St. Louis youth, University Singers spend rare hour with the most awarded a cappella group in history

by | Nov 6, 2016

They had plenty of questions for acclaimed sextet Take 6, who performed and interacted with the students during a free Lunch and Learn event at the Touhill.
Take 6 and students interacting

Young men visiting UMSL from area high schools on Oct. 28 had plenty of questions for Take 6, an acclaimed sextet with 10 Grammy wins. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Amauri McGuire’s face said it all as he and two friends sat in the front row of a filled-to-capacity room at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The Central Visual and Performing Arts High School junior had been anticipating this day for several weeks. Any moment now, six men who have won multiple Grammys for their contributions to the world of music would be walking right past him.

A tenor/baritone himself in CVPA’s boys octet, McGuire’s excitement was shared by fellow octet member and CVPA senior Cameron Dunlap.

“I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Dunlap said.

Minutes later, the crowd of area high school students and UMSL choir members cheered and clapped in time as Take 6 entered the space and immediately broke into song with one of their signature numbers, “Happy.”

Brian Owenst with Take 6 at UMSL

Brian Owens (center), the Des Lee Community Music Artist in Residence, was instrumental in connecting Take 6 with a crowd of young singers at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center in October. In addition to UMSL’s own University Singers, about 90 students from Riverview Gardens, Jennings, Ferguson-Florissant and St. Louis high schools packed the Whitaker Room for the free Lunch and Learn event.

But that was just the beginning of a full hour of interaction between the acclaimed sextet and the eager young singers during the Oct. 28 event.

“I don’t know if you’re excited, but I’m really, really excited,” said Brian Owens, the Des Lee Community Music Artist in Residence, after the opening applause finally died down. “These are six brothers who have stuck with what they initially decided to do and did not compromise.”

Owens, who was especially instrumental in pulling together the free Lunch and Learn at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, then led a question-and-answer session with the stars and the students. From the meaning of innovation to key life lessons to their faith, each member of Take 6 offered their perspectives on several topics that resonated with those gathered, including McGuire.

Partway through the conversation the teenager raised his hand, and Take 6 tenor Joel Kibble nodded at him to go ahead.

“It’s really wonderful just to hear you talk,” McGuire said. “To just hear you speak honestly about life experience is an inspiration.”

Leadership was one focus, and one by one each artist offered ideas and advice that drew enthusiastic applause from the young people.

“Listen to people’s needs … the best leaders are able to do that,” said Take 6 tenor Claude McKnight. “I think in our country right now that is one of the biggest problems we have: No one is listening to anyone else.”

Take 6 singing at UMSL

Take 6 members (from left) Alvin Chea, Dave Thomas, Mark Kibble, Claude McKnight, Khristian Dentley and Joel Kibble performed “Happy” as they kicked off a unique hour of interaction with St. Louis youth and UMSL students last month.

Owens also encouraged Take 6 to talk about how they’ve managed such a phenomenal musical career that spans more than three decades, staying both relevant and popular for so long.

“How have you ­– for the last 31 years ­– been able to take the original innovation that you had and extend that 31 years and still be going?” he asked.

“We decided, ‘Let’s take some jazz-band type vocals and harmonies and put it into this and see what happens,’” tenor Mark Kibble responded. “We took old-style gospel and fused it with jazz, and we came up with something no one else is doing.”

Young students in the audience asked some of their own questions, and before the Lunch and Learn was over, Take 6 performed another song for them.

“Their music is as fresh and fine as ever,” said UMSL’s Michael V. Smith, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Music Education, who helped bring many community partners together for the event. “I was so pleased to hear them sing, of course. But I was even more pleased to hear each of them share wisdom and insights about how to build not just a good vocal group, but also a good and meaningful life. They were real. They were open. They were wise.”

Smith also was particularly impressed with the young men in the audience.

“They asked such thoughtful questions and were so obviously interested in what the Take 6 members had to share,” said Smith, who in his role as director of the Des Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative aims to connect educators, artists and performers with St. Louis students – and particularly underserved populations.

The UMSL faculty member described the event as “truly a collaborative effort” made possible through the pooling of resources from several key partners. Those included Sterling Bank for LIFE Community Partnership, the St. Louis Symphony and its In Unison program, All Star Clinics of New York and the Des Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill