A Landmark Performance

By Emily Hung ’23, March 25, 2022

Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers Perform at Carnegie Hall.

On March 17, the echo of more than 100 singers filled the historic Carnegie Hall in New York City as the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers, Fisk Jubilee Singers and three high school singing groups merged on stage to perform several pieces.

The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers is a group of community singers in Ithaca, founded and directed by Baruch Whitehead, associate professor of music education at Ithaca College. The group of 75 singers include 23 current IC students and three alumni.

The group is named after Dorothy Cotton, an Ithaca resident and civil rights pioneer who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when she served as education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Cotton passed away in 2018.

“Dorothy Cotton often used music to bring people together and to tear down walls and build bridges,” Whitehead said.

“I remember, specifically, as soon as the sopranos sang their first line, all of us heard the echoing off the ceiling. We all looked at each other, and we were like ‘Woah, this is wild.’”

Nick Jones ’24

The performance came after an invitation from Dr. Paul T. Kwami, the musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. The pieces the singers performed at Carnegie Hall were Negro Spirituals, aligning with the mission of the Jubilee Singers, who are dedicated to its preservation. Nick Jones ’24, a voice performance and music education double major, says this type of music is different than what he has learned in his classes.

Students sitting backstage

Students were all smiles as they waited to perform. (Photo by Baruch Whitehead)

“For me personally, it allows me to belt more, and it’s just so much fun for me,” he said. “It feels freer to sing that kind of music. I like the way Dr. Whitehead conducts the choir because it’s very fun and fast-paced. We’re still treated very professionally, and we regard ourselves highly, but it’s a lot more about the joy of making music together.”

He added that as soon as he walked into the performance space, he was in awe.

“I remember, specifically, as soon as the sopranos sang their first line, all of us heard the echoing off the ceiling,” Jones said. “We all looked at each other, and we were like ‘Woah, this is wild.’”

Gavin Tremblay ’23, a music education major, agreed saying the experience singing at Carnegie Hall for the first time was something he won’t forget.

“It was exhilarating and different from the other performances I’ve done,” he said. “It was a lot of singers conducted by a powerhouse of a conductor in a huge hall.”

As for the performance itself, Kathryn Dauer ‘23, a vocal music education major and singer for the group, says she felt the most connection with the song, “My God Is a Rock,” conducted by Whitehead.

“Not everybody gets to sing at Carnegie Hall. It’s one of the premier concert stages in the world. So, it's a real honor just to get invited to do it. Then, to go and get a standing ovation is beyond my imagination that would ever happen to me, personally.”

Baruch Whitehead, associate professor of music education

“After we sang it in one of our rehearsals, one of our choir members was brought to tears and was explaining what the song meant to her: that God is always there through the good and the bad,” Dauer said. “Dr. Whitehead kept taking us back to that. We stressed a lot that through this music that we can make our own personal connections with the song and with God.”

The piece earned a standing ovation from the audience.

Students standing outside

Several students said the performance was unforgettable.

“Not everybody gets to sing at Carnegie Hall,” Whitehead said. “It’s one of the premier concert stages in the world. So, it's a real honor just to get invited to do it. Then, to go and get a standing ovation is beyond my imagination that would ever happen to me, personally.”

Jones says the group practiced for hours every week to prepare for the concert. During that time and over the course of the trip to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall, he was able to form connections with group members of the Ithaca community.

“I love the atmosphere, and it’s so different than my choir experience at Ithaca College,” Jones said. “It's a community choir. I instantly fell in love with the group, and I loved singing, the fun we all had in rehearsal and getting to meet different members of the community.”

Whitehead values the connections Ithaca College students are making with community members through the group.

“They build our family,” he said. “Music is a wonderful way of people having a sense of belonging, a sense of family, and we build beautiful community. I think more students should get to know wonderful people in Ithaca and to get outside of their bubble and outside of their comfort zone.”