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PANEL: HBCU Choral Traditions

A Conversation with Choral Leaders at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The following HBCU choral leaders have been invited to share their wisdom and expertise:

Dr. David Morrow, Morehouse College


David Morrow is a native of Rochester, New York. He earned the Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1980. While at Morehouse, he became a member of Phi Beta Kappa, was awarded the Kemper Harreld Award for Excellence in Music, received departmental honors, and graduated Valedictorian of his class. He received the Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan in 1981 and was elected to Pi Kappa Lambda. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in 1995. He has studied conducting with Wendell Whalum, Thomas Hilbish, Elmer Thomas, John Leman, Earl Rivers, Elizabeth Green, Teri Murai, Fiora Contino and Donald Neuen.

Dr. Morrow has been a member of the Music faculty at Morehouse College since 1981. In 1987, he succeeded Dr. Wendell P. Whalum as Director of the Glee Club. In 2013, Dr. Morrow celebrated the 25th anniversary of his directorship of the Glee Club. Alumni and current students honored him singing Psalm 15; a piece composed for the occasion by alumnus Carlos Simon, and also presented him with a silver, engraved baton for his dedication in leadership. He is also Director of the Wendell P. Whalum Community Chorus, Co-Director of the Morehouse-Spelman Chorus, and Artistic Director and Conductor of The Atlanta Singers.

Read Dr. Morrow's full bio at the NCCO10 Host page.

Dr. Wayne Barr, Tuskegee University

Headshot of Wayne Barr

Wayne A. Barr is Director of Choral Activities at historic Tuskegee University, a position he has held since 2001. He also currently serves as Interim Chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Barr earned degrees in church music and choral conducting from Westminster Choir College (B.M.), Southern Methodist University (M.M., M.S.M.), and The University of Michigan (D.M.A.). He has served as organist and choir director at churches in Alabama, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.

Under Dr. Barr’s direction, the Tuskegee Choir has annually toured the Midwest, Southwest, Southeast and East Coast regions of the United States, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Ontario, Canada. The 2012 Northeastern tour included a March 1 performance at the United Negro College Fund banquet in New York. The choir also returned to the Lincoln Center during that tour, marking the fortieth anniversary of its 1972 performance there as the first all-black choir to do so. On January 18, 2015, in celebration of the release of the movie Selma, the choir was invited to sing the Grammy Award winning song “Glory” with John Legend and Common on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Dr. Barr is a music workshop clinician, and he is frequently called upon to adjudicate local public school choirs. From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Barr was co-director of the Italian Opera Study Abroad Program, which offers students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) a four-week study of Italian opera with a renowned coach in Italy. As a regional conductor for the 105 Voices of History, a choir made up of student representatives of the 105 HBCUs as defined by the White House Initiative, he has prepared students and served as organ accompanist for the 2008 and 2009 Kennedy Center performances of the 105 Choir. He served as a national conductor for the 2010 Kennedy Center performance. In February 2015, Barr presented concerts with a Bolivian choir and American soloists in La Paz and Cochabamba, Bolivia under the auspices of the U. S. Embassy in Bolivia.

As an organ recitalist, Dr. Barr has presented recitals in Alabama, Texas, Michigan, New York, Georgia and South Carolina. He was twice featured at the Colour of Music Festival in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dr. Kevin Johnson, Spelman College

Headshot of Kevin Johnson

Kevin Phillip Johnson is an Associate Professor of Music at Spelman College. Dr. Johnson received his degrees from California State University, Los Angeles (B.A. M.A.) and the University of Missouri, Kansas City (D.M.A.). He is a renowned musician, conductor and composer is in demand both nationally and internationally. He is also currently the Minister of Music at The Lyke House Catholic Center at the AUC. His works have resulted in performances for church and school choruses, all-state choral festivals, Catholic Archdioceses nationwide, as well as international performances with the Spelman College Glee Club.

Dr. Johnson is an active composer, frequently writing for Catholic worship. He provides an extensive catalog, including seven mass settings, more than 300 psalm settings and many sacred songs. Under his direction, the Glee Club has recorded seven compact disc recordings and more than 20 recordings of the Spelman- Morehouse Christmas Carol concert, which celebrated its 97th anniversary in December 2023. As a professional composer, Dr. Johnson has been commissioned to compose several works, most recently including “Lift Every Voice and Sing Trilogy”, “Spirituals”, two multi movement works for chorus and orchestra, several commissioned works with Spelman College including the popular settings, "A Choice to Change the World", "We Are Christmas”, and many mass settings for Catholic worship including, "The Mass of Faith", “The Preacher’s Mass” , “The Mass of St. Benedict the African” and many others.

Dr. Johnson has been published with Colla Voce, GIA Publications, and Treble Clef Press. He continues to publish most of his music through his very own publishing company, In 2022, He joins Carl Fisher Publishing family with his own Kevin Phillip Johnson – Soulful Singing Choral Series.

Maestra D'Walla Simmons-Burke, Winston-Salem State University

Headshot of D'Walla Simmons-Burke

D'Walla Simmons-Burke has held teaching positions in Georgia, South Carolina and presently at Winston-Salem State University (North Carolina) where she is the Director of Choral and Vocal Studies for the Department of Music.

Maestra Simmons-Burke is the founder of four of the five choral ensembles currently existing within the Music Department at Winston-Salem State University (Winston-Salem State University Singing Divas (renamed – Amazwi Treble); Schola Cantorum; Complesso Voce' and the renowned Burke Singers). The fifth choral ensemble, the Winston-Salem State University Choir (aka WSSU Singing Rams) is one of the first student organizations, founded at the university. The WSSU Choir has performed with the Gateways Symphony Orchestra; Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra, D'Vorak Symphony Orchestra, Colour of Music Festival Symphony Orchestra, the New England Symphony Orchestra and is well sought after for its performances of master choral works (i.e…Haydn's Creation; Handel's Messiah; Faure’s Requiem; Rossini’s Stabat Mater; Orff's Carmina Burana; Mozart's Requiem; Berlioz’s Te Deum, etc.…); spirituals; social justice and world musics. Maestra Simmons-Burke has made several conducting and singing appearances on national stages. Recently, she appeared at Carnegie Hall to conduct Dr. Rosephanye Powell’s The Cry of Jeremiah (April 9, 2023). She has also performed internationally with her choral ensembles and as a guest conductor/lecturer (Prague, Czech Republic; Nassau, Bahamas; Accra, Cape Coast & Kumasi, Ghana - West Africa; and Pilanesberg, Cape Town and Johannesburg – South Africa). Maestra Simmons-Burke has led The 105 Voices of History Concert Choir as a National Conductor (The John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center), Nassau, Bahamas and was the National Choral Coordinator along with being one of three conductors who lead the 105 Voices of History Concert Choir in their inaugural performance at the Grand Ole Opry. She is a recipient of the 105 Voices of History Kennedy Center Performing Arts Award.

Under Simmons-Burke's baton, her choral ensembles have performed for such regional, national and international dignitaries as President George W. Bush; Kweisi Mfume; Susan Taylor; former North Carolina Governor James Hunt; Maya Angelou; Dick Gregory; Patti Austin; Harry Belafonté; Madame President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Pope John Paul II, to name a few. Her exceptional and diverse vocal and choral pedagogies are continuously demonstrated through the outstanding students she has produced. As a result, Simmons-Burke has been the recipient of several teaching awards such as the Winston-Salem State University Patterson Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, Winston-Salem State University Cedric Rodney Service Award and The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts 105 Voices of History National Conductor's Award. D'Walla is also the recipient of many community service and performance awards for her national achievements in music.

Simmons-Burke is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America and has held memberships in many other organizations such as the Music Educators National Conference; the American Choral Directors Association; the National Association of African American Studies; the National Association for the Study and Performance of African-American Music; National Association of Negro Musicians; The Intercollegiate Music Association; the National Associations for African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Latino Studies; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., The Moles, and The Links, Inc.

Maestra Simmons-Burke has made numerous guest appearances as a conductor and adjudicator for high school and middle school All-State/All-County festivals, collegiate choral festivals, and workshops. She is often sought after as a sacred music and/or social justice music clinician/lecturer and soprano.

Dr. A. Jan Taylor, Prairie View A&M University

Headshot of Jan Taylor

A. Jan Taylor, educator, pianist, singer, and choral conductor is a native of Houston, Texas. Dr. Taylor received the Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Houston, the Master of Arts degree from Prairie View A&M University, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Houston. She served as Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Prairie View A&M University from 1996 until her retirement in 2022.

As an educator, Dr. Taylor has taught general music, piano, and trained choirs in elementary, middle, and high schools in the Houston Independent School District. She has served as adjudicator and choral clinician for numerous choral competitions, festivals, and regional choirs throughout the United States. Taylor frequently lectures on the performance practices and preservation of the Negro Spiritual.

Dr. Taylor has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia as a singer and conductor, is former Assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony Chorus, serving under Charles Hausmann, and has prepared choruses and collaborated with renowned conductors and composers. For the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, she has coached and accompanied singers, and has conducted the Guild’ Chorus in concerts of spirituals, African American choral art music, and operatic works. Dr. Taylor has conducted the ”105 Voices of History” HBCU National Choir in performances at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and in Memphis for the performance on the nationally televised MLK50 Commemoration event presented by the National Civil Rights Museum.

Under Taylor’s direction, the Prairie View A&M University Concert Chorale and PV Chamber Singers have performed throughout the United States and abroad, including performances with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, international music festivals in Poland, Germany, and in South America. Taylor holds memberships in the Texas Music Educators Association, American Choral Directors Association, Texas Choral Directors Association, and Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity or Women.

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