Fourteen years ago, Kevin P. Turner brought gospel music down from the choir loft and into the classroom. It wasn’t long before his UAB Gospel Choir was scaling the charts, performing with Stevie Wonder, and traveling the world as green-robed ambassadors for the university. The choir, offered as a performance class in the Department of Music, is open to all students, but it has built an elite reputation—selling out concerts, producing hit CDs, and attracting an international following.
From an initial group of 38 voices, the choir now averages 145 strong, recruiting students from as far as the West Indies, Switzerland, and France. Passionate performances have led them to share the stage with megastars such as Wonder and Lee Greenwood and to gigs as an opening act for many gospel legends, including Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and Tonex.
Turner and his students have also gained fame for their own recordings. Their three CDs and a DVD have received considerable airplay on the radio and online music channels both in the U.S. and internationally. After a video from their “Gospel 101: Go Dominate” album became the most watched on Amsterdam’s Gospelfestival.com site, the choir was invited to sing in person at Gospel Festival Amsterdam. That date inspired a call to perform across the pond; they are now booked to tour London and Holland in spring 2011.
The U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic is a fan, but the choir’s most ardent admirers may be a group of Australians who loved the music so much they traveled to Birmingham to attend a concert. In flight, they could have listened to some of their favorite tunes: The Gospel Choir is featured on the music channels of four major airlines.
Turner and his singers aren’t afraid to share the secrets of their success. Last year, they conducted a master class for 20 Israeli choir students. The Birmingham City Board of Education is placing DVD copies of the UAB choir’s “Gospel Anthology” concert in each of its schools, along with lesson plans that explore the cultural significance of American gospel music. And the Smithsonian Institution has also requested a copy of that same performance for review.
In an official resolution, Alabama’s House of Representatives summed up the UAB Gospel Choir’s outsized impact, lauding their consistent contributions to “change the face and acceptance of gospel music and bring credibility to gospel music in the performing arts community and acceptance in academic circles.”
Read more breakthrough stories in UAB Magazine