Founded in 2008 by the late James D. Smith, Voices of God’s Children (VOGC) is a nondenominational community choir dedicated to the preservation of spirituals. Traditionally called “Negro spirituals,” these songs originated from the times of slavery in the United States and a history that every member of the choir holds dear.
I had the opportunity to talk to several of these visionaries during one of their weekly Monday-night practices. Singers trickled into the fellowship hall of Grace Presbyterian Church, each stopping to greet every person they laid eyes on. As if by divine intervention, a song began from the warmed-up choir as I drew to the close of my first set of interviews and the room was filled with the opening bars of Let There Be Peace on Earth.
Judy Greene has been with the choir from its inception and emphasized the importance of a community like the one provided by VOGC. When asked about the characteristics of those in the choir, Judy described the diversity to be found. The group is filled with people from all walks of life. There are retired people, active professors, former ministers, and many other occupations represented. “Blue collar to no collar — we don’t talk about who went to school or for how long.” Instead the members talk about all other aspects of their lives, just like any family would. Though nondenominational and welcoming of members from all faiths, all rehearsals end with sharing time and prayer. This religious component does not seem to be a turn-off for current members. Susan Margitic, a seven-year member of VOGC, is non-religious and participates in the choir simply because she loves what they do and why they do it. “This music touches my soul,” she explained to me, “we can’t forget.”
By “forget,” Susan is referring to the history of the spirituals the group sings, songs that carry the weight of years of hardship for black people in the United States. Another member, Ernestine Worley, spoke more on the topic, “The words in the music have so much meaning for humanity…despite all the hardships, they were able to sing.”
The group’s constant goal within their choir is to increase in membership, but with a lack of interest from younger generations, the choir has mostly consisted of seniors. Barbara Jarett and Kenneth Jones, both long time, respected members spoke on the group’s hope to draw in younger people. When asked why they don’t seem to draw younger crowds, Kenneth replied, “they don’t know enough about our culture,” while Barbara added that younger people “don’t want to take the time… they move too fast.”
VOGC has gone through their share of growing pains, from the sudden death of their original director and other members, to finding a new stable director to lead the group in new projects. (They have a deep love for current director, Deborah Daniels). There can be no argument that the existence of a group like Voices of God’s Children has the potential to contribute a great deal to the Triad Community and they are always looking for new ways to reach people.
There is something rare and important in a group like Voices of God’s Children, its many intersections and its welcoming environment. I think member Judy Greene summed it up best: “We are pushing the people of Winston-Salem to cross lines that they never would…they have loved me through a lot of mistakes and tears.”
To find more information about VOGC and their upcoming events, visit them online at VoicesofGodsChildren.org.