EMU Gospel Choir to celebrate 50th anniversary with weekend reunion and concert

Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Gospel Choir will mark its 50th anniversary with a three-day celebration May 4-6, culminating in a reunion concert.

The weekend kicks off with a Thursday night meet and greet May 4 at Dunamis Institutional Church Of God In Christ, 701 Holmes Rd. in Ypsilanti Township, at 6 p.m. On Friday the 5th, a reunion banquet is scheduled at the George Gervin Center, 799 N. Hewitt Rd. in Ypsilanti. The public is invited to attend the choir's free 50th Anniversary Reunion Concert from 6-10 p.m. Saturday the 6th at Pease Auditorium, 494 College Place in Ypsilanti.

The choir was founded by 17-year-old Martha Jean Cotton, a college freshman from Detroit, in 1972. By the following year, the group, then known as the EMU Black Gospel Choir, had already grown to over 100 members. 

Staffy Blakely, an EMU Gospel alum and 50th anniversary planning committee leader, says the group took off because of the support that members offered to one another. Many choir members were the first in their families to attend college.

"A lot of these kids had not been away from home before and might not have been around any white people before," she says.

Blakely joined the choir in 1982. She credits the prayer circle that ends each choir rehearsal for the high graduation rate and other successes racked up by choir members and alumni.

"I'm telling you, [in] the testimonies that would come back, ... a student would say that, from out of nowhere, one of their bills was paid, or they got a scholarship, or they found out they got into nursing school," Blakely says. "Whenever we stood and prayed together, that circle was powerful."

She says choir members even managed to stay in touch and encourage one another during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the choir had to take a brief hiatus.

Blakely says she knows of choir alumni from the '80s, '90s, and later who are coming with their kids and grandkids to the reunion weekend.

"I just encourage people to come. The concert is free, and alumni can come back to remember how this was started in the first place," she says.

More information about the weekend is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Staffy Blakely.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.