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Wed, 01.30.1884

The Tuskegee Choir is Formed

*On this date in 1884, we celebrate the Tuskegee Choir.  Beginning as a quartet, this group was sent out by Booker T. Washington for several years to "promote the interest of Tuskegee Institutes" by acquainting benevolent audiences to the school and his philosophy.

The original quartet consisted of students Hiram H. Thweatt, John F. McLeMore, Warren Logan, and leader Robert H. Hamilton.  They were reorganized in 1909 and intermittently traveled until well into the 1940s, sometimes adjusting its members to five, six, or even up to eight.  The quartet evolved into the school choir in 1886 because Washington had determined that the Institute needed a group of singers who could lead vesper services and sing for special campus occasions. Huston Johns was chosen as the first director. The school choir would expand its role to provide vocal music for all cultural and religious campus activities. 

Directors of the choir who led vesper services and other campus events included: Robert H. Hamilton (1887-95), Charles G. Harris (1895-97; 1899-1901), Elizabeth W. Morse (1897-99), Cornelius W. Pierce (1901-02), an interim term of Pedro T. Tinsley (1902-03), Edward N. Broadnax (1902-03), Jennie C. Lee (1903-28) and Portia Washington Pittman (1928-31).  A new era began for the Tuskegee Choir in 1931 under our most renowned director, composer, and educator William L. Dawson, the "Dean of African-American Choral Composers." The 100-voice choir appeared at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in New York City (1932). This event expanded Tuskegee's prestige worldwide, and Dawson directed for 25 years. 

In 1962, during the term of President John F. Kennedy, the Tuskegee Choir received a special commendation from the President at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C., and a concert at the United States State Department.  The choir appeared at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (1966) and Town Hall (1967) in New York City.  Since 2001, Dr. Wayne Anthony Barr has been Director of the Choir. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan, two master’s degrees from Southern Methodist University, and a bachelor’s degree in music from Westminster Choir College. 

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