Barry Jones, director
The Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir (YGB) has a truly proud 21-year history of struggle and success, but we have always gained strength from the “joyful noise” which we share with each other and the rest of the community. This has been true from the very beginning when, in 1967, six black first-year students came together in the basement of Younker Hall on campus at Grinnell College to share a common and powerful experience: gospel music.
The foundations which these students laid were not formalized until 1973. At that time, YGB’s founding members, Milton Rolland and Gwendolyn Moore, requested that our first director, Cecil Lytle, who was an associate professor of music at Grinnell, help them increase both YGB’s size and level of excellence. Prof. Lytle was able to accomplish these goals with great success. The choir was organized around three basic principles. As Prof. Lytle wrote, these were:
- cultural uniformity as a result of the Black Church experience
- a strong desire to continue that same cultural heritage while pursuing higher education at Grinnell College
- the choir’s expressed desire to act as an active agent in raising money for the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund at Grinnell College.
The name of the choir was taken from a work entitled To Be Young, Gifted, and Black by the famous black writer Lorraine Hansberry. With this strong foundation, the choir grew to 48 members. Practicing 6-8 hours a week, the choir was able, in 1974, to record a record entitled Young, Gifted, and Black: In Concert. They performed around Iowa, often accompanied by Spaces, which was Grinnell’s jazz-rock ensemble.
Since this auspicious beginning, YGB has gone through many transformations. YGB has performed in a number of cities including: Des Moines, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Iowa City, Kansas City, Chicago, Madison, Memphis, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C.
We have had our share of trials, however. In 1981, the number of people in the choir dwindled to seven. These seven members had the same passionate love for gospel music that the first six students felt as they sang in the basement of Younker Hall in 1967. Today, YGB has once again grown and includes over 30 members.
As is to be expected, YGB has changed significantly in 21 years. We no longer have the bond of “cultural uniformity.” Instead, we use our diversity as a bond. Our choir has members from different cultures, nationalities, and races. We feel these differences only make us stronger. In one of our programs from years past is this quote from W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folks, “...sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls, and not by their skins.” In YGB, we strive to create such a place, while continuing a tradition we inherited from YGB’s original members: the celebration of Black American culture through Gospel Music.
—Written with love by Ronald Edgell ’96