St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus celebrates its 25th anniversary

Chorus specializing in African and African-American music marks 25th year with performances including A Gospel Christmas on December 20, Lift Every Voice on February 22, 2019, and its annual free community concert on May 3, 2019

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(November 27, 2018, St. Louis, MO) – This season, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra commemorates the 25th anniversary of its IN UNISON Chorus. The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus specializes in the performance and preservation of music with African and African-American origins. The chorus has performed with the SLSO and in local churches throughout the region for thousands of people over the past 25 years.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the only American orchestra to have two resident adult choruses.

The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus was created in 1994 as part of the IN UNISON program, a Monsanto-supported SLSO outreach program that connects the SLSO with diverse audiences through African-American partner churches in the St. Louis region. The IN UNISON Chorus formed when André Raphel Smith, assistant conductor of the SLSO in the early 1990s, programmed Hannibal Peterson's African Portraits for a SLSO concert. The jazz/classical opera tracing the history of African-Americans called for a choir to sing partly in the Mende language of West Africa. Smith asked Robert Ray, a University of Missouri-St. Louis music educator, to convene a chorus capable of the performance. Ray gathered singers from IN UNISON partner churches for the SLSO premiere of African Portraits on January 22, 1995. Reaction to the IN UNISON Chorus was overwhelmingly positive, and it was made a permanent part of the SLSO family.

Since its debut, the IN UNISON Chorus, composed of 125 talented singers from across the St. Louis region, has performed more than 100 times, including twice-yearly performances with the SLSO and a popular free community concert each year. Ray served as the director of the chorus from 1995 to 2010. Kevin McBeth has directed the chorus since 2011.

Marie-Hélène Bernard, President and CEO of the SLSO, said, "The brilliant IN UNISON Chorus has become an integral part of the SLSO family and the St. Louis community. Reflecting on and celebrating the region's history, talent, and diversity in a meaningful way, the IN UNISON Chorus is an artistic treasure and stands proudly alongside the SLSO. On behalf of the entire SLSO family, I congratulate Kevin McBeth and each musician of the IN UNISON Chorus on 25 years of music making."

Kevin McBeth, Director of the IN UNISON Chorus, said, "When the IN UNISON Chorus was formed, it was never intended to be an ongoing part of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The chorus formed in 1994 to sing for one special concert, but it was such a success, they continued singing – and with the full embrace of the SLSO. The early years were spent designing a profile for a chorus specializing in the music of African and African-American cultures, since there was no other model in the country. The IN UNISON Chorus' visibility in St. Louis has increased significantly in the past 25 years. Singing with nationally-recognized artists and the orchestra has become a tradition that brings standing-room-only crowds to the symphony."

Gwen Wesley, a charter member of the IN UNISON Chorus, said, "Our music creates a sense of community in Powell Hall, where a person can relax and appreciate others without societal interpretations of who we each are. These experiences carry over into our separate communities, giving us different and, hopefully, more positive images of others."

The IN UNISON Chorus made its Carnegie Hall debut in 1998. It also has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, at Live at Powell Hall and classical concerts, and Summerfest (Classics in the Loop). To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the chorus, the SLSO commissioned a piece by composer Rollo Dilworth. The work, Freedom's Plow, was performed on the Choral Spectacular! SLSO concert in October 2009. The chorus also performed at the National Urban League Convention in St. Louis as well as the annual SLSO concert in Forest Park in 2017.

Membership to the 120+-member IN UNISON Chorus is by audition. Prospective singers do not need to be a member of an IN UNISON partner church to audition. IN UNISON Chorus members come from throughout the St. Louis metro area, ranging in age from their 20s through seniors. In 2012, the IN UNISON Young Artists program was started to attract younger singers to lend their talents to the chorus.

2018/2019 Performances
This season, the IN UNISON Chorus will celebrate this anniversary milestone with three performances. The chorus will sing its interpretation of holiday hits in A Gospel Christmas with Take 6 at 7:30pm on December 20. Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Take 6 will join the orchestra, chorus, and soloists to perform gospel renditions of well-known Christmas tunes. This annual tradition draws a full house to Powell Hall.

The anniversary celebration continues with the annual Lift Every Voice: Black History Month Celebration. The February 22, 2019, concert includes a performance of Gospel Mass, a composition by Robert Ray, the first director of the IN UNISON Chorus. The chorus will also premiere a new work by Kansas City composer Isaac Cates. Jermaine Smith will perform alongside the chorus, just as he did at the chorus' debut performance. St. Louis jazz veteran Denise Thimes will also join the chorus for the program.

Also planned is the chorus' popular free community concert on May 3, 2019. Traditionally held in partner IN UNISON churches throughout the St. Louis area, this year's performance will be held at Powell Hall to accommodate the capacity crowds that attend the concert each year.

A Gospel Christmas with TAKE 6
Thursday, December 20, 2018, 7:30pm
Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO

Kevin McBeth, conductor
St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus
Kevin McBeth, Director
TAKE 6, vocals

*Limited tickets remain.

Lift Every Voice: Black History Month Celebration
Friday, February 22, 2019, 7:30pm
Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO

Kevin McBeth, conductor
Jermaine Smith, vocals
Denise Thimes, vocals
St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus
Kevin McBeth, Director

JOHNSON Lift Every Voice and Sing
ROBERT RAY Gospel Mass

*Additional repertoire will be announced at a later date.

This concert is supported by Monsanto Fund.

IN UNISON Chorus community concert
Sunday, May 3, 2019, 7:00pm
Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO

Kevin McBeth, conductor
St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus

*Repertoire will be announced at a later date.
**This concert does not feature the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

This concert is free and open to the public. No tickets are needed, but reservations are requested at

About Kevin McBeth
Kevin McBeth was appointed Director of the IN UNISON Chorus in January 2011, and is also the founding Director of the St. Louis Symphony Holiday Festival Chorus. He serves as the Director of Music and Worship at Manchester United Methodist Church in suburban St. Louis. He was recently Adjunct Professor in Choral Music at Webster University.

He has conducted honor, festival, and touring choir in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Previous appointments include assistant conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and music director of the St. Louis Metro Singers.

With the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he has conducted concerts with Oleta Adams, Jennifer Holliday, and Boyz II Men, as well as the July 4th Celebration under the Gateway Arch. McBeth recently led concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is a frequent presenter at regional and national conferences for the American Choral Directors Association. His orchestral conducting credits include performances with the Indianapolis Symphony, Houston Civic Symphony, the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra of New York. Most recently, McBeth conducted a concert tour to Italy, with a performance at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

About the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus
The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus is an all-volunteer, 120+-voice auditioned ensemble that performs a variety of musical styles, with a focus on the interpretation, performance, and preservation of the music of African-American and African cultures. Chorus members have traditionally come from the IN UNISON Program member churches, but also from area universities and colleges. Chorus members are teachers, nurses, office workers, students, doctors, and people from many other walks of life. Some members have retired from long careers, some are just entering the work force or working on degrees. Many sing in other vocal ensembles or church choirs. All share a love of music and of singing.

About the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Celebrated as one of today's most exciting and enduring orchestras, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second-oldest orchestra in the country, marking its 139th year with the 2018/2019 season. Widely considered one of the world's finest, the SLSO maintains its commitment to artistic excellence, educational impact, and community connections – all in service to its mission of enriching lives through the power of music.

In addition to its regular concert performances at Powell Hall, which has been the permanent home of the SLSO for 50 years, the orchestra is an integral part of the diverse and vibrant St. Louis community, presenting free education programs and performances throughout the region each year. It presents St. Louis Symphony Live at the Pulitzer, a four-program series at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. The SLSO also serves as the resident orchestra for Opera Theatre Saint Louis, with this season marking the 42nd year of their partnership.

The Grammy Award–winning SLSO's impact beyond the St. Louis region is realized through weekly Saturday night concert broadcasts on St. Louis Public Radio, acclaimed recordings, and regular touring activity. A sought-after artistic partner by preeminent musicians and composers from across the globe, as well as by local and national organizations, the SLSO enjoys a long history of robust and enduring artistic collaborations that have developed and deepened over the years.

Today, the SLSO builds on the institution's current momentum on all fronts, including artistic, financial, audience growth, and community impact, and looks toward the future with Stéphane Denève. Denève, who has been a frequent guest conductor with the orchestra since 2003, begins his tenure as Music Director with the 19/20 season, following this season as Music Director Designate. For more information, visit

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