicely Tyson, Roscoe Lee Brown, Clarence Williams III, James Earl Jones, Frank Silvera, Juanita Hall, and Isabel Sanford. In addition to his activities in the music industry, Cain worked as an editor, author and speechwriter for Roland Burris. Alfred Cain passed away on December 30, 2011.

Employment

New York City Department of Welfare

Tuesday Magazine

Educational Heritage, Inc.

Antioch Baptist Church

Prentice Hall

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:48813,354:94546,877:97001,892:101674,904:105282,959:108960,978:154463,1248:170633,1550:176950,1595:177748,1603:189204,1705:202372,1822:224750,2141$0,0:6411,98:25416,277:56130,512:149420,1367:165268,1561:188462,1784:192660,1848
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Alfred Cain's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain talks about his mother's side of the family, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain talks about his mother's side of the family, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain describes his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain recalls moving from Alabama to New York City with his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain describes his family's religious affiliations

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Alfred Cain describes his childhood activities

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Alfred Cain recalls his transition from Athens, Alabama to Brooklyn

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain recalls his expertise on New York City's public transit during the 1930s

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain recalls memorable teachers from his elementary and high school years

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes his writing experiences at Alexander Hamilton Vocational & Technical High School in Brooklyn, New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain recalls passing the Regents Examinations in Brooklyn, New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain describes African American figures from his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain describes his employment after high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain remembers being drafted by the U.S. military in 1943

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain remembers visiting Dayton, Ohio while stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain remembers being stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain remembers hearing Charles H. Wesley speak at a conference at Bordentown School in Bordentown, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain remembers Orson Wells' American Negro Theater production of 'Macbeth' at New York's Lafayette Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes his experiences at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain remembers hearing Charles H. Wesley speak

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain recalls reconnecting with his future wife at Columbia University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain shares his impression of President Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain recalls establishing a NAACP choir at Columbia University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain remembers his choral experiences at New York's International House and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain recalls his involvement with The Normanaires and Vinnette Justine Carroll's 'Dark of the Moon' in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain describes becoming choir director for New York's Antioch Baptist Church

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain describes his musical direction during the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain reflects upon the response to 'Dark of the Moon'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes Juanita Hall's reaction to 'Dark of the Moon'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain describes his work at New York's Department of Welfare and on the play 'Trumpets of the Lord'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain considers Theresa Merritt's acting career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain remembers the cast of James Baldwin's 'The Amen Corner'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain describes his experience as choral director of New York's Antioch Baptist Church

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain remembers joining Educational Heritage, Inc. in 1963

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain remembers running a program in 1963 for Educational Heritage, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain describes his editorial work on The Negro Heritage Library series, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Alfred Cain describes his editorial work on The Negro Heritage Library series, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating of Alfred Cain's interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain remembers hearing Carter G. Woodson and Mary McCleod Bethune speak in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes the book, 'The Winding Road to Freedom: A Documentary Survey of Negro Experiences in America'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain describes Noel N. Marder, president of Educational Heritage, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain describes Noel N. Marder, president of Educational Heritage, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain describes using Tom Feelings' comic strip in his book, 'Negro Heritage Reader for Young People'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain remembers his interactions with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while working as an editor for the Negro Heritage Library

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain remembers the reception to Educational Heritage, Inc.'s The Negro Heritage Library

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain describes the relationship between Educational Heritage, Inc. and the ASALH

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain describes Tuesday magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain explains Tuesday magazine's name

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain recalls founding Living Together, a Chicago Sun-Times supplement

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes his editorial work at Prentice Hall

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain remembers works published by Prentice Hall during his tenure as senior editor

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain reflects on the book 'Divided We Stand'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain describes his work for Kraft Foods' publication, 'The Heritage of Cooking'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain describes his decision to relocate to Chicago, Illinois in the early 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain remembers joining HistoryMaker Roland Burris' campaign staff

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain describes his experience writing for Tuesday At Home

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain shares his impression of HistoryMaker Roland Burris

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain describes HistoryMaker Roland Burris' run for U.S. Senate in 1984

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain remembers his work for HistoryMaker Roland Burris

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain remembers HistoryMaker Roland Burris' reputation in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain reflects upon HistoryMaker Roland Burris' political career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Alfred Cain describes his volunteer work with Ingleside-Whitfield United Methodist Church and Black Methodists for Church Renewal

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Alfred Cain describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Alfred Cain reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Alfred Cain reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Alfred Cain remembers participating in Chicago Society of Writers and Editors in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Alfred Cain describes memorable personalities from Chicago Society of Writers and Editors in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Alfred Cain recalls teaching HistoryMaker Carole Simpson's writing class at Northwestern University

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain remembers the meetings of Chicago Society of Writers and Editors in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain talks about his family's response to his success

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Alfred Cain describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Alfred Cain narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Alfred Cain narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Alfred Cain narrates his photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$6

DAStory

8$9

DATitle
Alfred Cain remembers his choral experiences at New York's International House and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Alfred Cain describes his experience writing for Tuesday At Home
Transcript
Living near the campus [Columbia University, New York, New York] at that point at International House [(I-House), New York, New York], Leontyne Price was there at that point. And a man from Dayton [Ohio], Johnson, Deke Johnson, was living there. And I recall going over to I-House when, when a group gathered around Leontyne, and somebody suggested at that point that we, we sing a couple of hot courses of 'Lift Ev'ry Voice [and Sing']. But she was on her way to becoming the, the grand diva that she became. But just on that musical thing, it was something I had, I loved music most of my life. And one, wasn't terribly trained; as a matter of fact, I could almost be called untrained, but it was something I enjoyed doing. We had a chorus on, on the [Wright-Patterson Air Force] Base [Ohio] at, at [Wilbur] Wright Field [Ohio], and we even did a few of the broadcasts from, from the field. And that led to one of the interesting little episodes out there. We did the first broadcast from there, and they were so pleased with the sound they asked us to perform more than we had, had planned to do and invited us to come back. And when we came back, we thought we had a jam-up program for them, but they didn't particularly like the idea that we were not doing a spiritual. And so it was one of those times when we stalked out; we weren't going to let them force us to do spirituals, you know.$$What kind of music did you do? I mean what, what, what were some of the songs sang?$$Oh, we did, it was rather a full gamut of things. We did some, a good number of the classical things, ranging from [Henry] Purcell thing up to some of the pop songs that were being done at that point. So it was just a matter that, you know, we did--and we did spirituals and hymns. We just weren't going to let them, you know, force us to, to do, do something. I realize now that that was on radio. What better way to let it be known that this is an all-black chorus than to have us sing spirituals (laughter). And if I'd been program director, probably would have asked for it, too. But I would have explained to the guys what was happening.$I enjoyed the fact about that cooking series ['The Heritage of Cooking'] with Kraft [Foods]. And that came, again, from I, I had an experience with Tuesday At Home. And we were having a problem with us, some people who were supposed to be supplying the material for the food section. And since food and cooking is sort of a hobby with me, I, on a couple of occasions, filled in, and ultimately it was just decided, "Well, you go ahead and do it." And so I wrote that column or that feature under my mother's first name and her maiden name, so Hazel Moore (laughter) was my, what do you call 'em, nom de plume (laughter). And I said I enjoyed that, and I did, because in one of the things I had created a sort of fictional family. Mind you, I'm writing this as a woman (laughter). And so, in that situation you had a husband and children. The husband was an old hotshot. And (laughter), and the, one of the letters that had us all cracking up was this woman who wrote and said (laughter): "Dear Hazel Moore, your husband, old hotshot, sure reminds me of mine," (laughter). So it was a validation of, of what we were trying to do. But that was enjoyable. I think I was able to do a couple of things there that were important. I recall that at one point in food publishing everything looked so artificial, and I had made a, a decision at Tuesday [Magazine] that what we showed as food was going to be food that had been prepared. And as a result, every now and then you'd see a, a piece of chicken with a little bit of a burn on it. But that's what would have happened at, in anybody's kitchen, and that's the truth of the matter rather than just putting a, you know, a raw chicken on, on the platter and, and painting it with a gravy master.$$Okay, so you were going for truth I guess, huh?$$Yeah, truth in, truth in eating (laughter).

Robert Wooten, Sr.

Gospel conductor and lifelong resident of Chicago, Robert E. "Gene" Wooten, Sr., was the fourth of five sons born to Flora and John Henry Wooten on February 17, 1930.

While a student at Morgan Park High School, Wooten organized a gospel choral group, the Morgan Park Crusaders, in 1945. After graduation, Wooten was stricken by a serious illness and hospitalized for a year. After recovering from his illness, Wooten devoted his life and musical talent to serving his faith; in July 1949 he founded the Wooten Choral Ensemble, based at Beth Eden Baptist Church. Wooten received his B.S. degree in music education from the Chicago Musical Conservatory in 1956, and earned his M.S. degree in the same field from Roosevelt University in 1968.

The Wooten Choral Ensemble boasted more than sixty members, and traveled extensively to perform and preach the gospel. Its hallmark through the years was expressing a spiritual message through anthems, hymns, black spirituals, and gospel sounds. Wooten's group recorded several albums and appeared on many local radio and television programs.

Outside of the church, Wooten enjoyed a distinguished career as an educator. At Parker High School, Wooten led the school's choir to citywide fame and rose to the rank of assistant principal before becoming a district administrator. Wooten worked with the Chicago Board of Education until his retirement in 1994.

For his contributions to gospel music, Wooten received many awards and recognitions. Wooten accepted an honorary doctorate from Virginia Seminary College in 1983, and was recognized at the Chicago Gospel Festival in 1994 for his contributions to religious music. Wooten and his wife, Frances, were married in 1956; the couple raised three children.

Robert E. "Gene" Wooten, Sr., passed away on March 27, 2008.

Accession Number

A2003.196

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/19/2003

Last Name

Wooten

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

E.

Schools

John D. Shoop Math-Science Technical Academy

Morgan Park High School

Chicago Conservatory of Music

Roosevelt University

Virginia University of Lynchburg

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WOO04

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Las Vegas, Nevada

Favorite Quote

I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/17/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon Croquettes, Chicken, Greens

Death Date

3/27/2008

Short Description

High school administrator and choral director Robert Wooten, Sr. (1930 - 2008 ) is the founder and director of the Wooten Choral Ensemble gospel choir.

Employment

Goldstein Millinery

Chicago Board of Education

Favorite Color

Black

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Wooten interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten discusses his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten remembers his stepmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten discusses his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten describes his childhood home, Morgan Park, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Wooten recalls his childhood pastimes

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Wooten remembers his school days

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten recalls the role of music in his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten discusses his pull towards music performance

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten describes influences from his school years

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten recalls his tenure at the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten remembers his struggles to pay for the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten shares life lessons from the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten discusses his decision to pursue music education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Wooten discusses the creation of the Wooten Choral Ensemble, part 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten describes the origins of the Wooten Choral Ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten discusses his career in the Chicago Public Schools system

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten details the highlights of his musical career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten describes his family's musical pursuits

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten considers his favorite compositions and arrangements

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten discusses black musical legacies

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten describes the Wooten Choral Ensemble's musical choices

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten discusses the Wooten Choral Ensemble's collaborations

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten considers his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten considers how he'd like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Wooten in his teenage years, 1940s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Wooten's second oldest brother, Dr. John C. Wooten

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Photo - Robert Wooten's two sons and two nephews, Morgan Park, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Wooten and wife, Frances, on their wedding day, Chicago, Illinois, August 1956

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Wooten makes an address at the 20th anniversary of the Wooten Choral Ensemble, Chicago, Illinois, July 1969

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his assistant director and Donald Bexley

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Wooten with Mrs. Sid Ordower, producer of the 'Jubilee Showcase'

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his son, daughter-in-law and a pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, ca. 1998

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Wooten with leaders from the Wooten Choral Ensemble, ca. 1998

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his wife and son, ca. 1958

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Wooten makes a church service address, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Wooten receives an honorary doctorate at West Virginia Seminary and College, West Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Wooten before a concert, not dated

Tape: 4 Story: 17 - Photo - Robert Wooten at his high school graduation, Chicago, Illinois, 1948

Tape: 4 Story: 18 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife on a cruise to the Bahamas, ca. 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 19 - Photo - Robert Wooten during his tenure at the Chicago Board of Education

Tape: 4 Story: 20 - Photo - Robert Wooten prepares the Englewood High School choir for competition, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 21 - Photo - Robert Wooten at the Area A Student Recognition Luncheon, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 22 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife serve as Parker High School senior prom chaperones, Chicago, Illinois, 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Photo - Robert Wooten, ca. 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his eldest brother, ca. 2000

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his last living brother

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Wooten with friends from his Tuesday morning breakfast club, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Wooten with family members

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Reverend Henry Bracken of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Wooten's father

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Wooten with boss James Moore at an event at the Harambee House, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his daughter

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his two grandsons

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his brother, sister-in-law and wife

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Wooten's youngest brother in his policeman's uniform

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife in the early 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Wooten with family members at the renaming of a Chicago, Illinois street

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Wooten, ca. 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Wooten with the Wooten Choral Ensemble, Chicago, Illinois, 1991

Cheryl Saunders

Cheryl Eileen Saunders was born on May 7, 1955 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Lula Roberts and Isaac London. The oldest of four children, Saunders (then Roberts) stayed close to her family for many years, attending college in her hometown. Saunders has brought a unique perspective to music education.

Upon graduating from Blair High School in 1972, Saunders continued her education at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She earned a bachelor's degree in music education in 1977 and a master's degree in music from the same school in 1983. In 1989, Saunders left the United States for England, serving as a facilitator and arts consultant for the Creative Futures Music Consulting Group and a teacher of mathematics and music for the Reading Borough Council. Saunders organized and conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Gospel Choir, coordinated a U.S. servicemen's seminar of Germany, and organized a music program at the multicultural Coley Primary School in Reading, England. There, she helped children compose music.

Returning to the United States, Saunders became a doctoral candidate in the field of educational leadership at the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks in 1996. Saunders began consulting the university in 1997 while presenting at international music workshops. She showed the differences and similarities between Western and African American music, especially focusing on the history of church music. In 1998, teaching for the first time in a college setting, Saunders lectured at the University of North Dakota and the Northwest Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minnesota on the issues of multiculturalism. She also became the interim center coordinator for the Era Bell Thompson Cultural Center, which provides support for students of all ethnicities. Saunders has been married to Lee R. Saunders since 1980. They have two children, Jasmine and Joshua.

Accession Number

A2002.160

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/13/2002

Last Name

Saunders

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Blair High School

Blair Center Hattiesburg High

First Name

Cheryl

Birth City, State, Country

Hattiesburg

HM ID

SAU02

Favorite Season

Holiday Season

Sponsor

Knight Foundation

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Minnesota

Birth Date

5/7/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Minneapolis/St. Paul

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Hot Dogs (Vegetarian)

Short Description

Academic administrator and choral director Cheryl Saunders (1955 - ) organized the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Gospel Choir.

Employment

Creative Futures Music Consulting Group

Reading Borough Council

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Gospel Choir

University of North Dakota

Northwest Technical College

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
0,0:3471,72:12186,228:20486,388:30960,500:35040,571:35840,583:49677,705:50244,720:68864,974:71214,1008:84756,1138:86648,1164:87078,1170:87594,1177:88368,1188:96950,1301:98210,1321:104870,1429:105680,1440:106040,1445:117710,1504:127717,1602:128073,1607:132612,1674:133057,1680:138980,1713:142872,1750:143382,1769:144810,1778:146083,1800:147965,1841:149135,1875:150370,1906:150695,1912:156039,1956:156895,1965:158834,1979:171055,2166:171955,2184:172255,2189:183948,2353:186792,2381:187088,2391:188050,2408:188494,2415:194820,2468:195674,2489:197540,2505$0,0:34925,443:35900,460:49708,600:58077,780:63082,869:83990,1077:90722,1180:91217,1186:103890,1349:104574,1364:134057,1699:145178,1909:156032,1998:156497,2004:205913,2720:213365,2937:219818,2971:230568,3130:230958,3136:297610,3913
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cheryl Saunders' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cheryl Saunders lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cheryl Saunders describes her mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cheryl Saunders describes her maternal grandmother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cheryl Saunders describes her household as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cheryl Saunders describes the sights, sounds, and smells of Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cheryl Saunders talks about how her community shaped her

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cheryl Saunders talks about growing up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Cheryl Saunders remembers her mother's friendship with Vernon Dahmer

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cheryl Saunders recalls her elementary school education in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cheryl Saunders describes attending several high schools in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cheryl Saunders describes studying music at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cheryl Saunders talks about her interest in Negro spirituals

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cheryl Saunders describes her life after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cheryl Saunders talks about being a Seventh Day Adventist

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cheryl Saunders talks about her depression following her parents' deaths

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cheryl Saunders describes working with choirs in England

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cheryl Saunders contrasts gospel music in England versus the U.S.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cheryl Saunders talks about the racial composition of her choir in England

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cheryl Saunders talks about Grand Forks, North Dakota

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cheryl Saunders describes her decision to obtain a Ph.D.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cheryl Saunders talks about the Flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota,pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Cheryl Saunders talks about the Flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cheryl Saunders talks about her career at the University of North Dakota

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cheryl Saunders talks about her committee involvement at the University of North Dakota

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cheryl Saunders talks about African Americans in North Dakota

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cheryl Saunders describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cheryl Saunders talks about her opposition to Native American mascots

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cheryl Saunders narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

8$3

DATitle
Cheryl Saunders talks about growing up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement
Cheryl Saunders contrasts gospel music in England versus the U.S.
Transcript
Now you grew up--when you were growing up the Civil Rights Movement had kicked off in the south and you were a little girl when, when voters are being registered in 1964 all over the state of Mississippi then and do, do, do you remember any of that and, and what the adults were, were thinking about that?$$Do you know--$$Hattiesburg was one of the towns--(unclear)--$$I, I remembered my mother paying poll tax, but I don't remember my mother studying, you know, because there was a particularl test that black people had to take as a way of weeding out or getting those people away from voting. I do remember people picketing downtown, especially on Saturday mornings. My mother--I think Martin Luther King [Jr.] was coming to my town, my mother wanted to go to that meeting and was going to take me. My aunt begged her not to go, and we didn't go because they thought, you know, the threat of a bombing or some type of terrorist attack. However, my mother was not the type of person to go out and, and march. She wasn't that type of a picketer. She was what I would call a silent protestor, so we boycotted a lot of things. I do remember that there was a cross burned across the street in front of our house. I have never been so frightened in my life, and I've gone through a lot of things since, nothing like that. And, and instead of frightening us, well initially we were frightened, but instead of frightening us overall we were angered, okay, and so my mom voted; voted until she died. That was the thing, as children we were aware of what was going on politically, I know I was, and that helped me in just noticing who was in my neighborhood because we'd heard stories of folk disappearing and very, what would I say, we were very much a part of the struggle because even going to school we would have to fight our way to school. We had to walk through a white neighborhood to get to a black school. So, every morning, every afternoon throwing rocks. White kids threw rocks at us, and we tried different ways. So, even the children were a part of that movement. My husband will tell you I can hit my target. I learned to throw back. At one point, it was--we were told not to fight back and at one point we just couldn't. How much abuse can one take, and so we used to fight, going back and forth, back and forth. So, even as children, we were a part of that. We were unwillingly thrown into it. So, part of our childhood was affected, of course, by the Civil Rights Movement.$But, my job was to put the choir together and so what we did I gave a series of seminars on African American church music, and an analysis, you know, comparative analysis of African American church music and western church music, so I had to approach it from that standpoint. And I also worked with choirs, and they were trying to get their gospel sound because people, I found in England, people loved gospel music, but they didn't like the screaming kind. They wanted just--they loved the gospel sound, okay.$$They didn't want the screaming?$$They didn't want you to scream. They didn't want to lose the voice. They wanted to sing correctly because, you know--(unclear)--we can't do that.$$So, was that a major adjustment that had to be made--(unclear)--$$The, the major--I think the major adjustment to me that they had to make that they couldn't sing this from just the chest, just superficial singing. Gospel music to me is, is, as with Negro spirituals that's a deep down, that's soul. That's in the depths of one's soul, and it is a matter of exposing yourself to your audience. And a lot of people are so reserved they don't want to expose themselves, where in the black culture the African--an African American expose themselves, my hurt. If I'm hurting, it went through my song, you know that this girl has been though something. When the other culture it was said, well that's good, okay I let you see my, feel my pain, see it and almost feel my pain because you have some pain somewhere you know, so really helping them to let go and really let, let their emotions come forth.$$Could they do it?$$Yes, some people were very good. It was, it was an old theater trick, you know, feel the atmosphere. You close your eyes and you feel the atmosphere. I learned that in theater, opera theater workshop. You feel the atmosphere and you become this and I would give them different scenarios just to help them to let go of those emotions and we ended up with a 300 voice choir. I don't think ten percent were even people of color.$$But they could sing Negro spirituals?$$Primarily we were doing gospel on that particular one.$$--(Unclear)--$$There were some people that I was very surprised and you know what I discovered some folk only listened to black singers, so that's what they've tuned their ear and their voices too, interesting. I, I auditioned folk to hear, especially for soloist, to hear that and I was shocked.$$Really.$$Isaiah Jackson was shocked too.$$Now, there's a history of that appreciation over there that goes all the way back to the pre-Beatle days.$$Right.$$Listening to the old blues singers.$$That's right.$$The Beatles got there.$$That's right.$$And they--that, that's what they say.$$And see I was in Liverpool, Beatle town, Beatle City and it was very well received. The Phil, I understand the Philharmonic had been having some problems of attendance and also they were in the process of refurbishing their auditorium, so this particular concert had to be held in the Anglican Cathedral, which held about 2000 people. I understand that they had to turn people away. That was the first time the Phil had ever had any type of function, a concert where they literally had to turn people away and because that particular concert brought in Liverpool, not just the elite, but different classes. It transcended all classes. And even in our choir, I had bankers, I had homeless people, you know, but everybody in the choir from my standpoint they were on the same level, okay, and that's how we treated them with the same respect. There were people who normally wouldn't have even talked to each other, let alone stand together and sing together and so we saw that as a positive, as a positive project for Liverpool. They offered me a job to stay on and do this thing full time, but the military said no and made us come back to America, which I--we miss the place.