Ten years in the making, SF State’s first gospel choir’s anniversary concert featured returning alumni alongside a new group of talented student singers. The campus got its own taste of church with a night of dancing and singing along SF State’s own Gospel Gators choir this past Saturday, April 26.
Alumnus JaRonn Thompson formed the choir in the spring of 2004 when he was just a freshman. He recalls walking around one day, wondering if there was a gospel choir at SF State. “I remember hearing a voice — specifically God — saying, ‘We’ll start one,’” he said, after realizing that there wasn’t one already.
Thompson brought the idea up with his voice lecturer, Professor Dianthe Spencer, and asked for her help in producing the choir. Thompson made a petition and began walking around Malcolm X Plaza, gathering around 100 signatures, which he then showed to Spencer. Thompson followed up the petition with a performance of “Amazing Grace” with seven other singers, for which they did not have much time to practice. Spencer agreed to be their faculty advisory.
When the choir was just starting, Thompson said, “A lot of it just happened by word of mouth and through the people’s excitement that were involved in it.” Because SF State is a commuter school, he wanted to present something new to the campus that would be more exciting for students to actively be involved in.
Mike Blankenship, another alumnus, who joined the choir in his second semester, said, “I heard little rumblings when I was walking in the hallway, hearing them sing ‘Don’t Cry’ by Kirk Franklin.” He stumbled upon the choir practice at a time when, at chance, Blankenship was taking piano lessons to learn gospel music.
The choir has grown significantly since the first year, from just seven members to a now booming size of more than 70 singers. The choir continues to grow each year. Thompson and Blankenship hold auditions two weeks after the beginning of each semester in the student center for two days, letting students perform 60 seconds of a song.
“(We are) teaching them to live with passion, no fear, to be able to be kind to people, to be able to agree to disagree,” said Thompson, because not everyone in the choir is a Christian, and they welcome everyone no matter their religious background.
The night was filled with praise songs that have become part of the lineup over the ten years the choir has been together. The audience members were on their feet, joining in by clapping to the lyrics.
During a short break between songs, Thompson and Blankenship took a moment to give recognition and thanks to lifetime members, like Leslie White and Jeremy Gibson, and band members that were supportive of the group when they were first starting.
Torri Bryant, who came out because her nephew is in the choir, said, “I thought it was good and excellent. Nice outing to hear good gospel music live.”
The choir mixed it up with a number of Michael Jackson hits, filling the stage with singing and dancing. They invited audience members to join in and have fun with them.
Despite the gospel choir being a bit of a secret to much of the student body, Thompson said he believes a few do know about the choir. “I would like everyone to know, my goal is to have everyone on campus know we have a gospel choir.”