In Unison Chorus founder Robert Ray dies at 76
Robert Ray, founder of the St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON Chorus and the director from its inception in 1994 to 2010, has died.
Ray worked with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, as both St. Louis Symphony Chorus assistant, and later as IN UNISON director, for a total of 25 years.
St. Louis American’s classical music writer Chris King described Ray as “a legacy figure who defined and embodied the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s IN UNISON Chorus and its annual Gospel Christmas program” during his tenure.
At the time of his retirement from the St. Louis Symphony in 2010, SLSO President and Executive Director Fred Bronstein said, “The community engagement programs of the SLSO have for more than twenty years served as a model for others, and no one has represented the vibrancy and commitment of those programs with more efficacy than Robert Ray. Robert’s work with the SLSO has been pioneering and inspirational… after fifteen years at its helm, Robert leaves a huge mark of accomplishment and reservoir of pride for a very unique aspect of this orchestra’s relationship with its community, one that could not have been imagined without Robert.”
Ray was a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools. He attended Northwestern University, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance.
For 12 years, he served as accompanist-coach for the string department at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. While there, he also organized the Black Student Chorus and prepared them for performances with such artists as Ossie Davis, Max Roach, James Cleveland, and Edwin Hawkins.
Ray has appeared as piano soloist with the Kirkwood Symphony, the Northwestern University Orchestra, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, and the Seoul (Korea) Philharmonic. He was an Associate Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and directed their University Community Chorus.
SLSO President and CEO of Marie-Hélène Bernard upon hearing of Ray’s passing stated, “His masterful music filled many spaces, from local churches all the way to Carnegie Hall. Many of his compositions blended elements of music from the African diaspora with traditional classical forms, resulting in pieces with a singular voice. The SLSO and IN UNISON Chorus have performed selections from Dr. Ray’s Gospel Mass many times since its SLSO premiere in December 1996.”
This story was originally published by the St. Louis American.