Kevin McBeth | St. Louis Public Radio

Kevin McBeth

Members of IN UNISON Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley is seen, bottom center.  2/28/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Symphony formed IN UNISON Chorus for a 1994 concert meant to help bridge the black church and the overwhelmingly white world of classical music. Twenty-five years later, the chorus is still singing. Each season it plays two concerts at Powell Hall with the orchestra, plus one a cappella performance and occasional guest appearances, like at the annual season-opening concert at Forest Park.

The chorus specializes in music by African-Americans, from 19th-century spirituals arranged for 120-voice chorus to contemporary gospel and pieces by black composers. The melding of black-American and European classical styles is heard vividly in the finale of the chorus’s February concert, the pathbreaking “Gospel Mass” by IN UNISON’s founding director, Robert Ray.

IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing at Powell Hall. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley, lower left. 2/22/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians file into the Powell Hall stage door facing Delmar Boulevard, they’re striding along the boundary that divides a segregated city.

With IN UNISON Chorus, orchestra leaders made an effort in 1994 to bridge that divide and welcome more African-Americans into the predominantly white world of European classical music.

The St. Louis Symphony appears to be the only American orchestra to maintain a second full-sized chorus dedicated to music by African-American and African composers. Its members largely come from about three dozen black churches in and around St. Louis, where SLSO orchestra members also perform recitals throughout the year.

Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON Chorus will perform its annual community concert Sunday, April 26 at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson.

Founded 20 years ago under the leadership of Robert Ray, the chorus became a permanent staple with the symphony after a single performance. Directed by Kevin McBeth, the chorus consists of participants from around 40 churches and features music that reflects African and African American culture.

When IN UNISON was founded, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus had already earned a nationwide reputation

Kevin McBeth appointed director of IN UNISON Chorus

Dec 29, 2010

The St. Louis Symphony has appointed Kevin McBeth, director of music at the Manchester United Methodist Church, as the new director of the IN UNISON chorus. The IN UNISON chorus members attend more than 30 churches in the St. Louis African American community.

Fred Bronstein, president and CEO of the St. Louis Symphony says McBeth will continue to bring the chorus's music to a wider audience.