Uniting Voices Chicago (formerly Chicago Children’s Choir) launches its annual Black History Month Concert Series with the new theme Soul to Soul: The Evolution of African Music in America. More than 2700 Chicago Public Schools students in Uniting Voices’ transformative youth empowerment and music education program are rehearsing for back-to-back performances at Chicago Symphony Center on Thursday February 22nd and Friday February 23rd at 11am. This celebration of Africana music’s indelible impact on our world will inspire the heart and soul!
This concert showcases Uniting Voices singers from across Chicago harmonizing and dancing to songs across a wide range of genres from the swing classic “It Don’t Mean a Thing” to the unforgettable hymn “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” to a gospelized version of the Civil Rights Anthem “We Shall Overcome.” An ode to funk music, “Let’s Get Funky” and a Gullah ring play are guaranteed to get everyone up on their feet. Performed by and for Uniting Voices students, this event brings together youth from across Chicagoland to celebrate, learn and connect in one unforgettable experience. The concert also features Voice of Chicago, the organization’s advanced ensemble that tours the country and the globe.
“Through this concert, which explores the rich ways Africana music uses rhythm and melody to connect the heart, mind, body, and soul, Uniting Voices continues its commitment to rigorous performance education and the visibility of authentic Africana music. Soul to Soul embraces the rich legacy of Africana influences in the evolution of modern America and connects the music that moves us to the globally connected state of our world,” said Lonnie Norwood, conductor and director of Africana studies at Uniting Voices, who is also a Chicago South Side native.
Founded in 1956 at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, Uniting Voices Chicago empowers and unites youth from diverse backgrounds to find their voice and celebrate their common humanity through the power of music. In addition to learning exceptional musical technique, students explore the history and social significance of music from cultures around the globe. In advance of Black History Month and throughout the year, thousands of Uniting Voices youth learn about Africana musical traditions and hear from composite characters who represent perspectives born out of real cultural experiences.
For example, in this year’s curriculum fifteen-year-old Jah shares his perspective on being Gullah Geechee, an African American ethnic group in the Lowcountry of the United States. He discusses how he came to embrace speaking the often-maligned Gullah language, a mix of English and African words with grammar and sentence structure heavily influenced by African languages. Jah is proud to speak and sing in Gullah because it honors the struggle of his ancestors. Through these accounts, Uniting Voices youth learn about the meaning behind the music they are performing. In this case, the song “Step It Down” is an ecstatic traditional Gullah ring play that includes a call out to the ancestors and expressive dancing around a circle.
“The Black History Month Concert Series explores the contributions and incredible musical traditions of our African American communities. This event brings together youth of all backgrounds to celebrate the diverse Africana cultures and histories that they have learned alongside one another,” said Uniting Voices Chicago President Josephine Lee. “Through this community, our singers are becoming global leaders as they harness the power of music to bridge social divisions and explore what unites us in our common humanity.”
This dynamic and inspiring concert series features a must-see mix of Africana songs including:
· Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing
· Step It Down
· It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
· Sir Duke
· Sew, Sew, Sew with Needle Don’t Lie
· We Shall Overcome
· Let’s Get Funky
· For Every Mountain
This concert is not open to the public. For more information on Uniting Voices’ programs and upcoming performances, please visit https://www.unitingvoiceschicago.org
Uniting Voices offers dynamic school- and community-based programs to students in 80+ schools and 12 neighborhood choirs with 100 percent of students receiving instruction at a subsidized cost or free of charge. Uniting Voices is still accepting youth for the second half of its 2023-24 Neighborhood Choir Programs. To learn more visit: https://www.unitingvoiceschicago.org/join
About Uniting Voices Chicago (formerly Chicago Children’s Choir)
Uniting Voices Chicago (formerly Chicago Children’s Choir) is a nonprofit organization that empowers and unites youth from diverse backgrounds to find their voice and celebrate their common humanity through the power of music. Founded in 1956 and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Uniting Voices Chicago provides accessible music education to youth ages 6-18 from every zip code of Chicago. With hundreds of choirs across 80+ Chicago schools; achievements that include international tours and collaborations with world renowned artists; and a network of more than 50,000 alumni around the globe, Uniting Voices is taking the next step to empower a new generation of changemakers.
Photos: Credit Kyle Flubacker & Jaclyn Simpson