Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eric Conway: Morgan State University Choir sings with Aretha Franklin, Shirley Caesar and Tamela Mann at the White House!; NBC: Pres. Obama Speaks in East Room

President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, about gospel's role in American music before latest in the "In Performance at the White House" concert series.

Eric Conway and Morgan State University Choir Members at White House

Eric Conway, D.M.A.:

Hello again Morgan State University Choir Enthusiasts,

Last night was perhaps one of the finest moments in the history of the Morgan State University Choir - and that is saying a lot!  Last week, at the suggestion of First Lady Obama, the Morgan State University choir was asked to sing in a special concert for the "In Performance at the White House" series - The Gospel Tradition.  This event was scheduled for last night, Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 7PM in the East Room of the White House. 

Originally we were asked to be the choir to sing behind artists Pastor Shirley Caesar, Lyle Lovett, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  We had two days of rehearsal at the very posh Mayflower hotel in Washington, DC on the Saturday and Monday that preceded the concert.  During those days of rehearsal, the musical director, Bill Maxwell, was very much impressed with the Morgan State University choir voices and our spiritual connection to the songs rehearsed.  This was so much the case, that the he suggested that the choir also sing with Tamela Mann on her big hit "Take Me to the King".  He also suggested that the audience needed to hear the Morgan State Univeristy Choir in a song by ourselves, and we quickly suggested one of the Gospel songs in our repertoire - Even Me. Beyond these additional songs, a member of the choir, Demerris Johnson, was asked to also sing behind Michelle Williams and Emmylou Harris!

Yesterday was a very long day as we were arrived at the Southeast gate of the White House by 9 a.m. The concert was held in the East Room, which is a very large room by most standards, even for the White House.  However, after placing a stage with steps, structures for the lights, tables for audio and lighting consoles, and over six separate cameras to record the event, the room became very small.  As I always want to take as many choir members to events such as this one as I can, I was told that I could only bring form 12-16 voices because of the very small size of the stage.  After a morning of rehearsing with all of the artists and running the show at 1:30 PM, the choir was somewhat exhausted by the time the show.  Despite their exhaustion, the choir always shows up in a big way at show time!

Prior to the concert, the President and Mrs. Obama took the time to take a formal photograph with the choir.  We were so very impressed with the fact that they took the time to individually shake every choir member's hand in the choir.  Some choir members still have not washed their hands!

The concert that was supposed to begin at 7PM, but due to the many guests who were scheduled to take photographs with the President like the choir, we did not begin until approx.. 7:40 p.m.  This program was streamed live at whitehousegov./live.  I was told, after the fact,  that this program was also simulcast on PBS stations nationwide last evening as well.  I am told that this program will be edited, and rebroadcast nationally on April 24, 2015 and June 26th, 2015.  As you can imagine with only 180 seats available, this was a difficult seat to acquire.  Beyond the artists there including Bishop Rance Allen, Rodney Crowell, Rhiannon Giddens, and Darlene Love, the celebrities also in attendance were Robin Roberts, who was the official host;  Lavar Burton,  and Rickey Smiley.  One Morgan celebrity was April Ryan, a Morgan graduate who is a speech writer for the President.  As you can imagine,  many persons contacted me directly about getting them in on this engagement as a chaperone, however, the producer only allowed two Morgan guests to accompany the choir.  These guests were of course President of Morgan, Dr. David Wilson and Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Pamela Scott-Johnson.  

Rickey Smiley being in the area for the concert last night, decided to visit the Morgan campus today. During his morning talk show at a local affiliate station, in the context of talking about the White House concert last evening, he was quoted as saying the Morgan State University Choir was one of the best choirs he had ever heard!"  Earlier today, Rickey Smiley took the time to visit our rehearsal where we sang a couple of songs for him and had a wonderful exchange.

I began this email saying that this was one of the choir's finest moments!  To sing behind legendary Gospel artists Aretha Franklin and Shirley Caesar; to also work with Tamela Mann, the current leading female gospel artist; to meet both the President and First Lady of the United States; and to do all this on international stage was a dream come true for any choir!  The choir has had extraordinary favor over the years.  The number of incredible opportunities for one choir to have over a short amount of time is almost not fair.  I only know that we try to continue the legacy of the choir that was begun by Dr. Nathan Carter over thirty years ago. Every time that we sing, we know that we have an awesome responsibility to represent the university in an outstanding manner.  What a year this has been for the choir!  Fair Morgan!

See attached a few candid snapshots of the day, scans of the official program and artist badge we had to wear around the White House at all times.

Somehow, I was able to remotely access my computer to capture the streamed performance last night.  Please see a youTube link to an uploaded performance from last night.  Enjoy! 


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