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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

“Holy Blues”: Adrian Davis speaks about the importance of gospel choir

University director talks about the choir’s growth since 2018.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Adrian Davis, the director of gospel choir, listens to his students singing on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Davis works to teach students the message behind the music and why it is important.

In a classroom setting, it’s gospel choir director Adrian Davis’ smile that brings the passion of gospel music alive for students. 

With 80 students, a pianist, a guitarist and a drummer, Davis stands at the front, directing sections when to come in until every voice is singing. 

“Gospel music is for everyone, whether that is your central belief system or not,” Davis said. “The music is all-inclusive, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and perform and to study the artists.” 

Davis has been in education for 24 years, beginning his career teaching in Memphis, Tennessee, where he grew up. He moved to Minneapolis in 2007 and started teaching in Minneapolis Public Schools, where he still works now alongside his job at the University of Minnesota. 

The University previously had a gospel choir in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but with budget cuts, the School of Music (SoM) had to shut it down. Davis re-established it in 2018 with the support of the SoM after he came to the University to work on his PhD. 

“We started out small and it grew and grew, and then COVID hit and we lost some, but it’s growing again,” Davis said. “We got us a nice group here now.” 

According to Davis, the SoM was looking to expand its offerings in terms of musical understandings beyond the Western paradigm, and the gospel choir was an opportunity to do that. 

“To lean even more into Black music and the genres of Black music that tend to maybe get overlooked or underappreciated in predominantly white institutions,” Davis said. “[The University] is looking to change and looking to find ways to ingratiate itself to a wider range of genres, and it doesn’t diminish anything else that is already happening.” 

The music is important to Davis in a personal way because he grew up with gospel music. He said the music has always been a part of his life, so it was an easy connection. 

According to Davis, the choir is a “judgment-free zone” with people coming in for their own religious reasons, for the love of music or to get a better understanding of the culture. 

“That’s what gospel music itself is about,” Davis said. “It is a hybrid of the sacred and the secular.” 

Gospel music was born out of blues and jazz, and when it originated, Davis said the church did not like it. 

Davis added gospel music is the music of protest, a social justice theme. He said even if a tune does not have religious text, there is always a double meaning, and a singer or listener can find a gospel message in pop and R&B songs from today. 

“That’s also the part of being in a gospel choir is singing with understanding,” Davis said. “A lot of times we consume songs and don’t know the meaning behind it.” 

Davis said learning the understanding of a song “disarms whatever dogma could potentially be in the room” because everyone is learning together. 

The 80-person-strong choir consists mostly of students and some faculty and community members. 

Bonnie Young is a student in the gospel choir who joined because she enjoys organized singing, though she is not religious. 

“I’m not religious, but I still feel welcome here,” Young said. “I definitely observe a lot of people feeling it, but I’m just kind of here to sing.” 

According to Young, Davis provides a positive atmosphere and place where all types of people can go. 

“His energy is so positive and he’s just a really cool guy. He’s really good at leading this big of a group and I will listen to anything that man says,” Young said. 

Lucky Nguyen said he joined the gospel choir this semester because he missed singing and the choir was a nice way to do so in college without too much commitment. 

“If you want something, just a nice, easy way to involve music in your life that’s not too much time, gospel choir is a good way to start,” Nguyen said. “I think Adrian is an absolutely phenomenal director.”

Sarah Martin heard about the choir from friends she met through Salt, a campus ministry group. She said she likes the choir because it is diverse and unique. 

“Over winter break I was thinking about it, and I was like, ‘I want to do a fun class this semester,’ and so I added it to my schedule and it’s been great ever since,” Martin said. 

According to Martin, the experience of being in a secular school singing music from religious and historical backgrounds has been cool, and Davis communicates the gospel message in a very tasteful way for all interacting with it. 

Josh Spellacy has been an usher at Ted Mann Concert Hall for just over a year and has worked two gospel choir concerts.

“The atmosphere there is just super fun and relaxed,” Spellacy said. “You can tell that everyone who’s coming to see it and everyone who’s involved with it just loves it so much and is just so excited to see it and everything.” 

Spellacy added that the gospel choir concerts are more of a show than a concert and the director works to let the audience feel more included. 

Davis said the gospel choir is “everybody’s choir,” and it belongs not only to the SoM but to the University, the community and the city. 

“It’s the idea of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’” Davis said. “We’re all equal here, there’s no one greater, there’s no one lesser.” 

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  • Drew Bromley
    Feb 22, 2024 at 11:08 am

    Gotta love that Gospel music!