A History of the Cheyney University Concert Choir

By F. Keith Bingham, University Archivist

Professor Laura Wheeler WaringThere has always been music at Cheyney. The forerunner of the present Cheyney University Choir was the Cheyney Singers, a group of student singers trained and directed by Professor Laura Wheeler Waring. President Leslie P. Hill very early became identified with the group when they accompanied him on excursions to cultivate funds, and sow good will for the school. In the early 1930’s President Hill decided to expanded the group to form a choral ensemble of some forty-odd voices. The new chorus was also trained by Laura Wheeler Waring, an art professor, trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, who possessed a formal background in music. Soon, the chorus was effectively spreading the college’s reputation, and message, far and wide via the airwaves, and in stirring live performances at venues like Convention Hall in Philadelphia. The Cheyney Chorus, this time under the direction of Hill, was soon on the road fundraising, and spreading good will on behalf of the institution which was struggling financially during most of the decade of the 30’s.

Between 1934 and 1940, the Cheyney Chorus could be heard regularly over radio KYW in Philadelphia and frequently over WFIL, and WEAF, as well. Additionally, the Cheyney Chorus made numerous trips to Philadelphia, Harrisburg, New York, and once to Washington, D.C. One of the highlights of this period was a three-day tour of four colleges in New England during 1945. Renowned by 1945, the chorus garnered awards in the Cultural Olympics at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in 1945, 1946, and 1947, where it competed with other area choirs.

By the early 1950’s Hill had handed off the baton of the chorus to Mr. Thomas Frazier, Jr. During Frazier’s directorship the chorus began to be called the “Concert Choir.” Frazier directed the choir until 1957 when a new director, Mr. Dyctis Jack Moses, arrived. D. Jack Moses was a Morehouse man with a graduate degree in music from Columbia University, and a diploma in voice from the Julliard School of Music. If Jack Moses had one passion in life, those who knew him well would say that it was choral music. Moses’ presence made an immediate impact, as he infused new life into the choir. Under the directorship of Moses the choir at various times, expanded to as many as 100 voices. By all accounts D. Jack Moses was driven, and totally dedicated to molding the choir into the outstanding college choral ensemble on the eastern seaboard. He greatly expanded their repertoire, and introduced many classic vocal techniques to enhance the quality of the choir’s voices. Moses skillfully cultivated, and nurtured many outstanding solo voices. To be chosen as a soloist for the Cheyney Choir was a high calling. Soloists for the choir were among the most recognized students on campus, competing with Cheyney’s star athletics. Some outstanding soloists that Moses developed were sopranos, Barbara Greer, Vinell Thompson, Roxanne Smith, and Janet Drew; alto Delores McIvor; tenor Edward Whitney; and bass voices Earl Jones, and Paul Mitchell.

Each Wednesday evening the choir treated students passing by on the main quad to the harmonious sound of mellifluous voices floating on the evening breeze from Biddle Hall where the choir rehearsed. In his first year as director, Moses treated the campus to a Spring Concert that was a harbinger of many good things to come. The performance was stunning, and those in attendance that evening were convinced that Cheyney’s choir was second to none. The annual Christmas concerts on campus were performed to routinely packed audiences as the choir performed excerpts from the Messiah. The choir had established a legacy and a Cheyney University tradition.