Nassau came alive on Saturday, May 21, to a spectacular performance by the "105 Voices of History" choir that included more than 100 talented students representing The Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the United States of America. Under the theme "One Voice," the musical gala featured students representing the United States' 105 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities, known as HBCUs, and Bahamian students from The College of The Bahamas Choir and the Bahamas National Youth Choir.
The three-hour "One Voice" musical gala showcased a wide repertoire of classical, jazz, and gospel music as well as spirituals. Many of the songs featured strong Bahamian folk influences. U.S. Embassy Nassau was one of the event's primary sponsors via a grant to support 43 Bahamian students' participation in the three-day Leadership Academy-Vocal and International Development workshop.
U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas Nicole A. Avant spoke at the opening of the "One Voice" Gala on Saturday night. She commended the significant role that America's 105 HBCUs have played in higher education since their inception more than 150 years ago. She also applauded the "One Voice" choir for celebrating the common cultural heritage the United States of America and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas share. The United Nations and the Organization of American States designated 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent and events like "One Voice" that both recognize and celebrate our countries' African Diaspora roots are a great way to strengthen the bonds that unite our two nations.
The evening's performance concluded with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," further demonstrating the deep cultural ties between the United State and The Bahamas. Known as the African-American National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was composed by a Bahamian school principal, James Weldon Johnson, in 1900 to introduce the school's honored guest, Booker T. Washington. The poem was later set to music by Johnson's brother, John Rosamond Johnson, in 1905.
The goal of the "105 Voices of History" organization is to increase opportunities for HBCU students to showcase their talents and to develop a network of HBCU choir leaders throughout the United States. Although the "105 Voices of History" choir performs annually at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday's gala in Nassau marked the first time choir members performed together outside the United States. Alexander Richardson, the 2011 president of 105 Voices of History Leadership Council, said, "This past week my colleagues and I embarked upon a phenomenal cultural experience in Nassau, Bahamas, whereby we combined our voices with Bahamian college students singing as one. Because many of us had not been exposed to cultures outside our immediate communities, this cultural exchange presented opportunities for us to grow and appreciate for the rest of our lives."
During a welcome reception at her home, Ambassador Avant encouraged the visiting HBCU students to embrace their roles as leaders in their communities and as emissaries of the arts. She also praised the choir's parent organization, Partners Achieving Success, for providing young people with the academic, social, and leadership skills to become citizens of the world.
Photos from the HBCU students' visit to The Bahamas can be found on U.S. Embassy Nassau's Facebook page.