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Three Cheyney University Premiere Vocalists Perform in Nation's Capital for Black History Month Celebration

February 22, 2014

Cheyney University students (from l to r) Montel Roberson, Briana McCloud and Craig Brown-Dickens were hand-picked from HBCU students nationwide to sing in an elite 16-member ensemble in Washington, D.C. for Black History Month

Cheyney University students (from l to r) Montel Roberson, Briana McCloud and Craig Brown-Dickens were hand-picked from HBCU students nationwide to sing in an elite 16-member ensemble in Washington, D.C. for Black History Month

Cheyney University students Briana McCloud, Craig Brown-Dickens and Montel Roberson sang in an elite 16-member ensemble on February 20 as part of a Black History Month celebration at the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C.  The trio were part of “The 16 Legacy Voices,” an off-shoot of 105 Voices of History, a national choir that features singers from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) from around the country.  The new 16-member ensemble was highly selective as organizers looked for specific voices with Choral Directors who are the cream of the crop. 

"The music is a high level," insists Renata “Toni” Roy, founder of both choirs. "You can't just come in and sing notes.  You can't learn on the spot-- you need training. The (directors) are chosen first and Marques Garrett (of Cheyney University) has a reputation in the industry for developing his students. We've seen the training that Marques does and he is just premiere at what he does. His leadership and commitment to develop his students is phenomenal."

Once an HBCU director is chosen, a student from the school's choir is selected based on their voice. "For Cheyney to have three singers is definitely a major coup," Roy admits.

For weeks, the chosen choir directors work individually with their chosen student(s) until a couple of days before the performance when they all arrive from their various schools and start rehearsing together.  "By the time they get on that stage, they sound like they've been together for 10 years," Roy exclaims.  

In front of a premiere audience in D.C, The 16 Legacy Voices sang a range of songs from the classic Black History Month selection (Lift Every Voice and Sing) and spiritual (Precious Lord), to the latin (Non Nobis Domine) and Broadway rendition (Bess, You Is My Woman--from Porgy and Bess), and they sang gloriously.

"The students' performance was phenomenal," reported Choral Conductor Damon Dandridge, who directed the ensemble at the NEA concert.  "They exemplified outstanding musicianship and great poise. I was very proud of them and grateful for the opportunity to lead them."  Coincidentally, Dandridge directed Cheyney's Concert Choir from 2005 to 2009 before leaving to pursue a doctoral degree.  He now directs the choir at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.

Roy reports that a Cheyney student has participated in 105 Voices of History every year since its inception in 2008 except this year because the national choir is on hiatus at it is revamped. The 16 Legacy Voices made its debut before the NEA at the 1 pm Black History Month concert.  The purpose of both choirs, Roy says, is to train students with talent to work together collectively and sing as one voice to showcase their skills and commitment to performance excellence. The programs allow the students to perform on world stages such as the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN.  Next year, 105 Voices of History will consist of 60 singers and 40 orchestra musicians representing the nation's 105 HBCUs.

In addition to singing for the NEA, The 16 Legacy Voices, which represent Cheyney, Lincoln, Hampton, Bethune-Cookman, Howard and Morgan State Universities, visited the Savoy Elementary School, one of President Barack Obama's under-served schools for the arts. The singers were there "to work with and inspire the little ones," Roy shares. "It was awesome."

Learn More about Cheyney University's Vocalists on The 16 Legacy Voices:

Outgoing Philadelphia native Briana McCloud loves the performing arts and wants to be a professional entertainer. She transferred into the Fine Arts program at Cheyney in the spring of 2012 from The Art Institute of Philadelphia. She is active in several mentoring and community service organizations on campus and holds two jobs at a local high-end mall, does dance choreography and modeling, and is a contracted disc jockey. 

Washington, D.C. native Craig Brown-Dickens, the first to attend college in his family, is a junior music major who has performed for high profile events such as the 2009 and 2012 Inaugural Ceremonies for President Barack Obama.  He hopes to become a classically trained singer, conduct choirs at the high school and college levels, and eventually open an elementary school for the performing arts.

West Philadelphia native Montel Roberson graduated third in his high school class, sings on CU's concert choir, and is a member of the University Poetry and Singing Society. He plans to graduate with a Fine Arts degree in Music and pursue a graduate degree in choral conducting.