The internationally recognized University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Vesper Choir, under the direction of Dr. Michael J. Bates, Professor of Music, and Interim Chair of the Department of Music, is nationally recognized among historically Black colleges and universities for its diverse repertoire and excellent performances. This 65-70 member select ensemble, founded in the 1940s by Professor Ariel “Pops” Lovelace and conducted for more than 40 years by Professor Shelton J. “Fessor” McGee, has a rich choral tradition that includes numerous performances on radio and television, as well as performances across the United States and most recently internationally over the Internet. In 2006 the UAPB Vesper Choir took a performance tour to Italy. The Choir performed eight concerts in four cities: in Rome, including presenting the music for the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican; in Venice, including a performance at historic St. Mark’s Cathedral; and additional concerts in Rome and in Venice and two concerts each in Florence and Milan.
Dr. Bates, assisted by Dr. Heidi Cohenour Gordon, Instructor in Voice and Assistant Choir Director, conducts the Vesper Choir in an entertaining and varied program of classical choral literature, spirituals, choral jazz, commercial music, music of popular appeal and gospel selections. The Choir continues the tradition of studying and performing choral masterpieces and contemporary choral compositions that are of the highest quality. The December, 2009 performance of Handel’s “Messiah” will be 56th annual performance of this monumental composition. The concert, annually attended by more than 600 persons, is performed with full orchestra and student and professional soloists. The Vesper Choir has had several performances with the Pine Bluff Symphony. These performances have included: G. Verdi’s “Stabat Mater”, L. Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” (in Hebrew), A. Bruckner’s “Te Deum” and the F. Poulenc “Gloria”. The Choir has also performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and will again perform with the ASO in March, 2010, in a concert version of Porgy and Bess. The Vesper Choir was featured in the international award winning video “A Holiday Music Gala”, filmed in 2005 for the Arkansas Educational Television Network. Among other performances of note, the Vesper Choir was invited to perform a concert in the Great Hall at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, and in March of 2009 at the Washington National Cathedral [Washington, D.C.]. Another major highlight of the Vesper Choir’s 2009 performance schedule was the Choir’s inspirational performance at The Potter’s House, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Founding Pastor, in Dallas, TX.
Recently, the UAPB Vesper Choir has sung in churches and schools in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, San Antonio and many other cities. The Vesper Choir has a mission that is educational, artistic and cultural. It is a service organization and as such performs for significant campus and community events. The Choir also performs for schools, churches and community organizations around the state. The Choir also functions as a laboratory for music majors who will become choir directors when they leave college.
The Vesper Choir has produced a long line of distinguished singers, performers and professionals in other work fields and academic disciplines, including Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, prominent theologian, pastor and author; Mr. Smokey Norful, noted contemporary gospel artist; Mr. James McKissic, concert pianist performing in Europe and the U.S; and others.