Press Release

Honor the Musical Foundations that Gave Rise to 30 Years of Song with Deep Roots

Jennifer Weismann


A galaxy of incredible artists and a special 30th Anniversary Community Choir will join the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers and VocalEssence Singers Of This Age—Feb. 23 at Orchestra Hall

             MINNEAPOLIS—October 21, 2019—Thirty years of performing the works of African American artists and spreading the word about their contributions to American culture have given VocalEssence a galaxy-sized network of singers to draw on for a special concert, VocalEssence WITNESS: Deep Roots. The program will celebrate the tremendous accomplishment that is three decades of the WITNESS program by revisiting the songs and performing artists that helped it grow.

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“Minnesota has an astonishing wealth of talent in the African American community, and over the years, many of its members have collaborated and partnered with VocalEssence to make the WITNESS program a success,” said VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle. “Together, we have brought audiences an incredible diversity of musical styles, including spirituals, jazz, gospel, and soul. We want Deep Roots to be a homecoming concert, where the singers, actors, and dancers who have joined us onstage at Orchestra Hall over the years return for a joy-filled reunion.”

For Deep Roots, the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers will be joined by the diverse high school choir, VocalEssence Singers Of This Age; a special 30th Anniversary Community Choir;  two-time Billboard Gospel chart-topper Jovonta Patton; percussionist Timothy Berry; choreographer Patricia Brown; R & B drummer Brandon Commodore; jazz powerhouse singer Ginger Commodore; choreographer Karla Nweje; actor T. Mychael Rambo, pianist Anita Ruth; and dancer Roxane Wallace. Besides favorite selections from past seasons of WITNESS, the program will feature the world premiere of a new arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Witness” commissioned by VocalEssence from the up and coming composer Joel Thompson.

“The promise of WITNESS is not just keeping past artistry alive,” said VocalEssence associate conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III. “It’s also about cultivating new talent and fresh voices. Joel Thompson is building a body of work that speaks to contemporary issues in the lives of black Americans, and we’re so proud to have him join our extended family of WITNESS artists.”

The Deep Roots concert is at 4:30 pm on Sunday, February 23, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Tickets are priced between $10 and $40 and are available via the online box office and as part of a 2019-20 Concert Series Subscription. Call 612-371-5656 for more information on ticket purchases.

Each year since 1991, WITNESS has shined a light on the cultural contributions of African Americans. Besides creating the annual WITNESS public concert, the program places teaching artists in local schools, develops educational curricula, commissions new works, releases recordings, and hosts youth concerts. Its Reatha Clark King Award for Excellence and Youth Motivation through the Cultural Arts celebrates and recognizes outstanding leaders who are in the field empowering young people through direct contact, making a way for them to be as successful as they can be.

VocalEssence, called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, impacts thousands of students, singers, and composers each year through its initiative programs, contests, and support for innovative art. VocalEssence was founded in 1969 and has debuted more than 300 commissions and 500 world premieres. For more information, visit