Jason Holmes and Louise Lawarre. Photos provided

Let the singing begin again

By Louise Lawarre

The long-awaited day is fast approaching. Members of the MLK Chorale are excited to be singing together again after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.

The MLK Chorale in Cincinnati is a diverse, inclusive community choral group. Under the baton of a new director, Jason Holmes of the Cincinnati BoyChoir, and a new assistant director Reina Dickey, a doctoral candidate at CCM, the chorale will begin rehearsing again on Tuesday evenings starting on Oct. 11 in preparation to take the stage at Music Hall on MLK Day 2023.

Looking forward to the start of the new singing season, Dickey said, “It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with a musical community whose mission is to continue putting into action the tenets and principals Dr. King set forth. I am greatly looking forward to collaborating with Jason, whose depth of knowledge and experience is inspiring, and to being part of the growth of the chorale.” 

The MLK Chorale has a rich history. It was founded in 1991 by Dr. Catherine Roma and Bishop Todd O’Neal, who co-directed and built this exciting choral group, until they retired in 2013. Reflecting on their lasting impact, Holmes said, “I’m looking forward to continuing to build the choral community and learning from the legacy Dr. Roma and Bishop O’Neal left with the ensemble. I can’t wait to jump in with Reina, the MLK Coalition and, of course, the beloved people who comprise the MLK Chorale. We are going to have a wonderful time raising our voices and, in so doing, lifting each other up.”

As a program of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, the chorale’s primary performance has been on MLK Day at Music Hall for 30 years. With a focus on King’s legacy of freedom and nonviolence, Chorale members have lifted their voices to sing spirituals, gospel music and songs of the Civil Rights Movement.

They welcomed amazing soloists and collaborated with interfaith student groups from the El-Sewedy International Academy of Cincinnati and Rockwern Academy, as well as Cincinnati Public Schools. During one performance, Dr. Roma was live-streamed into Music Hall from the Warren Correctional Institution with the Umoja Men’s Chorus, made up of incarcerated men who recorded albums under her direction.

The chorale didn’t stop there. It was invited to sing for the ground-breaking of the Freedom Center in 2002 and again for its dedication in 2004. It sang for community events around the city to honor MLK Day, Emancipation Day and Black History Month, and amid shouts for joy from singers and fans alike, it was awarded two Gold Medals at the World Choir Games in 2012.

Following Roma’s and O’Neal’s retirement, Steve Milloy (2014-2018) and Lois Shegog ((2019-2022) served as directors. With Shegog’s retirement, the search began to find the right director to lead this amazing choir. A successful search produced a new team of directors, Holmes and Dickey, who are excited to bring long-time members back and welcome new members, to once again, lift every voice in song. 

Chorale members have a wide range of vocal singing experiences and abilities. There are no auditions for new members, but the directors recommend some prior choral singing experience.

Folks interested in joining the MLK Chorale can email mlkchorale.cincy@gmail.com. Weekly rehearsals will be held most Tuesday evenings, 7-9 p.m., from Oct. 11 through MLK Day.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *