TSU’s New Direction Choir kicks off busy year with sight on winning top gospel competition

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The Tennessee State University New Direction Gospel Choir is gearing up for another exciting and eventful itinerary filled with performances and competitions. With a reputation as one of the world’s leading gospel choirs, the group is already in high spirits and eagerly preparing for the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

State Rep. Torrey Harris (D-District 19), left, reads a proclamation from the Tennessee General Assembly to New Direction in recognition of the group’s outstanding contribution to the arts. Receiving the proclamation are New Direction President Kendrick Noel, right, and Director Justin Butler. (Photo by John Cooper)

Last week, the award-winning choir capped off an eventful April with its Annual Spring Concert at the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Gospel great Kevin Davidson, of the contemporary gospel choir Kevin Davidson and the Voices, was the host of the packed evening of fellowship, singing, and entertainment. It featured the sensational Josh Bracy and Power Anointed.

On April 5, New Direction kicked off the month with an appearance at the Mr. Crimson Pageant on campus, sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, where the choir sang its version of “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord.” That event followed the group’s participation in the Good Friday Service on April 7 at Bridgestone Arena, featuring Christian music star Chris Tomlin.

Kevin Davidson, of the contemporary gospel choir Kevin Davidson and the Voices, was the guest host for the evening. (Photo by John Cooper)

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Justin Butler, director of New Direction, about the series of events and performances leading up to this year’s How Sweet the Sound Choir Competition in Atlanta on June 3, where the group hopes to take the top prize since its first runner-up appearance in 2013.

“We are super, super excited about being there and representing Tennessee State University,” says Butler. “Hopefully, we can walk away with the first-place prize. We believe we are going to win. This year we are looking to do one better and come home with that prize.”

Tenor Reginald McCollum, a senior who has been with the choir since his sophomore year, is just as optimistic about TSU’s chances at the competition. “It is very exciting to know we are actually going to be competing in How Sweet the Sound,” says the psychology major from New York. “To be able to go against so many wonderful choirs is a challenge we are ready for because we put in the time, we are very dedicated to our work and to our craft and what we sing.”

The sensational Josh Bracy and Power Anointed was the featured choir at the concert. (Photo by JohnCooper)

Considered as one of America’s top gospel choir competitions, How Sweet the Sound features large and small choirs, solo performances, spoken word, and dance. TSU will go against some big-name groups in the large choir category, including Anthony Sutton and Fresh Wind from Raleigh, North Carolina, and Nashville Community Gospel Choir. Featured guests will include Hezekiah Walker, J.J. Hairston, Tamela Mann, and Donald Lawrence.

Now in its 26th year, New Direction Gospel Choir is comprised mainly of TSU students and university staff as advisers, serving as a platform for students from all disciplines who are interested in improving their choral and musical talent. The group has been distinguished as an “outstanding group among gospel choirs” around the country and the world, with awards and other recognitions.

In 2011, the group won first place in the Fourth Annual National Black Collegiate Alumni Hall of Fame Gospel Choir Competition in Atlanta. Four years later, in 2015, New Direction was voted the “Nation’s Best Gospel Choir” at the National College Choir Explosion in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2018, they spent 31 days touring and performing in different cities across Europe, including an appearance in the Vatican, where they met and performed for the Pope. The following year, the choir was featured on BET’s hit show “Sunday Best,” a reality television gospel music singing competition series.

Terrance Izzard, an adviser with the group and TSU’s Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success, describes the New Direction Gospel Choir as a phenomenal group of performers who serve as university ambassadors. 

“Through their talent and dedication, they help us recruit and retain the best and brightest students from across the country,” says Izzard.  “They deserve all the accolades and recognitions. They work very hard, put in the time, and are always striving to be the best. This year, I have no doubt that they could walk away with the top prize at How Sweet the Sound.”

“To be a part of this group is still like a dream, and I cherish every moment I have been a part of them,” adds McCollum, who graduates this May. “People know you everywhere, no matter where you go, they know who you are and how you sound. I love this choir because it is such a unique group. I will miss them.”

For those interested in learning more about New Direction or how to become a member, inquiries can be sent to [email protected].