(Marshall, Texas) The A Cappella Choir of Wiley College, which had the honor to sing at the White House in 2011 and 2013, will sing Wednesday night at the Cinerama Dome at the Hollywood premiere of actor Nate Parker’s debut film, “The Birth of a Nation.”
Under the baton of its artistic director , Stephen L. Hayes, who is an assistant professor of music at Wiley, the choir spent two days in November in the College’s chapel recording the scene and atmospheric music for the movie, including the hauntingly moving melody “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray.”
Written by composer John Wesley Work Jr. in 1940, Wiley’s version, arranged by Hayes, is a piece the choir regularly performs and is highly requested to perform. Singing it for the movie was Wiley 2012 graduate Lewis Keys, who sang the melody in Wiley’s choir during his four years at the College. He will sing it Wednesday night at the premiere.
“It was an honor to come back to my alma mater to record the song for this very important project,” he said. “ And what a humbling experience it is to know that this song, that I began singing as an 18-year-old kid at Wiley, will now be heard in theaters everywhere this movie plays. I am humbled and I am thankful.”
Now in his last year of seminary school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Keys shrugs off any suggestion that the melody, which he says share a message about the importance of obedience and sacrifice to God, is “his” song. “It’s our song,” said Keys, with reference to Wiley’s choir and the choir members who have carried on the tradition of singing the melody.
Hayes said Keys and all members of the choir felt privileged to record music for the movie. “My students relished the opportunity to use their musical gifts and talents to help tell the story in this movie,” he said.
Wiley’s President, Dr. Haywood L. Strickland, said that the students’ experience of taping the music was very similar to being in a classroom. “Recording music for the movie gave our students a behind- the- scenes glimpse of the technical aspects of a much-glamorized industry,” he said. “Many of our choir students are music majors, and for them, being involved at this level opened their eyes to so many more career opportunities.”
Parker’s relationship with Wiley College began ten years ago when he appeared in “The Great Debaters,” a 2007 film based on the 1930s Wiley debate team which went undefeated for ten years in championship competitions. Parker has stayed connected to the College, most recently hosting on its campus, through his Nate Parker Foundation, a 10-day Summer Film Institute to promote diversity in the film industry.