Find Your Passion: Making a Joyful Noise

UA Gospel Choir Celebrates 40th Anniversary, Strengthens Family Ties

Afro-American Gospel Choir University of Alabama student Collin Taylor directs UA’s Afro-American Gospel Choir. (Jeff Hanson)

By Desiree Mahr

It all started with a talent show in the summer of 1971.

Sponsored by the Afro-American Association, the show helped pave the way for the future of one group of students who sang a gospel song for the competition. The group of 12 students attracted 40-50 students to join them in forming The University of Alabama's Afro-American Gospel Choir that fall. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the AAGC has now become one of the most recognized student musical organizations on campus.

From the start, the AAGC has especially been known for its members' booming voices and talent. The choir has won many awards at gospel competitions around the nation, and, according to Cynthia Moore, AAGC faculty adviser, performances from the AAGC are always in high demand, both locally and nationally.

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"Locally, we've sung at the Kentuck Arts Festival, Dickens Downtown in Northport, the Foster Auditorium dedication and athletic events, where we sing the national anthem," Moore says. "Outside of the state, we've traveled as far as Virginia. In the past, we were also invited by the University of Tennessee's multicultural affairs office to sing at a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims."

The choir has also performed at church services, social gatherings, patriotic ceremonies and UA events.

As with any musical group, extensive rehearsals are necessary for members of the AAGC to perform at their best. The lengthy rehearsals, combined with the choir's frequent weekend travel, leads members to spend countless hours together every week. For this reason, the choir has become a place where members can find comfort while away from family and friends. According to those involved with the AAGC, the family bond within the choir is the perfect remedy for the ups and downs of college life that students sometimes encounter.

"If you're a shy person, joining the choir helps you to meet new friends who are always going to be there for you," Moore says. "It builds confidence."

Along with the challenges of meeting new people and making new friends come the academic challenges that UA students face. To meet these challenges, members of the AAGC emphasize the importance of establishing connections between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen within the same field of study. Moore says this helps lowerclassmen to move in the right direction academically and to expand their professional network at the same time.

Afro-American Gospel ChoirKris Bitten, a sophomore from Huntsville, sings. (Jeff Hanson)

The choir also provides members a way to deal with the stresses of student life.

"Being in the choir really gives you a chance for a healthy release," says Collin Taylor, a senior political science major from Montgomery, who serves as the student choir director. "It's the best release for me. "Everything on your mind, everything you're going through – whether it's a bad test or a bad day – can be released when you come to rehearsal and to church on Sundays to be with the Afros and to sing and praise the Lord."

Like other student organizations on UA's campus, the AAGC offers opportunities to become campus leaders as elected members of the choir's executive board. Now in his third year as a member and president of the AAGC, Taylor said the choir has not only allowed him to grow religiously, but also in leadership through his executive board position.

Moore said her most positive experiences with the choir have come from watching the AAGC members develop on a professional level during the years they spend at UA.

"It's great to see them come in as scared, intimidated freshman and then leave with so much more confidence and leadership experience," Moore said.

Involvement in the choir doesn't stop at the undergraduate level. The family bond formed in the AAGC carries on beyond graduation. According to Moore, alumni students keep in touch like brothers and sisters and usually talk daily, if not more frequently. AAGC alumni also come back for choir events and performances, and they are more than willing to help young choir members not only academically, but also with life situations.

Afro-American Gospel ChoirUA’s Afro-American Gospel Choir is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. (Jeff Hanson)

"Our alumni make up a great support system for us," Taylor says. "We know we can come to them to ask for advice on what we should do or how it should be done. They never fail to give us any support that we need.

Jesmond Fair, a 2010 UA graduate and AAGC alumnus, still attends choir events and provides advice to the students. According to Fair, the bond he formed with fellow choir members was just one key factor in his decision to stick with the AAGC after graduation.

"When you see each other three to four days of the week and on weekends, you have no choice but to become close," Fair said. "The choir really turns into a second home for us, with Cynthia as the mother. We take advantage of everything that's here – it's everlasting."

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Desiree Mahr is a senior from Belleville, Ill., double majoring in public relations and Spanish. She is an intern in the UA Office of Media Relations.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.