THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
“Lift every voice and sing.”
The words of the Negro anthem resonated in the auditorium at Stocks Elementary School Thursday afternoon, from the mouths of the Edgecombe County High School Gospel Choir. The program marked the end of Stocks’ month long black history celebration.
The performance ended with group founder Kristian Herring lending his powerful vocals to the song “Total Praise.”
“Lord, I will lift my eyes to the hills, Knowing my help is coming from You,” the choir sang.
“The music that’s written to it is just so classic, so calming. The message is one of praise, adoration to God,” Herring said. “It’s become a popular anthem in African American churches.” Richard Smallwood is the original songwriter.
“It talks about how you lift your hands in total praise to God and being grateful for opportunities to do whatever you’re supposed to be doing,” Tony Suggs, group advisor, said.
The 50-member high-school choral group’s calling is singing. One of those group members is Juwahn Anderson, a student at Edgecombe Community College who joined the choir as a student athlete at Tarboro High School. His favorite choral song is “He Reigns.”
“It talks about Jesus dying but how He reigns still,” Anderson said. “It’s an upbeat song, fast tempo. It lifts your spirit.”
Anderson said he believes the group’s performance taught the Stocks students “how to believe in something, believe in God.”
“There’s something out there other than what they see in everyday life,” Anderson said. Another spiritual selection the group performed Thursday was “Ezekial Saw the Will.”
“The Negro spirituals take you back to slavery times,” Suggs said.
“Sad” is the way that songs like “Ezekial Saw the Will” make first grader Zy’Nyiah Jones feel.
On the other hand, first grader Jozarra Pettaway said she felt happy because “they were singing gospel music.” She leaned her body in a backward motion to illustrate her favorite part of the program – when the choir swayed to the beat of the music.
“There’s a lot of choreography in everything that we do,” Suggs said.
“It made me feel good. I just liked their music,” said Haley Driver, a first grader. She said her
favorite song was “the one where they kept getting higher (pitched) and they were in a circle (in ‘Ezekial Saw the Will.’
At the end of the performance, Stephanie Alston, principal at Stocks, said she didn’t think it was possible for the group to sound any better than they did the last time she heard them, but they did.
“I was absolutely amazed when I first saw them at a pageant. They were so coordinated and so poise and their voice range,” Alston said. The message that the group conveyed to the audience is one of artistic interpretation.
“Singing is like a second language,” Suggs said.
Herring started the choir 20 years ago as a sophomore in high school. Now, he is the assistant principal of SouthWest Edgecombe High School.
Herring said the group, comprised of members from all four county high schools, is a “chance to build camaraderie amongst the schools” and an opportunity for artistically inclined students.
“The majority of them are not athletes. Some of them aren’t straight ‘A’ students. It gives them that outlet. Otherwise they wouldn’t have that chance to express themselves,” Herring said.
“It’s an avenue, it’s a refuge. This is the one place they belong. It starts changing their lives,” Suggs said.