The Spirituals Project Choir is an integral part of the story of the spirituals and of The Spirituals Project organization. The choir consists of over 70 singers of all ages and backgrounds with varying degrees of musical experience. Under the direction of Bennie L. Williams, Artistic Director, and LaDamion Massey, Associate Choir Director, the Choir celebrates the varied traditions of the spirituals, and provides an opportunity for people to connect personally with the spirituals through performance.
One tradition of the spirituals are the slave songs themselves, historically sung in solitude, while working, or and communally. Another is the concertized versions of the spirituals, which were first brought to public prominence by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The spirituals have continued to be performed in successive generations by such great concert artists as Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, and Jessye Norman. It is in the tradition of such musicians and artists that the Choir carries on the commitment to sharing these uniquely American songs.
The Choir primarily sings written arrangements of the spirituals, many of which have become part of the standard choral concert repertoire. They include the works of Nathaniel Dett, H.T. Burleigh, William L. Dawson, Jester Hairston, Moses Hogan, John Wesley Work, Hall Johnson, Undine Smith Moore and Alice Parker. In addition, the choir performs new arrangements – many written expressly for The Spirituals Project Choir – that bring back a more basic form, nearer to the style in which the songs were sung. This “minimalist” style often serves to make these songs more accessible to wider audiences and allows them to re-discover the earlier forms of African American music that so effectively moved people worldwide.
Sankofa: An Ensemble of The Spirituals Project is a 30 member acapella ensemble dedicated to sharing the beautiful concertized versions of the spirituals. The name and image for Sankofa is taken from a West African adinkra symbol that means “to go back and get it,” which illustrates the wisdom in learning from the past as we move toward building the future.
Although The Spirituals Project is a secular organization, the Choir performs frequent concerts in church venues. Other venues include the magnificent Boettcher Concert Hall at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver, the Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Museum, as well as appearances in Colorado Springs, Broomfield, Longmont, and Boulder. The Sankofa ensemble has represented The Spirituals Project at music festivals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and West Palm Beach, Florida to great acclaim.