Brazeal Dennard Chorale Preserves a Sacred Art Form

he scene was the 17th annual Detroit Tigers Negro Leagues Tribute Game at Comerica Park. It was a day set aside to honor unsung players and teams that constitute an important chapter of baseball history.

On this scorching July day, members of the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox would take the field donning replica uniforms honoring the Negro Leagues’ Detroit Stars and Chicago American Giants.

As Major League Baseball shared the stage with history, the first big cheer of the day went out to members of the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, which performed a stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."

"The applause and response from the crowd was just wonderful," says Don Robinson, the Chorale’s executive director. "People in the stands were giving us fist pounds as we walked off the field."

Founded in 1972, the Chorale is named after its legendary founder, the late Dr. Brazeal Dennard. The organization’s mission is to "remember, discover, preserve and share the Negro spiritual as a part of the artistic community, and to rediscover and perform significant choral works by African American composers."

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A Detroit native, Dennard wore many hats during a distinguished career including, tenor, musician, composer, choral conductor and president of the National Association of Negro Musicians Inc. Dennard, who was born in 1929 and passed away last year, also left his mark as a Detroit Public Schools teacher and administrator. 


For Dr. Augustus Hill, who succeeded Dennard as the Chorale’s artistic director, each public performance provides an opportunity to bestow a musical gift to a new audience. Performances are also a means of carrying on the legacy of Dennard, who was deeply committed to promoting the work of African-American composers, as well as the tradition of the spiritual-the religious folk songs of African-American slaves.

"Our goal is to keep moving forward and as our ensemble grows, we want to maintain a level of excellence," says Hill, who composed a special arrangement of the national anthem for the Comerica Park performance.

Hill, who earned a doctorate in composition and music theory from the University of Michigan, takes delight in pointing out the diverse cross section of local people who have found a musical home in the Chorale. Members include teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, mechanics and day laborers.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale’s annual schedule features a variety of performances, including a holiday concert and a spring dinner show highlighting jazz, Broadway tunes and other popular music. The Chorale also performs annually with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and helped develop its Classical Roots Concert Series.

In addition to the Chorale, talented adults can share their musical gifts through the Brazeal Dennard Community Chorus. Youth ages 13 to 19 can sing with the Brazeal Dennard Youth Chorale, and children ages 7 to 12 can join the Brazeal Dennard Children’s Choir.

"One of our natural resources is the creative talent of the young people," Hill says. "I think it’s very important that we develop and cultivate that talent."

Ticket sales from performances cover roughly one-third of the Chorale’s expenses. Additional funding comes from the support of individuals and community partners. Hill invites members of the community to join the Friends of the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, a nonprofit organization, which provides financial support for the Chorale’s ensembles. The Friends group also has provided scholarships for music majors attending historically black colleges and universities.

"We would be foolish not to honor this tradition," says Robinson, who as an 11-year-old had a surprise encounter with the legendary Paul Robeson at a Detroit church. It forever shaped his love for spirituals and the history of African people.

"After one of our performances, I had a young person tell me that he could hear his ancestors speak to him through the music," Robinson recalls.

"The members of the Chorale share a love for music and we sing all types of music. But at its core you can’t beat the sheer poetry of the Negro spiritual. It’s poetry at its best. And from a creative and talent standpoint, the Chorale is in the best place we’ve ever been."

For more information about the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, call 313-823-5278 or visit BrazealDennard.org.

The Brazeal Dennard Chorale will perform on Sept. 4, 2011, at the annual "If Only For One Moment Scholarship Awards & Legacy of Excellence Benefit Concert" hosted by the nonprofit organization IN-Accord. This year, the organization’s Legacy of Excellence Award-given to a Detroit-area music educator-will be bestowed posthumously to Brazeal Dennard. The event takes place at 4 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren, Detroit.

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