For the second straight year, the University of Hartford Gospel Choir is home to the top gospel group in the state. The singers received the Connecticut Music Award in their category during a ceremony on Tuesday, June 10, at The Bushnell in Hartford. Emanuel Dillon ’14 and Choir Director Kenneth James ’16 accepted the award on the group’s behalf. (Read more about the CT Music Awards on the Hartford Courant's website.)
“It’s a great feeling to know someone out there likes what we’re trying to do and want to recognize us for it,” says Choir Director Kenneth James ’16, referring to the group’s mission of spreading the gospel through song. “We use the music to support the community, particularly those students who are away from home. We want the songs to tell them ‘you can do it, you can make it.”
James knows something about trying to make it. He was not accepted to The Hartt School, the University’s performing arts conservatory, right out of high school. After a couple of years attending UHart and Capital Community College, he decided to try again. This time, he was invited to audition, was accepted into Hartt, and will begin studying jazz vocal performance as a junior this fall.
James has been singing since he was a young child and directed his first church choir when he was just eight years old. Now, he leads the UHart choir through weekly rehearsals and several performances during the academic year. He hopes to use the skills he’s honed as a director in both of his longterm goals: creating a mentoring program for at-risk young men and teaching music at the college level. First, he has some big plans for the group.
“Look out for us over the next few months,” James says. “I would love to do a tour, maybe a CD. We can’t personally reach everyone, but our music can.”
The University of Hartford Gospel Choir was founded in 1996 by Glen Winfree, a graduate student studying psychology.
“As both a Christian and a musician, Winfree felt compelled to begin a gospel choir,” explains DeLois Lindsey, assistant vice president for student development and the choir’s advisor. “He started it for our students who wanted to sing God’s praise and who missed that aspect of worship as college students because they either loved to sing or because they missed that component of worship being away at college.”
One of the members of the inaugural class was Jonathan Lee Iverson, a Hartt alum and the first African-American ringmaster for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Other members of note include R&B singer Javier and local artist LaTanya Farrell.
The University of Hartford Gospel Choir has performed at dozens of events, fundraising concerts, and churches throughout the region. James says excited to welcome new members this fall. For more information on joining the gospel choir, please visit the group’s webpage.
The University of Hartford Gospel Choir performing at a Thanksgiving service in 2012.