Wiley choir has rich history

The Wiley College A Cappella Choir, under the direction of Stephen L. Hays will be performing at 3 p.m. Sunday at the New Rocky Valley Baptist Church in Grambling, as part of the church’s Black History Month celebration. The choir has a rich history of singers and composers dating back to the eighteen hundreds. Historical documents reveal the first group of singers, The Wiley Jubilee Singers, was organized in 1897 by R.E. Brown. Traveling the country to promote the mission of the school, the Wiley Jubilee Singers served as the official cultural representatives until the mid-20th century. Subsequent choirs were propelled by a legendary directors and composers.

Composer and music director Edward Boatner taught at Wiley College during the 1930s. His best known arrangements included “Oh, What a Beautiful City,” “Let Us Break Bread Together,” “Soon I Will Be Done” and “Tramping .”

Professor William Henry Smith composed the Wiley College alma mater and is credited with the first use of the term “A Cappella” in the name of the college choir. A nationally acclaimed choral composer, his works “Cheer The Weary Traveler” and “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Chile,” were performed by ensembles throughout the 1930s through ’50s. But none has had the broad appeal and longevity as his monumental “Ride The Chariot”, which is still being sung at churches and on college campuses today.

In 1947, Gilbert F. Allen joined the Wiley College faculty. An experienced musician, he recorded for RCA Victor Records and his compositions, choral and instrumental, were published by two of the country’s best-known music companies. Among his accomplishments as director, the Wiley College A Cappella Choir toured Mexico via sponsorship of the U.S. Foreign Service Department.

Wiley College graduate Earl B. LaRue faithfully accepted the baton as director in 1971. His fruitful tenure continued the long Wiley tradition of choirs, musical performances, and concert tours.

Other outstanding Wiley College choral directors, assistant directors and masterful accompanists of the modern era include: Wilhelm A. Sykes, James Ingram Fox, Gerald W. Johnson, B.J. Irving, Ronald O’Neal, Bobby Wiggins, Edgar Wiley, T. Bernard Clayton, Lucille Dogan Teycer, Jasper Patton, Joel Jones, Warren Hawkins and Michael J. Rudd.

Today, the Wiley College A Cappella Choir is under the direction of Stephen L. Hayes, director of music and a member of the Wiley College faculty since 2000.

On Jan. 20, 1993, he conducted the anthem at the 52nd Inauguration of President Bill Clinton, in Washington. He is only the second person of color in American history to conduct an inaugural anthem.

Babette Reid, a native of Cleveland, is assistant professor of music and serves as accompanist for the Choir. she previously taught at The University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College.

The touring choir consists of 15 students from various backgrounds, academic majors and regions of the country. The Wiley College A Cappella Choir has grown in number and talent under the direction of Hayes and tours regularly within the United States.

Wiley College, located in Marshall, Texas, is one of 11 historically black colleges established and supported by the United Methodist Church.

For more information about the group’s appearance at New Rocky Valley, call (318) 789-4209.