Feb. 25, 2022
Reading time: 3 minutes, 44 seconds

The United Voices Gospel Choir (UVGC) has provided powerful experiences for both its audiences and student participants at the University of West Georgia for decades. Now, through the efforts of donors and choir group members, a scholarship endowment has been founded in honor of the group’s 45th year.  

 Front row, L to R: Elysia Jefferson, D'Mecia Harper, Sania Johns, and Blessing Olademo. Middle row, L to R:  Gabriel Kanife, Katlyn Johnson, Darika Barnes. Third row, L to R: Ariana Averette and   Cristiann Hutchinson. Last row: Stannetta Evans
Front row, L to R: Elysia Jefferson, D'Mecia Harper, Sania Johns and Blessing Olademo. Middle row, L to R: Gabriel Kanife, Katlyn Johnson and Darika Barnes. Third row, L to R: Ariana Averette and Cristiann Hutchinson. Last row: Stannetta Evans.

The endowment was established to support current students in their quest for academic excellence and will support the recruitment and retention of UVGC members. For qualifying UWG students – of whom nearly 40 percent are first-generation college students – access to financial support has the potential to change the trajectory of their lives.

Throughout the years, many UWG alumni who were members of the choir have referred to it as their hallmark experience while at the institution. UVGC network leader Sandra “Penney” Houston ’83 said the choir continues to be an important part of her life, nearly 40 years after she was a member. 

“I had not even heard of the choir my freshman year, but there was a local church that had a West Georgia Day every year, and the choir always sang at that,” she said. “We went, and I heard the choir singing, and I just fell in love with them. I officially joined in January of 1980 and was in until 1983 when I graduated.”

Houston and other former choir members came out in force to ensure the scholarship endowment has the capacity to provide the same experience for future generations of students. The $50,000 goal for the endowment was reached in only nine months, with UVGC alumni accounting for $35,000 in donations and an anonymous donor providing a challenge match of $25,000 to inspire UVGC alumni to give back and reach the goal.

UVGC was founded in 1974 by the Rev. Jared Jennings and Dr. O.B. Yates, who saw a need for African American students to have an outlet and more extracurricular activities. The choir gave students a sense of fellowship, worship and camaraderie and has been providing that environment for generations.

The choir’s name has evolved throughout the past four decades. Originally, it was the United Voices Choir of West Georgia, inspired by founding faculty advisor Yates’ experience in the United Voices of Kansas State Choir.  While the name has changed, the sense of bonding that takes place among the members of the group has not.

Stannetta Evans, support specialist for UWG’s Student Solutions team and the staff advisor for UVGC, said she is thrilled the scholarship is now fully endowed. 

“It feels amazing the scholarship goal was reached,” she said. “It will allow the legacy of the choir to continue to live and grow. The endowment will always be there to help students who are in need, so it is great to be a part of something that will be able to impact students’ lives.” 

The choir currently has 10 members and is currently working on songs for a spring 2022 concert on Saturday, April 30, as part of UWG’s Alumni Weekend. The group has already performed at several events on campus this semester, including Wolfie's Birthday Celebration and the 13th annual MLK Celebration, and Evans said they are open to any invitations that come their way. 

Although they would’ve preferred gathering in-person, the group held a virtual reunion in 2021 to highlight their 45th anniversary. Evans said the highly successful reunion was only made possible by the hard work of a planning committee made up of former choir members. 

“While we're thankful for everyone involved, a special thanks goes to the UVGC reunion planning committee,” she said. “Not only did they help with the reunion, they spent hours thinking of ways to revitalize the choir.”

This reunion committee included Houston, Evans, Gregory Bailey, Wylodine Harrell, Michelle Hester, Legree McCamey, Maydia Mosley, Willie Frank Andrews Nolley Jr., Dana Pace, Semeka Samuels, Quaniqua Tart, Lawanda Tillman, Michael Thompson and Denice King Perdue.  

Recently teaming up with the university’s Alumni Association, UVGC is looking toward the future and excited to build upon its distinguished heritage. 

“The group having longevity from 1974 to 2022 is amazing,” Evans said. “We also rebuilt during a pandemic, and we plan to continue growing each semester.”

The choir is currently recruiting new members. Students interested in joining should contact Evans at sevans@westga.edu

To learn more about the United Voices Gospel Choir – and view a musical performance from their 2021 reunion – visit this webpage. For more information about how you can make an impact by supporting UWG, please visit UWG’s Give West page.