TSO, FAMU Gospel Choir team up for bus boycott commemoration concert

Members of Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and the FAMU Gospel Choir rehearsed last Thursday for their upcoming concert at Lee Hall.
Photo by Abraiya Ruffin 

By Abraiya Ruffin 
Special to the Outlook

There was no second-guessing how it would be done when word came that the National Endowment for the Arts gave Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra a grant to commission work for orchestra and chorus.

Especially since the theme would be a commemoration of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

The FAMU Gospel Choir was the first choice by Amanda Stringer, director of TSO. The impetus was the success both groups have had working together – They performed Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” in 2019, along with the Morehouse Glee Club.

Plus, the concert will be a tribute to the Tallahassee Bus Boycott that was led by two FAMU students.

This time when TSO and the FAMU choir get together they will again perform another Thompson composition titled “Walk in Dignity.” The first-time presentation is set for March 26 at 4 p.m. in Lee Hall on FAMU’s campus.

“They’re our favorite go-to choir because they’re awesome,” Stringer said. 

The two group got together last Thursday for a rehearsal at Foster – Tanner Music Building. They ran through a six-song repertoire that they will perform at Lee Hall. That list includes If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus, Hallelujah I’m A-Travelin’ and America the Beautiful.

Siana Hayden, Jordan Booth and Marques Ruff are the designated solo performers. 

 “This means a lot to FAMU, I feel privileged to use my voice and portray this story in the way that it should be told,” said Booth, a third-year music major.

A hymn sing-along with be the highlight of the commemoration of the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott. 

The boycott started when Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, two African-American students from FAMU, sat in the only two vacant seats in a White-only section on a local bus. 

Their action came five months after Rosa Parks took a stand against racist segregating bus policies in Montgomery, Ala. The two students were arrested, setting off an uproar in Tallahassee. The city decided to end its segregated bus policy after NAACP leader C.K. Steele got involved.

While that part of the occasion will be highlighted, Mark Butler, Director of FAMU’S Concert Choir, said he hopes the music will make an impression on attendees.

“Musically, expect some complex melodies and harmonies as it relates to a complex time in Tallahassee’s history,” Butler said. “It was filled with challenges and hurdles to cross.” 

Despite TSO’s collaboration with the FAMU choir in 2019, Butler said this concert is unlike any other they have done. This one will feature literacy through history, he said.

“It is an important portion of our history as Famuans to tell the story of people that came before us; the fight and the struggle that was going on during the 50s and the 60s,” Butler said.

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