NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –
Hands-down, the Tennessee State University New Direction Choir is the best college gospel group in the country.
The group has proven this time and again, and Saturday, March 7, was no different when they took their final bow at the National College Choir Explosion in Louisville, Kentucky.
Competing as one of eight finalists from among several college gospel choirs, the TSU New Direction Choir came out on top winning the coveted title as the Nation’s Best Gospel Choir, with a $15,000 prize.
The group also won the People’s Choice Award as the audience’s favorite group, which earned them another $1,000 prize.
“It was an overwhelming experience knowing that we were national champions not just because the judges voted us number one, but because the audience also felt we were the best,” said tenor Kendric Dartis, a senior Healthcare Administration and Planning major, who is president of the choir. “Seeing the joy and jubilation on everyone’s face, especially the freshman members who had never experienced something like this before, was just very heartwarming.”
This was the group’s third straight finish as champions and runners-up in national competitions in the last four years. In 2011 they won first place in the Fourth Annual National Black Collegiate Alumni Hall of Fame Gospel Choir Competition in Atlanta, competing against four HBCU choirs. Two years later in 2013, the group came slightly short in the final round, winning Regional Runner-Up title in the Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound Gospel Choir Competition, also in Atlanta.
“Winning the National College Choir Explosion was especially exciting, because we wanted to come out and redeem ourselves after falling short the year before,” Dartis said.
Primary group advisor Deborah Chisom, a TSU alum and director of Graduate Admissions, said, “It was overwhelming to see students come out and work so hard. Even though I was not on stage with them, seeing them so excited was just very fulfilling. “
In addition to vocal presentation, participating choirs were judged on diction, intonation, tone quality, appearance, stage presence and audience appeal.
Judges included four-time Grammy Award-winning singer and musician Martha Munizzi; President and CEO of Bridgeman Foods Inc., Ulysses L. Bridgeman Jr.; talk show host and motivational speaker Carla Young; and gospel recording artist Byron Cage.
According to group members, the New Direction Choir, under the direction of TSU graduate Justin Butler, owes it success to the “overwhelming” support from TSU alumni, students, administrators and friends. During every competition, they said, a “dedicated” group of alumni, traveling on what they call the “Blue Bus,” follows and cheers them on wherever they are performing.
“Alumni support made a big difference,” said Tammy Taylor, group advisor and grants specialist in the Title III office, who also handles photo and videography for the group. “Our students had a level of support that was not visible with the other groups during the competition. I think that made a big difference with our group, and it lifted the extra burden of knowing they had an audience that was squarely behind them.”
Team support, with the new addition of the Reverend Frank Stevenson, assistant dean for Off-Campus Services in the Division of Student Activities, as an advisor to the New Direction Choir, is also a major factor in the group’s success, they said.
“President (Glenda) Glover has been very supportive; we could not have made it this far without her support and that of Executive Vice President Jane Jackson,” said Chisom. “Special thanks to the Student Government Association and Dr. Michael Freeman (vice president for Student Affairs) for not just their moral support, but also their financial support to the group.”
New Direction Choir has participated in concerts across the country. They have also appeared on the nationally televised Bobby Jones Gospel as featured guests. Additionally, the more than 45-member group has traveled many places taking what they have learned in vocal techniques and from Tennessee State University to share with others across the nation.
Other finalists that competed against New Direction were choirs from the University of Louisville, Middle Tennessee State University, Kentucky State University, North Carolina Central University, Virginia State University, the University of Kentucky and Mississippi State University.