By Pat Ammons, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Each year, the Oakwood University Aeolians have a remarkable collection of young voices that make up the choir. Some come to the small Seventh Day Adventist college for the music program and specifically to be part of the elite group of singers.
In the 60-plus years of the Aeolians’ history, a number of professional musicians have emerged from the program.
Mervyn Warren is a five-time Grammy Award winner and 10-time Grammy Award nominee and an accomplished film composer, record producer, lyricist, songwriter, arranger, pianist and vocalist.
According to his biography on the IMBd website, Warren has worked with artists as varied as Barbra Streisand and rapper DMX. He was an original member of Take 6, an a cappella sextet that was formed by several Oakwood students. When he was a member, the group had one platinum and one gold album. He also produced, co-wrote and arranged most of the award-winning songs.
Warren also won a Grammy for Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration and got five additional Grammy nominations. His list of producer credits is extensive, with the Billboard No. 1 R&B hit “Last Night” by Az Yet and the Billboard Top 10 “I Believe In You & Me” from the soundtrack to “The Preacher’s Wife.”
He also scored, produced and arranged the songs for the movie “Joyful Noise” that is currently in theaters and stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.
View full size Angela Brown (Courtesy photo)
Angela Brown came to Oakwood University in the mid-1980s hoping to pursue a career as a gospel singer. She began studying voice with Ginger Beazley, who was head of Oakwood choral program at the time.
Brown made her acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004 playing the lead in “Aida.” The New York Times in reviewing her performance said “at last ... an Aida.”
Brown has a solo show, “Opera … from a Sistah’s Point of View,” that provides dissection of the common myths of opera from her perspective. She continues to perform around the world, and is scheduled to sing the arias of Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini with Opera Birmingham on April 12.
In a 2009 interview with The Times, Brown said, “If it wasn’t for Huntsville, Ginger Beazley and Oakwood University, I wouldn’t be in opera.”
View full size Take 6 (Courtesy photo)
Mark Kibble went to high school at Oakwood Academy, where he met Mervyn Warren. The two were members of the Aeolians and joined with other Oakwood students to perform Take 6 after Kibble heard the precurser of the group, “Gentlemen’s Estate Club,” performing in a campus bathroom.
Kibble is still a member of Take 6 and has produced and performed on many other projects. They include the gospel group Virtue, Donnie McClurkin, Angie Winans, CeCe Winans and others, according to his biography on the Yamaha guitar website.
He has also worked as an arranger and vocal coach for The Backstreet Boys.
Janice Chandler-Eteme has a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Oakwood and has a professional career as a classical singer. She has, among other accomplishments, performed “Bess” in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Opera de Lyon in France and at the International Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.She is a lecturer of voice at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
Wintley Phipps is a Grammy-nominated singer who is also a minister. He also holds a master’s in divinity from Andrews University and is founder and CEO of the U.S. Dream Academy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk children and youth.
A baritone, Phipps has performed on television programs ranging from “Saturday Night Live” to the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Brandie Sutton has a bachelor of arts degree in music with a concentration in voice from Oakwood. She made her debut at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in a solo recital sponsored by the Vocal Arts Society of Washington, D.C. Opera performances include the roles of Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Cleopatra in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” and Musetta in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
Sutton was the winner of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Ben Holt Memorial Branch Scholarship Competition in Voice.
Amber Bullock won the BET’s 2011 Sunday Best reality series competition and has a CD project released on Mathew Knowles’ Music World Gospel label. She was the opening act and special guest artist on Kirk Franklin’s Fearless Tour, along with Isaac Carree, Deon Kipping and Jason Nelson.
Stanley Ware, a tenor, attended Oakwood before transferring to the Juilliard School of Music where he completed an undergraduate degree. He went on to receive a master’s degree in vocal performance at Vanderbilt University and came back to Oakwood to direct the College Choir in 1971.
Ware signed a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in 1989. He made his debut and gave his only performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on Nov. 24, 1990 in a matinee where he played the role of Peter in “Porgy and Bess.” He became ill shortly after that and died three years later.
Theron “Therry” Thomas, Robbie Pressley, Dennis “DJ” Baptiste and Geston Pierre are four of the six members of Committed , an a cappella singing group that won NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in December 2010. All six members either attended or graduated from Oakwood.
The group released its first album, “Committed,” in August on the Sony Epic label.
Armand “Hops” Hutton works as a voice actor and performs bass in Naturally 7, an a cappella band in which the members impersonate musical instruments -- the bass guitar, in Hutton’s case. The group has appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” “The Tavis Smiley Show” and the “Royal Variety Performance” in the United Kingdom. He has also done voice-overs and voice-drops on a number of radio programs.
Perhaps next on the list of professional musicians to emerge from Oakwood will be Whitney Morrison, a current Aeolian who is working on her bachelor’s degree in music in vocal performance and pedagogy. She won the National Classical Singer University Competition, which was held in New York City, in September 2010.