Heavenly Voices Celebrates 10 Years of Singing

Feb. 10, 1998

One young woman's desire to sing and her courage to overcome adversity produced Baylor's Heavenly Voices gospel choir which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this weekend.

"It's really exciting that it's been around for 10 years," said Tonja Carpenter, a 1991 Baylor graduate and founder of the choir.

In 1988, Carpenter auditioned for the Baylor Religious Hour Choir (BRH) but did not earn a spot. The failure turned providential when the director of the university's Baptist Student Union was looking for a student to begin a gospel singing group. Carpenter approached him with her idea for a choir.

"I started the choir because I wanted to sing and didn't get into BRH," Carpenter said. Because she loved gospel music, Carpenter said she decided that would be the style of the group.

Heavenly Voices will host its annual Gospel Fest at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14 at Waco Hall. The Gospel Fest will culminate Black Heritage Week, which is being celebrated on campus throughout the week of Feb. 7-14. The annual event will feature other collegiate gospel choirs from around the state. The choir will commemorate its 10th anniversary with a performance by a Heavenly Voices alumni choir. Melody Wilson, a Baylor graduate and former choir member, coordinates the alumni choir which consists of all Baylor alumni that formerly sang in the group.

"I felt like the Lord wanted me to use my talent," Carpenter said. She presented her idea to the Association of Black Students and asked interested people to meet with her. The original group began with 15 members. Among the original group of singers were a pianist, organist, guitarist and a drummer who provided the musical accompaniment.

Carpenter's favorite aspect of the choir was hearing the voices all blend together harmoniously. The group came together under the leadership of George Harrison, a local pastor, and Baylor student Mark Shepherd.

Carpenter said the choir provides students with an opportunity to minister to others and a place to find friends and relationships.

"I needed a place where there were people who were interested in the same things I was," she said. "It's a place where people really find support."

Sixty-five students currently sing in the Heavenly Voices and members still do not audition to join the group. Stephen Saunders directs the choir with the help of several other Baylor students. Carpenter still attends some of the performances and said the choir has developed in the quality of its sound as well as in its size over the years. The choir's music helps people to focus on Jesus and exposes people to an African-American spiritual experience.

"Seeing other people being ministered to, and seeing them really enjoy something they're not really used to is exciting," Carpenter said.

"The choir may not have ever started if I had gotten into BRH," Carpenter said, "I guess the Lord had a plan."

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