Highland history: Voices of Praise
by Jacki Stump
In the spring of 1991, 24 years of gospel music and fellowship began when the Voices of Praise (VOP) gospel choir was started by Larry Ervin, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Maryville College. Ervin has directed the choir since its inception.
VOP was born in the spring of 1991 when Vice President for Student Affairs, Sue Wyatt, and her assistant were invited by Ervin to hear a church choir he was directing. They enjoyed the concert so much that they told Ervin that he had to start a choir here. He found students who were interested in singing in the choir and recruited an MC alumnus, Trent Gilmore to play piano for the group.
Their first big appearance was at the Martin Luther King celebration in 1992. The group then went on tour to churches in the Atlanta area. Since then the group has toured many times and performed at many churches in Maryville and the surrounding area.
The community performances and MC alumni spread the word about community involvement in the church, and Ervin has also recruited students from community high schools to help fill out the different sections when they are thin. Ervin says that the group always tours with a full band of five or six members, and those members are all from the community. Ervin has also directed the Blount County MLK choir for several years and has recruited members from that group as well.
Ervin spoke about an international student from Japan who recruited international students for each of the four years she attended MC. “She was my major recruiter,” said Ervin. “There were times when the Voices of Praise was more international and white than African American students. But we still did black gospel music. That was a lesson for so many people who thought that only black people could sing gospel music. [It] was a lesson the Lord would teach through us.”
Although Ervin does not have any plans for a tour this spring, he says that he has plans for the group to perform at several community venues.
Ervin, a native of Blount County has been interested in music his entire life. He has had bands since he was 14 and was once a member of a band who had a standing contract with United Artists. Ervin also has the distinction of being the first black drum major at Alcoa High School during his junior and senior years.
Ervin has advised several student groups, including the current Black Student Association, taught orientation classes and has even taught some J-Term classes such as a course about Motown music and another about gospel music.
Ervin reveals a sense of satisfaction when he speaks about his experience with the Voices of Praise.
“The whole experience of Voices of Praise has been a major calling for me,” Ervin said. “It has been something that no matter how tired or disappointed or hurt I may be, I always felt blessed and set apart because of what I have been able to do with the different generations of students.”