U of I's Black Chorus Dedicating 13th Symposium Concert to Late Choral Legend


The Champaign-Urbana community lost a longtime music teacher on Tuesday and many are remembering him as a local legend in the choral music world.

This weekend, the University of Illinois' Black Chorus planned to honor Willie T. Summerville for his contributions in music at their 'Black Sacred Music Symposium'', but after his sudden passing they're now planning to dedicate the biennial event in his memory.

"He wanted people to know that they can be better, they can do better, they can strive for greatness -- that was Deacon Summerville,” assistant conductor of Black Chorus, Ashley Davis said.

Summerville was widely known as a deacon in the Champaign-Urbana community and choral music world.

“I mean he embraced everyone, he never met a stranger,” music director and conductor of Black Chorus, Dr. Ollie Watts Davis said.

Every other year, the Black Chorus organizes the Black Sacred Symposium concert. The group will be hosting their 13th year of their musical conference this weekend, kicking off the first day on Thursday.

This Sunday the group will perform at the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The group said Summerville has never missed a year.

"What was really especially meaningful for me with this 13th symposium is that I had planned to honor [Summerville] for his uninterrupted service with the symposium,” Dr. Ollie Watts Davis said.

That is until this year after Summerville died suddenly on Tuesday and now the Black Chorus is honoring his memory by dedicating the show to the music man himself. Summerville was also a longtime music teacher in Champaign and in the Urbana school district.

“He was a pianist, an organist and a singer, and he was a choir conductor,” Ashley Davis said. “Every year he would teach a song and he would present it, and so we were looking forward to him coming to do that. He was always a treasure. It was always a delight to have him at rehearsal.”

While it's an emotional time for many of the performers, they know Deacon would have said the show must go on, and know that he will still be listening.

“His presence is still felt... but we miss him. We miss him and we love him,” Ashley Davis said.

“I can count on [Summerville’s] phone call after any performance I had, whether it was a choir or a concert soloist. And I'll just miss his big personality and I’ll miss him being my friend,” Dr. Ollie Watts Davis said.

Black Chorus’ four-day long conference is dedicated to the traditions of what they call "black sacred music".

The marketing director of Black Chorus, Reginald Payne, said he hopes it engages the audience and leaves a lasting impression.

"It’s just to teach and maintain the traditions of black sacred music, so spirituals, traditional gospels, contemporary gospels, and learning all about black scared music in all of its forms,” Payne said.

The event includes plenary addresses, and evening rehearsals. Tickets are sold at the Krannert’s ticket office.

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