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UIUC’s Black Chorus pays tribute in annual Mom’s Day concert

URBANA – The University of Illinois Black Chorus presents their annual Mom’s Day concert this Saturday, April 13th, at 7:30pm at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Morning Edition host Kimberly Schofield spoke with conductor and professor, Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, about those being honored at the concert and the impact Black Chorus has on the community.

Kimberly Schofield: The title is “MOM…Simply the Best” which makes me think of the Tina Turner song. You’ve had a lot of fun titles for your shows. Is that something that you come up with?

Dr. Ollie Watts Davis: That is something that I come up with, the theme for the presentation. And you’re absolutely correct. We will be paying tribute to the “Queen of Rock ‘n Roll,” Tina Turner. Additionally, we will be paying tribute to Harry Belafonte.

KS: There’s a lot with this concert, actually. It’s the two-year celebration of the 55th year of Black Chorus. What does that mean to you? Because you’ve been there for…over 75% of it existing on the campus?

OWD: Well, I haven’t done the percentage, but you’re probably correct. The Black Chorus was founded in 1968 by four students and it has enjoyed a continual presence in this community. Rather than just having a one-year 55 year celebration, I thought it would be unique and give others the opportunity to enjoy the music and the continuation by having a two-year celebration. I’m also enjoying my 42nd year as the principal conductor. So it’s really going to be a festive occasion at the Mom’s Day concert.

Dr. Ollie Watts Davis Courtesy of UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts Webpage

KS: The celebration of mothers is such an important thing, especially in the Black community. What is it like for you and for your students to be performing and to have the theme revolved around Mom’s Day?

OWD: It’s a wonderful opportunity and honor. The campus celebrates all the mothers – all the moms come to campus on a specifically designated weekend in the spring, as do the fathers come in the fall. So for Black Chorus to have an offering during this campus-wide celebration is really special. Yes, in the Black community, the mom is the foundation. So it’s important for us to recognize all the contribution…to nurture and just give her her dues, give her her flowers when she can receive them. And so we’re especially pleased to have mothers of the graduating seniors recognized at the concert and we’ll be recognizing all the mothers in the audience as well.

KS: Oh, that’s beautiful. What a beautiful connection for the seniors and for their mothers. And this concert also will pay special tribute to the late Dr. William Patterson, Is that correct?

OWD: Yes, we plan to dedicate a specific piece in his honor. Dr. Patterson was a tremendous force in this community. We enjoyed some really fun conversations, sometimes challenging, but they always resulted in advancing the community and the youth in the community. So with his transition happening and it being right near our spring concert, I thought it only appropriate that we, as Black Chorus, pay our respects in this way, musically.

KS: Is there something that you’re looking most forward to with this concert?

OWD: I’m looking forward to the entire offering. The students have worked so very hard and they’re ready to deliver. It seems as if almost every year I’m rebuilding. I’m pleased to graduate a lot of students. That’s why they come to the university. This particular spring semester, Black Chorus has really done a stellar job of preparing and basically understanding the assignment. I oftentimes tell the students that whatever audience shows up – and we’ve been fortunate we’ve had good audiences in the past, but they didn’t earn that audience. The previous choir earned that audience. And so those people are coming because of the reputation and the standard of excellence that the previous choir was able to deliver. So I’m excited because as I said earlier, I believe they understood the assignment they put in the work. And on Saturday, we will give it away.

KS: Dr. Davis, is there anything that you would like our listeners to know before the show on Saturday?

OWD: Listeners, I hope that you will find your way to Krannert Center on Saturday. The Black Chorus will present a real wide variety of music, starting with the spiritual and then a hymn and an anthem. And then we’ll go into a tribute section of popular music. And these young students have worked really hard to capture the essence and the power of these artists. We will have, on the second half of the concert, our traditional and contemporary gospel selections with tremendous audience participation. So we hope that you’ll come with your singing voice. You can even bring your tambourine if you like and join us because the highest evaluation of our presentation is our audience participation. So we bridge the gap from the stage to the audience. Alums will return to campus and you’ll see them back on the stage. So if you’re an alum in the community or wherever you are and you hear this, you are invited. Black Chorus is not only, you know, an academic offering and a musical organization, but it’s a leadership institute as well. And so I take student leaders and alum leaders and kind of raise them up and give them opportunity to share their expertise. And so I’m just really delighted with that. Having been with this work for so long, it’s important to me to prepare others either to continue this work here on this campus or wherever they go. That’s what’s important.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is an underwriter of Illinois Public Media.

Picture of Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield is the host of Morning Edition and covers arts and entertainment for Illinois Newsroom. When she is not covering the arts, she is performing in plays and musicals or running the streets of CU.

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