The American Spiritual Ensemble (photo by Jonathan Palmer)
The American Spiritual Ensemble will visit Sewanee for a multi-day residency in February. The American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE), with a mission of keeping the African American spiritual alive, was founded in 1995 by Everett McCorvey, professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Kentucky. The ensemble’s repertoire includes classic spirituals, jazz, and Broadway numbers highlighting the Black experience.
The first performance is a community welcome assembly at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in Guerry Auditorium, with students from Sewanee Elementary School and St. Andrew's-Sewanee School participating. The ASE will be joined by the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, in Guerry Auditorium in a performance that includes selections from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and works of Ellington. The final performance of the residency is Saturday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in All Saints’ Chapel with the American Spiritual Ensemble in concert. Vocal ensembles from the University including Sewanee Praise, the Sewanee Chorale, the upper school vocal ensemble of St. Andrew's-Sewanee School, the University Choir, and the Schola from the School of Theology will join in a final selection, Keep Marchin’ til I Make it Home, a piece written for the ASE by Raymond Wise.
Terry Papillon, dean of the College at the University of the South, has announced that a collaboration of five University partners and a friend of the College will allow all performances to be free and open to the public. The partners include All Saints’ Chapel, the Office of the Dean of Students, the School of Theology, the Office of the Dean of the College, the Performing Arts Series, and Dr. François S. Clemmons.
Papillon highlights the importance of this offering to the greater community. “I believe that this residency can be a vital part of the University's goal to do something that engages us in active participation for diversity and inclusion. Three performances are planned for ‘town and gown’ to hear, consider, and sing about the role of the African American spiritual through slavery, emancipation, and the civil rights movement. This repertoire has relevant themes in the present day.”
The professional singers of ASE are directed by founder Everett McCorvey. Their mission is to perpetuate the African American spiritual through informed performances. McCorvey’s own story is intertwined in the Civil Rights Movement. As a child, he lived around the corner from Dr. King in Montgomery, Alabama, and his father was a deacon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Ralph Abernathy was pastor. His deep connection to the spiritual is his story, as well as the story of our country; inspired in slavery, sung during the emancipation and heard again in the Civil Rights Movement.
The visit by the ASE occurs in cooperation with the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and is part of the celebration their 30th season.
The Tennessee Arts Commission awarded a generous grant in support of the residency.