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WVU Formalizes Longtime Student Gospel Choir As New Course


WVU is celebrating African American music with the Paul Robeson Mahalia Jackson Gospel Choir, a musical group recently formalized by the university. It originally began as a student organization through WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research. After years of performing on campus, the choir is joining with the university’s College of Creative Arts, which makes it a class eligible for an hour of college credit.

It now exists as a collaboration between the two campus institutions. The choir practices in the Creative Arts Center, but is still primarily run by the Center for Black Culture and Research. It provides the school’s students and staff with a means to express their spiritual side.

“Gospel means good news”, said co-director Shirley Robinson. “I think through this collaboration, we are bringing good news on campus.”

Music director Alton Merrell says the gospel choir’s purpose is to celebrate diversity and allow students to have an African American music experience.

“I think it’s important and also helpful when a person can find other people that are familiar with their culture,” said Merrell. “Particularly for students at WVU, and our African American students in particular, the gospel choir provides a little bit of home away from home.”

Merrell, who is also the professor of jazz piano at WVU, says his life experiences helped him prepare for this new position.

“I grew up in a Black church, and within that tradition, the arts are heavily celebrated. I had a musical gift and was encouraged by those around me to use that gift,” said Merrell. “Music has been integrated into my faith, so it’s synonymous to express my faith through gospel music. I’ve been doing this all my life.”

The choir rehearses once a week at WVU’s Creative Arts Center and plans to have fall and spring performances.