A Midwestern school with no religious affiliation, Grinnell College is, perhaps, a surprising place to find a gospel choir whose rehearsals and performances resound with the traditional sounds of a Southern Baptist tradition.
The students involved in the Young, Gifted, and Black Choir (YGB) are an equally surprising conglomeration, coming from different religions, states, and even countries. They sing for the music, the spirituality, the community, or some combination of the three.
A lot has changed since the choir’s formation in 1967, when six black first-year students began to rehearse in the basement of one of the dorms. Today, the choir members celebrate YGB’s diversity and its gospel tradition as hallmarks of Grinnell’s desire to not only accept students from all backgrounds, but to welcome them.
As the choir traveled between Jackson, Miss., and Houston, earlier this year on its annual spring tour, choir members shared their personal connections to YGB.
|Deborah Tillman ’14 is a theatre/history double major from Jackson, Miss., who gravitated toward YGB because she had always been involved in a church choir.
Tillman was looking for a way to express her feelings toward God in a pressure-free arena, and YGB was the perfect fit.
“It’s a safe and comforting environment.”
|David Opong-Wadee ’12 is a political science major from Maryland who was involved with YGB for most of his time at Grinnell. He also participated in Grinnell Singers, Grinnell’s auditioned choir, but he has a special place in his heart for the gospel tradition.
“Although I love the musicianship of Singers, the somewhat simplicity of gospel allows it to transcend all cultures,” he said.
|Jonathan Ismail ’12 is a history/biology double major from Michigan. “It’s very powerful to be around a community of faith and energy and talent,” he said.
A veteran of the YGB tour, he was particularly moved by the performance at a federal prison in Mississippi. “To know that [we’re] going into this place where the inmates may have limited opportunities, and to know that I have the power to bring to them some kind of joy and inspiration, is an incredibly empowering feeling.”
|Na Chainkua Reindorf ’14 is an art major from Ghana, Africa. Encouraged to join YGB by a number of friends in the choir, Reindorf was surprised to find that she enjoyed YGB for the community and the music.
“I actually started looking forward to it every week,” she said. Now she takes YGB as a one-credit course to ensure that she takes the time to enjoy the experience every Wednesday night.
For more information: