Western Michigan University’s Predominately White Choir Criticized For Singing Negro Spirituals



A video of a choir performance is going viral and sparking lots of conversation around Western Michigan University.

WMU’s voice faculty and student ensembles performed a choral of negro spirituals they titled “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore” at the Dalton Center Recital Hall on February 19. The problem is the majority of the choir’s members are white. 

It was a part of the school’s Live and Interactive series presented by the Donald P. Bullock Music Performance Institute and highlighted special guest artist John Wesley Wright.  

The mission of the Bullock Performance Institute, according to WMU’s website, is to “add to the already rich cultural life of Kalamazoo by creating opportunities to develop closer personal and artistic ties between audience and performer.”

The university says Wright is “Known for his artistic and soulful interpretations of music from Baroque to Broadway” and that The Journey of African-American Song is “a participatory experience designed to foster the development of community using African-American song traditions.”

That said, not everyone is buying it. Shaylee Faught, a fourth year student at WMU, attended the concert and was “very disappointed.” She subsequently took to her Instagram an email she sent to the dean of her school. Faught also posted numerous videos on Twittter of the performance and wrote, “So apparently Western Michigan University thinks it’s ok for white peoples to sing negro spirituals while the instructor talking about ‘these songs don’t belong to one race.’ They sure as hell do.”

In the letter she wrote to the dean, Faught accused the choir of cultural appropriation and their underappreciation of the origin and importance negro spirituals have in the African American community.

“While I understand the importance of education, I think there is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and the concert last night seemed very inappropriate,” she wrote. “As a black woman, Negro Spirituals are apart of my history and my culture, and it signifies the struggle and hardships my ancestors went through. The way the program last night was portrayed is that it is all fun and games and is merely entertainment.”

WMU has since released a statement on the matter and claims their vice president for diversity and inclusion has reached out to Faught to set up a meeting. Read the full statement below.

“The concert was the culmination of a weeklong series of workshops with students, led by a renowned expert, John Wesley Wright. The concert Wednesday was an educational opportunity for students, faculty and the greater community to experience and learn about a critical part of African-American and U.S. cultural history.

We were pleased and honored to have Professor Wesley Wright of Salisbury University lead several University choral groups of students and faculty and also give a pre-concert talk about spirituals and their history in America.The public concert and weeklong series were an opportunity for students of any background to understand a critical part of U.S. history, a part of history that is probably not talked about enough in the general population. This concert, this series, reflected what inclusion is all about.

As a member of the audience, a student in attendance was concerned about what she experienced. She made those concerns known on social media and sent an email to WMU leadership. We take the student’s concerns very seriously. WMU’s vice president for diversity and inclusion reached out to the student within hours of receiving the email and set up a meeting with her and with the dean of the College of Fine Arts for early next week. This student’s perspective is real and it is important. It is one among many different perspectives. 

We don’t have much more to say before we talk to her and that has not yet occurred.”

Photo: Hill Street Studios





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