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Black Chorus Biography

The University of Illinois Black Chorus

Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, conductor

The Black Chorus at the University of Illinois was founded in 1968.  Organized by four students, and later under the direction of School of Music faculty with student officers, the Black Chorus has sustained a high level of excellence in performance, collaborating with writers, jazz and gospel musicians, chamber orchestra, and dancers.
A large mixed-voice choral ensemble, the Black Chorus performs the music of Black Americans. With repertoire ranging from African chant, field hollers, Negro spirituals, anthems, Traditional and Contemporary gospel to jazz, soul, blues, and rhythm and blues, the Black Chorus is highly sought after. Often serving as “student ambassadors” of the university through performances at high-profile events both on and off campus, the Black Chorus has performed for Commencement, President’s Awards Day, UI Foundation events, UI Advancement events, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access events, the UI Presidential Inauguration, the campus Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation celebration events, and events commemorating the tragedy of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The Black Chorus performed the world premiere of “Refuge”, a cantata, commissioned for the 10th Anniversary 9/11 Memorial Concert at the University of Illinois; and “I Hear Freedom,” a choral anthem commission for the Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation capstone event. Most recently, the Black Chorus performed for the campus memorial honoring Sgt. Shawna Morrison, for the re-dedication of Lincoln Hall, and for the dedication of Maudelle Tanner Brown Bousfield Residence Hall.
The Black Chorus has a national presence, having performed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (IL), Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Charleston Civic Center (WV), the NASPAAM National Conference, and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (GA).  
In August 2013 Black Chorus gained international distinction. Professor Davis returned to Costa Rica with the UI Black Chorus at the invitation of the Costa Rica-North American Cultural Center for a cross-cultural exchange, performance and study tour as Promising Artists of the 21st Century. The Black Chorus with Dr. Davis conducting, performed nine concerts in seven days. The exchange included performances in Santa Clara-San Carlos for the 1st Congress of English Teachers in the Northern Zone, where Professor Davis delivered a plenary address. Additional performances in Santa Clara included concerts at La Ciudad Quesada Cathedral and at La Escuela de Juan Chavez. In San Jose’ Professor Davis taught a master class and conducted the Black Chorus in a concert at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. The Illinois delegates then travelled to Limon, and were warmly received by La Presidenta Senora Laura Chinchilla at an awarding ceremony. Other performances included appearances at the American Corner of the Public Library; at the Concierto de Gospel en el Marco de la Celebracion del Dia de la Persona Negra y la Cultura Afrocostarricense in the Black Star Line Historical Building with the Minister of Culture, Manuel Obregon; and participation in El Dia de Negro Festival march and parade. The Black Chorus tour concluded with an added Vesper Concert at the Escazu’ Christian Fellowship in San Jose’.  In June 2014 the Black Chorus completed a tour to Europe for performances of the Sacred Music of African Americans at the “Shaped by Beauty” Conference at Heythrop College in London.
Recognized for exemplary contributions to campus and community life, the Black Chorus has received numerous awards for their CD record, Have Thine Own Way, Lord and community service. The Black Chorus was awarded a TIS Outstanding Student Organization Award, and received special recognition, The Award of Excellence, at the National Black Gospel College Choir Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. The legacy of the Black Chorus was recently featured in a PechaKucha presentation (20 images in 20 seconds each) for the UI Board of Trustees. The Black Chorus also hosted the Chicago Children’s Choir and was featured at the CIC Academic Leadership Conference.
In commemoration of 45 years on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Black Chorus presented “This is Our Forte’” for the 2013 Annual Fall Concert and “Fanfare” for the 2014 Mom’s Day Concert. To celebrate this 46th Anniversary Year, the Black Chorus will present “Courage: Calmly Carrying On” in Smith Memorial Hall on October 26, 2014, and the Twelfth Black Sacred Music Symposium February 19-22, 2015 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.