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IN UNISON Chorus celebrates 25th anniversary

GRAND CENTER — Now in its 25th year, the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus conveys a powerful voice of civic pride that has enthralled generations of audiences.
On February 22nd IN UNISON returns to Powell Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard) to present Lift Every Voice: A Black History Month Celebration. The second of three performances this season, the concert highlights the organization’s message of diversity, unity and community with music.

Showcasing the work of African-American composers, this year’s program features tenor Jermaine Smith and jazz vocalist Denise Thimes joining conductor Kevin McBeth for a selection of gospel favorites, spirituals and songs from the 1959 film adaptation of Porgy and Bess. Also featured is IN UNISON founder Dr. Robert J. Ray’s own composition, Gospel Mass and It’s Working, composed by Kansas City’s acclaimed gospel performer and composer Isaac Cates.

IN UNISON Programs Coordinator and Chorus Manager Michelle Byrd commented, “This concert has become so popular because it always happens during Black History Month. It’s a special time of year where the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra family comes together to celebrate the history of African and African-American people past, present, and future.”

She also explained why, after 25 years, this annual tradition continues to draw new audiences. “Audiences come to experience the belief behind what is performed. Spirituals and Gospel music cannot be feigned; the audience can tell. There is a lot within the music that anyone can identify with: themes of love, or peace, or freedom, or wanting to be a better person. When the IN UNISON Chorus and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra take the stage at Powell, the music comes alive.”

Gwen Wesley, a charter member of the IN UNISON Chorus, remarked, “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.”

Founded by Dr. Robert J. Ray, a professor of music and conductor for the University of Missouri-St. Louis Community Chorus, IN UNISON has grown from a one-off concert performance in 1994 to a member of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra family.
Specializing in the preservation and performance of music with African-American origins, the IN UNISON Chorus has performed over 100 times with the SLSO before enthusiastic audiences at Powell hall and at churches throughout the region.

For more information on the IN UNISON Chorus visit

Rob Levy

Rob Levy is a writer, blogger and podcaster who has been published in several local print and online publications including St. Louis Magazine, ALIVE Magazine, The Riverfront Times, Eleven, Playback, The St. Louis Business Journal, The Max Magazine, Noisy Paper and Night Times. He has also written about popular culture, music, film and television for several websites and publications. Since 1995 he has hosted Juxtaposition on KDHX Radio.

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