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APRIL 29, 1982
Choir guilty as charged
The Black Student Movement has walked in some very shaky spots this year but done as
filled with tension as the ground covered during the budget hearings conducted by the
Campus Governing Council earlier this month.
Most of the requested budget passed but not without a lot of controversy and criticism.
The biggest controversies centered around the CCC's interpretation of a bill in the
constitution of Student Government which prohibits the lunding of groups which have a
“political or religious nature."
Some council members accused the BSM of being political and religious although, when
pressed by BSM Chairperson Wende Watson, the council could not offer a structured
definition of either term.
The council's inability to provide a guideline for what constitutes a political or religious
nature was the hitch that saved much of the BSM's budget request. When conservatives on
the council tried to apply the clause to the newly formed Political Committee and the Gospel
choir they failed to provide definitive criterions to substantiate reasons for disallowing
funding for these activities.
Prepared for a fight
The BSM was prepared to defend the usual perennial issues about funding: Why have a
newspaper when a newsletter would suffice and cost much less? Couldn't the BSM have the
Black Arts Festival as,part of Black History Month and eliminate duplication? Money for a
Ball? Isn't that purely social ... •
The Central Committee also knew that debate of the political function of the BSM would
surface. But this issue was disposed of by Watson with a simple explanation of the purpose of
the committee. The job of the political committee is to organize forums, conduct surveys on
issues pertainent to blacks and serve as a liaison between the BSM and Student Government
for joint sponsorship of rallies, like the rally protesting Reagan budget cuts in financial aid,
Watson said. By linking the committee to Student Government, Watson cleverly removed
the issue from debate.
With that hurdle crossed, the BSM faced a higher hurdle in its defense of the Gospel Choir.
An investigation by a subcommittee of the CGC uncovered evidence that undermined the
Gospel Choir's indignant protest that it had no religious nature. The evidence included flyers
depicting a cross with the slogan. "The sky is the limit" running beneath it and articles from
The Phoenix and The Black Ink which quoted some members and officers as saying the choir
served as a religious outlet for black Christians on this campus to give honor to God.
Added to the condemnation of this printed material was a review of the choir's schedule
which revealed that the majority of its engagements were in churches.
Past councils funded the gospel choir because the cultural contribution of the choii
Qiitweighted its religious aspect. But with conservatives holding key seats on thecour^cil, the
BSM was pressured to prove a distinct separation between religion and culture.
Is if culfure or is if religion?
There is no doubt that gospel is an intricate part of black culture. It is a musical expression
with deep roots in a purely African experience. When slaves were Ijrought to the shore of
America and stripped of their language, their tribal ties and numerous other parts of their
heritage, the one thing that remained to them was their voices. And these voices rose loud
and clear to intone the sufferings of an oppressed people.
But no one, not even members of the CGC, is denying the foundation upon which gospel is
built. And no one is asking for a philosophical reason to justify the existence ot a gospel
The question being tossed to members and officers of the choir — and ultimately to the
leadership of the BSM — is whether this subgroup has a religious nature in actuality, not in
It is a question Chairperson Watson adroitly sidestepped en route to obtaining funding for
the choir for the eighth year. The BSM should hold fast to this victory while realizing just how
easily it can still break with in our grasp if certain issues are not dealt with immediately.
Guiify As Charged
The time is long overdue for BSM's Central Committee to admit to the general body that the
choir has wandered far outside the realms of what a cultural subgroup is to be and that the
Gospel Choir and the entire BSM are threatened as long as it continues in its present state.
For any member of the choir to deny the choir has a religious nature is to commit the
greatest hipocracy. In cold hard prose, it would be a lie.
If blackness can be converted into words and pictures, we intend to do it
Sonja Payton, Editor
Teresa Blossom, Managing Editor
Allen Davis, Business Manager Lisa Lewis, Advertising Manager
,AT THE LATE NUHT C6C
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AiAI*IST BiAO^S M RtLIHok/
Any one can easily gauge the [personality of the choir as religious. Many members o|X'nly
declare their Christianity and the ease with which they align their personal beliefs to the
purpose of the choir indicates how the choir is fjerceived.
The uneasy truth is that the choir is religious. There have been too many (jerformances
when choir members have turned to the audience and asked for its prayer that God would
hless them to continue to sing FHis praises. Countless times the audience has been invited to
clap their hands, stomp their feet and join in with the choir as its members lifted their voices
up to God.
Now, that may not be Baptist or Methodist or any other denomination but it smac ks of
The CGC wasted time debating where the choir sings when it would have bt'en better
employed looking religious up in the dictionary. It is not important where the choir sings. Let
the choir sing in churches. Let it sing in Memorial Hall or the pit. Let it sing on the steps of the
Capitol in Washington D.C. Neither place nor song lends the choir its religious nature. It is
the invocation of its members for an audience to acknowledge and praise some type of God.
The powers that be
The BSM did not intend to have the choir become a religious sector when the group was
taken under its administrative wings U] years ago but it must accei)! responsibility for any
problems within the structure of the choir. The BSM has failed to give guidelines for any of the
subgroups in the constitution and consequently the subgrou[)s have had to act with some
autonomy in shaping their activities.
The Central Committee should not hesitate in pro|X)sing constitutional amendments that
dispel any doubts as to which organ of the BSM directs policies, then waste no time in
asserting its authority. The Central Committee would have been well within its power to issue
an ultimatum to the choir to smooth the passage of the budget: either allow the cosmetic
change in the name to delete the word gospel or the BSM will hold aueiitions in the fall for
another choir whose focus is not religion.
This course of action is still oper>to the BSM and should be pursued. The gospel choir's
membership may have increased in number and its sound in volume, but the choir has tailed
to grow culturally. For while gospel is a significant part of black heritage, it is not all of our
It may be necessary to embrace other music in black culture just to reaffirm ownership. As
Watson pointed out in the finance hearings, whites have taken black music and called it
"disco" just as they took cornrolls and called it the "Bo Derek Look." And now they have
blue-eyed soul, too.
By tenaciously clinging to gospel as though it were sacrilegious to sing anything else, the
choir has limited itself to just one dimension of what is a multi-dimensional musical heritage.
For those members who can not accept that black music is not only gospel but also rhythm
and blues, jazz, folk and soul, let them join choirs in the United Christian Fellowship, Black
Interdenominational Student Association or community churches. There are numerous
outlets available to praise God and testify in His behalf without the amen corner taking up
residence in the BSM's choir.
That leaves plenty of room for peof^le who are talented enough to sing more than gospel
and who simply enjoy singing.
The BSM was lucky this year that none of the CGC members except lames Exum and Vince
Steele — both black — had seen the choir perform. By taking preventive action now', the
BSM will be ready if next year's CGC presents firsthand accounts of the choir's religious
nature and a definition of religion that would need more than luck to combat.