URBANA — Every time the Black Chorus performs, they’re making Black history, according to director Ollie Watts Davis. But this year, with the help of other groups across campus, they’ll be putting on a performance as a special celebration of that history.

It’s a busy time of year for Davis, so the concert almost didn’t come together.

She thought, “Perhaps I should yield this opportunity in February 2024 to others,” Davis said. “But two of my trustees said — and that would be my daughters — ‘Mother, you have to do a Black History Month concert.”

Colleagues across the University of Illinois Department of Fine Art often discuss working together on projects, but their busy schedules get in the way.

Davis saw the opportunity to make a group project happen and sent out an invitation.

“The enthusiasm was just palpable, it was wonderful,” she said. “I appreciate them taking the time and putting the time in their schedules to participate, and they seem to be really thrilled to be a part of it.”

Davis involved some students as well, and so “ANCHOR: The Music, The Message, and The Movement” was born.

Groups from across the university will come together to perform music, but the event will also feature a dance and two monologues.

Visual art by Black students in the School of Art and Design will be installed in the Smith Memorial Hall as well, ahead of today’s 7:30 p.m. concert.

The concert will be free to attend, which Davis said is important because she’s hoping for a full house.

“I think it’s a wonderful time for community and relationships, and to just be in that space together, and just feel the warmth of the music and the artistic expressions that will be shared,” she said.

Davis chose all of the music to be performed, either recommending the artists learn certain pieces or asking for songs she knew were already in their repertoire, all to match the theme she had in mind.

“I selected that theme because the artistic expression of Black Americans has served as an anchor for us, it served as a shelter, it served as a shield, as a system of navigating our sojourn here,” Davis said. “I believe that music and movement and art and dance and theater need to be studied not only from a historical perspective, but the history has to be studied because it gives us the strength of where we’ve been as formation and foundation. It’s important and instructive for where we are today.”

The concert will feature work by historical Black composers like Duke Ellington as well as some alive today, like Roland Carter.

Stephen Ford, a freshman at UI and vice president of the Black Chorus, said he’s hoping the audience will understand the history that can be learned through music.

“I feel that if they can grasp that, then the audience will gain understanding and appreciation for the music of Black Americans and may even share the same passion I do, which is spreading that same message across the globe,” Ford said.

Alongside the Black Chorus, artists for ANCHOR include the Varsity Men’s Glee Club, the University Chorus, the Clover String Quartet and several students and faculty members as individuals.

Davis said that she would like to see something like this become an annual event — or even two, scheduling both a fall and spring concert.

“There’s so much repertoire to be shared, you can’t put it all in one concert,” Davis said. “Although it feels like I’ve tried.”


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