General - Wed, Sep. 21, 2016

The A Cappella Choir of Wiley College, which had the honor to sing at the White House in 2011 and 2013, will sing tonight at the Cinerama Dome at the Hollywood premiere of actor Nate Parker's directorial 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 Julius S. Scott Sr. 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.

(Please click the link  to view the choir's recording session in November of "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" for the movie, " The Birth of a Nation." 


"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 that 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 shares a message about the importance of obedience and sacrifice to God, is "his" song. "It's our song," said Keys, in 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 teams that 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.

Wiley's choir also recorded music for the Atlantic Records "Birth of a Nation," CD soundtrack, including "Stand" by Trey Songz, featuring the choir; and "Revolution," featuring Wiley senior NaQuita Elmore and the choir. The movie's featured song, "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," is also on the soundtrack.

Parker's directorial debut, "The Birth of a Nation," tells the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. The movie won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, the largest purchase in Sundance history.

In top photo, the A Cappella Choir of Wiley College and its artistic director, Stephen L. Hayes(R), are pictured with  Nate Parker (L) at Wiley's 143rd Founders Observance Gala in March.

 In second photo,the choir is pictured with  Nate Parker and Stephen L. Hayes  at the November recording session of music for the movie, "The Birth of a Nation."