Clockwise from top: The Eastern Mennonite University Chamber Singers perform in a recent photo. Sunday's concert will also feature performances from the Virginia Union University Gospel Choir as well as several prominent gospel artists. Grammy Award winning-Gospel artist Hezekiah Walker will make a guest appearance at the event. (Photos courtesy of Hezekiah Walker Center for Gospel Music at VUU)

EMU singers, strings partner with Virginia Union University Gospel Choir for live recording

The Eastern Mennonite University Chamber Singers and orchestra strings section will join the Virginia Union University Gospel Choir in Richmond this weekend for a live recording of “I Need You to Survive.”

The recording is part of the historically black university’s Homecoming Gospel Concert, held at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15, at United Nations Church, 214 Cowardin Ave., Richmond.

It will feature a special guest appearance from Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Bishop Hezekiah Walker, as well as performances from other prominent gospel musicians.

Walker, known for songs such as “Every Praise,” “God Favored Me” and “I Need You to Survive,” established the Hezekiah Walker Center for Gospel Music at Virginia Union University in 2021. Its programs include Gospel Heritage; Song Writing, Publishing and Licensing; and Business of Gospel Music.

“Hezekiah Walker is as prominent an artist in gospel music as anyone you could imagine in any other field, like Michael Jordan in basketball or Taylor Swift in pop music,” said EMU Music Program Director David Berry.

“It’s a pretty big concert,” said Chamber Singers Director Benjamin Bergey. “A lot of really great musicians and a lot of great music.”

“And then, at the end is this culmination-collaboration in sort of a ‘We Are the World’ feel,” added Bergey, referencing the 1985 multi-platinum hit featuring Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder, among others.

Michele Clay, director of the Hezekiah Walker Center, remarked on the significance of the event.

“This is the first time that the VUU Gospel Choir is doing a live recording,” she said. “This is VUU history!”

President Susan Schultz Huxman said details are being worked out for EMU to host the VUU Gospel Choir in Harrisonburg next year for a concert.

“It will be exciting,” she said. “We’d love to make this a regular faith-inspired, peace and justice musical partnership!”

Plans came together last year when a board member of VUU and the Commonwealth Alliance of Rural Colleges — of which EMU is a member — approached Huxman and VUU President and CEO Dr. Hakim J. Lucas and proposed the idea of a joint music concert.

Huxman said the schools share many similarities. Both schools are faith-inspired private universities with excellent music programs, both have seminaries central to their identities and both value peace, justice and diversity.

“Like VUU, EMU is all about opening doors, removing barriers and creating cultures where students can feel they belong and they can become their authentic selves and find their calling,” Huxman said.

But the partnership also recognizes their differences, she added.

“We celebrate what the coming together of these two schools can yield: VUU is an HBCU; EMU is a PWI [predominantly white institution]. VUU is in an urban part of the state; EMU is located in a rural part of the state. VUU brings the musical heritage of a gospel choir; EMU brings a musical heritage of hymns sung in four-part harmony.”

“I Need You to Survive,” which will be the one song featuring the EMU Chamber Singers and orchestra strings, is just one of many recorded on Sunday. Huxman said event organizers wish to submit a recording of the entire concert for a Grammy Award.

Chamber Singers is an auditioned touring chamber choir founded in 1979. The mixed-voice choir is made up of more than 15 EMU students of different majors and ages. The ensemble tours in the U.S. each spring break and abroad every other May.

Virginia Union University is a premier liberal arts institution and publicly serving HBCU with recognition as a private institution through the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Founded in 1865, Virginia Union University was originally established to give newly emancipated slaves an opportunity for education and advancement. Today, the university is a center for excellence focusing on preparing and developing today’s students to become advanced leaders of tomorrow.

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