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Photo by: Farren Clark

Department of Music hosts a celebration of spirituals

February 16, 2017

Last Friday night, the Nicholls Department of Music celebrated African-American History Month by hosting the seventh annual “A Festival of the Negro Spiritual Concert Series” in the Mary and Al Danos Theater.

The night consisted of distinguished guest artists, faculty, students from universities across several states and community members singing historical spirituals once sung by slaves and plantation workers. The special guest artist of the night was Frank Williams, Xavier University alumnus.

The program was dedicated to the late Thomas DeVore Carey, founder of the “Festival of Spirituals” Concert Series in Norman, Oklahoma.

“I think [A Festival of the Negro Spiritual Concert Series] is a wonderful celebration of the tradition of spirituals and I think everyone needs to actively be exposed to it,” Juanita Tolbert, University of New Orleans alumna, said.

Some of the Nicholls performers of the night were Grace Hebert, MUSA junior from Bourg, Whitney Thomas, vocal performance senior from New Orleans and Alyssa Gaudet, vocal music education sophomore from Thibodaux.

“It’s my first time being in this program,” Hebert said. “I love how immersive it is and hearing all the beautifully talented voices we have.”

Hebert, Thomas and Gaudet performed with the Nicholls Concert Choir and each an individual song. Hebert sang “Little David Play On Your Harp,” Thomas sang “On My Journey Now” and Gaudet sang “I’m a Poor Lil Orphan in this World.”

Thomas is a graduate from Delgado Community College. She was searching for a school to attend in order to obtain her bachelors degree when she heard Valerie Francis, assistant professor of music, sing. At that moment, she knew she wanted to come to Nicholls.

“When I heard Dr. Francis sing, I knew where I wanted to go,” Thomas said. “I quit my job, picked up everything and moved here. I’ve been a part of Nicholls’ choir since August. Last semester, I signed up for this concert series.”

It’s a requirement for many Nicholls’ music students to participate in concert choir, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy it.

Hebert has participated in Nicholls’ choir for three semesters but has been a part of other choirs since her sophomore year of high school.

“I join choirs for the enjoyment, the group effort and to get myself more cultured with different voice ensembles,” Hebert said.
It wasn’t joining concert choir that led Gaudet to Nicholls, but her desire to teach music. Eventually, it all brought her to the department of music, where she has gotten very involved.

“I joined Nicholls’ music program because I want to teach music,” Gaudet said. “Everyone’s really close and like a family. They’re very supportive.”

During the concert series, alumni from various universities got to share the stage with current faculty and students.

Although Tolbert did not perform with Nicholls’ concert choir, Francis invited Tolbert to perform “O Fix Me (Traditional).” Since graduating from the University of New Orleans, Tolbert directs middle and high school choir.

There was one particular performer who took the audience by storm. Williams, the Xavier University alumnus, had some of the audience members in tears. Quickly after his performance, the audience proceeded to give Williams a standing ovation. 

“My favorite song of the night was the one that Mr. Frank William’s did,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t ready for that. The way he sang the song made you feel the words. It sounded like he was actually there.”

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