A surprise for Coon Rapids High’s Gospel Choir

Community Contributor column from ABC Newspapers.

In October, the Coon Rapids High School (CRHS) Gospel Choir Club was featured in a WCCO-TV story.

The story led to an invitation from the Minnesota Business Partnership to sing the national anthem at the organization’s annual meeting.

The students performed in front of a crowd of 900 that included Gov. Mark Dayton, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachmann.

But the story didn’t end there for the student-run club.

WCCO producer Greg Litman contacted CRHS student learning advocate Portia McClain and asked if she could pull the group together.

WCCO had a surprise for the students. As part of its “Season of Hope” series, Angela Davis, a WCCO anchor and reporter, arranged for the students to visit a Sounds of Blackness rehearsal and for members of the group to agree to mentor the students.

(Sounds of Blackness performs many types of music, including gospel.)

To top off the surprise, the station purchased the group professional robes for performing.

McClain told the students they had been invited on a field trip by the television station. Dec. 4, the students arrived at CRHS for dinner provided by WCCO and boarded a bus for an unknown destination.

When the students walked into the auditorium at the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis and were told it was the Sounds of Blackness rehearsing for their upcoming performance at the Guthrie Theater, they began screaming.

Davis introduced herself as well as Gary Hines, Sounds of Blackness’ long-time director.

Founded in 1969 at Macalester College and called the Macalester College Black Voices, in 1971, Hines took leadership and the group changed its name to Sounds of Blackness.

In addition to winning Grammy Awards, in the 1990s, the group had several hits on the Billboard R & B chart and Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play.

Many of the group’s members invited the students to come up on stage where they were greeted with handshakes and hugs.

Davis explained to the group that WCCO had done a story about the Gospel Choir Club, but they were missing two things and the station wanted to help them out.

Davis pulled out a choir robe to cheering from both the students and Sounds of Blackness members.

Sounds of Blackness began to sing as the high school students put on their new robes.

With their bright blue robes, the students were asked to sing for the Sounds of Blackness.

As they sang “Wade in the Water” and “Praise Him in Advance,” the Sounds of Blackness members softly clapped.

Not many high school choirs have had the honor of being backed by Grammy Awarding-winning artists. Everyone then sang the Sounds of Blackness’ “Hold on Change is Coming.”

When they were done, Hines spoke to the students.

“It’s appropriate that your new robes are blue,” Hines said. “You are all kings and queens.

“No matter what people say to you in school or on the street, you are kings and queens. I’d like to commend Angela and WCCO for doing these types of positive activities.”

When Davis asked Hines if he saw any talent in the group, he said, yes.

“I see some future Sounds of Blackness members here,” he said, and then shared some advice with students.

“It’s about practice and persistence,” he said. “It’s about consistency and practicing your craft every day. That’s what we try to do in Sounds of Blackness.”

Days after the event, Gospel Choir Club members Brianka Ojboola Agboola, Rachel Motachwa and Beryl Sang reflected on the evening.

The three girls, all juniors, said they were just excited to know they were going on a field trip and had no idea they’d be seeing the Sounds of Blackness or receiving robes.

“They are really, really good and make us want to be way better,” Sang said. “We can reach for the stars.”

“They put so much effort into what they do and we want to do that too,” Motachwa said.

All were excited to see the group and touched by the robes.

“It was very reassuring and lets us know we must keep going,” Ojboola Agboola said. “The Gospel Choir must keep going on.”

“And now we can be taken more seriously,” Motachwa said.

The girls are also looking forward to being mentored by Sounds of Blackness members.

An unofficial mentoring began that night on stage as members spoke one-on-one with the students.

“They were very encouraging to us and told us to just keep on doing what we’re doing,” Ojboola Agboola said.

“It feels good that we are one of the few gospel choirs in a high school. It gives Coon Rapids High School a better name.”

McClain was happy with WCCO’s efforts and said having Sounds of Blackness members mentor the students goes “beyond their wildest dreams.”

“The next day at school they researched Sounds of Blackness and they were smiling all day,” McClain said. “They kept asking me, ‘Ms. Portia, when are you going to call them?’

“This has been a great experience for the kids and maybe it will bring more kids into the Gospel Choir. And if they get to perform somewhere with the Sounds of Blackness, that will be a big treat. And they are really proud of the new robes. It makes them feel more powerful.”

The story about the Gospel Choir Club and Sounds of Blackness ran Dec. 10 during the 10 p.m. WCCO newscast. It can be viewed on the station’s website at www.wcco.com.

The choir will perform at the Anoka-Hennepin School District Martin Luther King Jr. Jamboree in January and McClain is working to schedule additional performances.