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Sam Davis
African American Arts Institute

Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011

African American Choral Ensemble presents its spring concert at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre

April 20, 2011

BLOOMINGTON -- The African American Choral Ensemble of Indiana University's African American Arts Institute will present its annual spring concert on Saturday, April 30, at 8 p.m. at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

This year's concert features tributes to two gospel music greats, Walter Hawkins and Richard Smallwood.

Smallwood, a graduate of Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., combines elements of the baroque and classical period with traditional gospel. The choir will perform a medley of Smallwood's best known pieces including, "Total Praise," "Psalm 8" and the orchestral masterpiece, "Anthem of Praise."

African American Choral Ensemble

Photo by Eugene Siew

African American Choral Ensemble

Print-Quality Photo

Hawkins' brother Edwin wrote the crossover hit "Oh Happy Day," and Walter Hawkins wrote numerous hits that served as the model for upcoming artists, from Smallwood to Kirk Franklin. The choir's tribute to Hawkins includes "My God is Standing By" and "Thank You."

The concert theme, "Africa to America (Revisited)," begins in West Africa with a gospel song from Ghana titled "Daa Naa See." This song will be introduced and performed by Ghanaian Ph.D. student Nana Amoah.

The choir then will move from the fields of Africa to the fields of Georgia, performing a work song arranged by legendary choreographer Donald McKayle, from his work titled "Rainbow Etude." Members of the chorus performed this work with the IU Dance Theatre in January.

The work song is transformed into the spiritual, and this evolution is captured in Hall Johnson's "I've Been 'Buked." This powerful spiritual was featured by choreographer Alvin Ailey in his famous work, "Revelations."

The power of historic poetry and music are combined in the music of two women composers of African descent, Margaret Bonds and Undine Smith Moore. The poet is Langston Hughes.

Hughes' poem "Mother to Son" is set to music by Smith Moore. The text, "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair," begins an analogy of hard life illustrated through visions of floors with splinters and holes in the carpet. The scene is barren, yet a mother encourages her son to not give up or turn back. The setting is written for chorus, piano and soprano solo, and will feature IU graduate vocal major Lenora Green.

Hughes' visions of black life dispersed around the world are captured in his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Pianist and composer Bonds originally set this piece as a solo art song but later created a version for four-part chorus and piano. The scenic view of rivers moves from the mighty Nile of Egypt to the Mississippi and the Delta.

Jazz infused riffs and shouts pay homage to Duke Ellington as the choir sings one of its later-day staples, an Ellington medley that features his "Come Sunday" and the up tempo "David Danced Unto the Lord." The arrangement by choral ensemble director Keith McCutchen features a jazz rhythm section and associate instructor Christina Harrison.

McCutchen is a composer, arranger, pianist and choral director well-known for his arrangements and compositions of religious choral music. His music has been recorded by the American Spiritual Ensemble and the St. Olaf Choir. McCutchen is also an accomplished jazz pianist. He has performed with Mel Tormé, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Eric Gravatt.

The African American Choral Ensemble is one of three ensembles of IU's African American Arts Institute, housed in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. AAAI is the only collegiate arts program with an emphasis in African American performance traditions through credit-bearing ensembles. Over the years, the AAAI has made a vital contribution to the cultural diversity of IU by preserving, promoting and celebrating African American arts traditions. Its executive director is Charles E. Sykes, and it is a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children and IU students with valid ID (limit 2 per IU I.D.). Tickets are available at the IU Auditorium Box Office, 1211 E. Seventh St., and more information is available at 812-855-1103.

For more information and a calendar of AAAI events, visit the African American Arts Institute website at