MLK Chorus marks 20 years in Charleston

The Martin Luther King Jr. Male Chorus members celebrated their 20th anniversary on Sunday by doing what they do best — singing.

The group of around 30, ranging from ages 20 to 90, performed at the Charleston First Church of the Nazarene.

Harry Stewart Jr. has been a member since the group was founded 20 years ago.

Stewart said his favorite aspect of the group is not the music, but the fellowship.

“You can’t beat getting a group of Christian men together on one accord,” Stewart said.

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The group started in January 1996, when a group of men were recruited to sing as part of a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. While the celebration was nothing new, the group of men felt something special and decided to form a group to help keep King’s dream alive.

Since then, the group has performed all over the United States, and has performed for the president twice.

Leroy Robinson was one of the two men who founded the chorus. Now, at nearly 90, he’s still performing with the group as the lead pianist.

“Things have changed a little bit, but we’re still together,” Robinson said.

The chorus performs both contemporary and traditional African-American gospel music for any audience who invites them to sing. This fall the group will be inducted into the West Virginia All Black Hall of Fame.

Ann Byrd has been attending the chorus’ performances for around 15 years. Now, the chorus is like her family. Byrd and her friends have been able to ride on a bus with the chorus to attend performances at various churches all over the state.

“I enjoy them very much. Some of them I’ve known for years and years,” Byrd said. “They’re a great group.”

Arelene Manns said word of the chorus travels through churches all over West Virginia and church leaders invite the chorus to perform. As long as the group is free, they’ll perform.

Manns said music has brought the chorus and its fans together.

“They are very close-knit, like a brotherhood,” she said.

Marshall Murray, director of the chorus, said the chorus is always welcoming new members.

“[We’re from] different churches, different denominations, but we stick together and keep doing it,” Murray said. “Twenty years later and we’re still here.”

He encourages men to come to a practice; the chorus practices every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The group has one female member, Charlotte Puryear, who plays the piano. The only requirement to join is you have to be a Christian of some denomination.

At the celebration on Sunday, Reverend William Hairston placed six of the eight original members on “Honor Roll” to honor their 20-year dedication to the chorus.

“It’s their foundation and love and culture they built in this group, which is why it’s still going,” he said. “We honor you for your service, your example, your dedication and your love. … You were here when we started and we honor you.”

Reach Laura Haight at laura.haight@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @laurahaight_ on Twitter.

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