IN UNISON Chorus History

Historic Photo

Created in 1994, the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus began as a one-time effort for the performance of Hannibal Peterson’s African Portraits. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response, the chorus has become a permanent part of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s artistic family. The chorus performs as part of the SLSO’s season in the annual Lift Every Voice: Black History Month Celebration, as well as in Gospel Christmas and community concerts in various locations around the area.

The chorus’ annual holiday concert, “A Gospel Christmas,” has become a St. Louis holiday tradition. The SLSO and chorus have performed to packed houses with renowned singers such as Take 6, Blind Boys of Alabama, and Oleta Adams.

The Black History Month celebration, Lift Every Voice, features works by African-American composers, arrangers and performers. In February 2018, Oleta Adams returned to the stage singing her hit "Get Here" and other crowd favorites. The chorus and SLSO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" speech in February 2013 with a performance of Samuel Barber's Adagio for strings, with narration of the speech provided by Wintley Phipps. In February 2012,  the SLSO and chorus welcomed St. Louis' own, Jenifer Lewis, to the Powell Hall stage. In February 2019, the chorus gave the world premiere performance of Isaac Cates' "It's Working."


The 2018 spring community concert was held at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church and guest conducted by former Music Director David Robertson in one of his final concerts with the SLSO. The chorus has presented well-known arrangers and composers in this concert, such as Rollo Dilworth, André Thomas, Moses Hogan, Brazeal Dennard and Jeffery Ames. There is no fee to attend this concert, but a free-will offering is accepted for the chorus' scholarship fund which supports African-American students from the St. Louis community who wish to pursue a music-related college degree.

To celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the chorus, the SLSO commissioned a composition from composer Rollo Dilworth. This work, Freedom’s Plow, was performed on the Choral Spectacular! subscription concert in October 2009. The IN UNISON Chorus performed Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus on the same concert.

The Chorus has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, Live at Powell Hall and classical concerts, Summerfest (Classics in the Loop), and made its Carnegie Hall debut in 1998. Members of the chorus sang at Carnegie Hall in June 2018, for the debut of Mark Hayes' Spirit Suite. Chorus members sang in front of more than 15,000 people in September 2019 to mark the start of Stéphane Denève's tenure as Music Director.

The IN UNISON Chorus enjoys a close and special relationship with the IN UNISON Church Program of the SLSO and with the network of IN UNISON churches and coordinators. The IN UNISON program, which began with five churches in 1992, quickly established itself as the model for the SLSO's community programs. Orchestra musicians visit member churches offering music during services, special event concerts and educational events. IN UNISON program church members are eligible for discounted Symphony concerts, tuition discounts to area music camps and music scholarships for college students majoring in music and other benefits. 

Robert Ray, founding director, 1995-2010

Robert Ray

Dr. Robert J. Ray, composer, conductor, and clinician, is Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and in May 2003, received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Vincennes University.

As a pianist, he has performed as a soloist with the Seoul Philharmonic, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony and others. As accompanist, he was privileged to have worked with the outstanding and legendary singers Robert McFerrin and Dr. William Warfield.

Ray’s compositions are known nationally and internationally. The Gospel Mass, Gospel Magnificat, and He Never Failed Me Yet are regularly performed in Europe, Asia, South Africa, and South America. He has traveled extensively throughout the world conducting his music. In April 2002, Ray returned again to Carnegie Hall as guest conductor to perform his Gospel Mass with chorus and orchestra. In February 2008, his Gospel Mass was performed with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus.

After 15 seasons as sole director of the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus, Ray retired in January 2010.