Famed Choir Director Showcases Choir Legacy at Eastern High School

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By Hamil R. Harris, Special to The AFRO

The National Church of God in Fort Washington, Maryland was filled with an eclectic offering of music last July 7 as generations of singers from the District’s Eastern High School took part in a musical homecoming that left people soaked in tears of joy.

Dressed in long black dresses and tuxedos nearly 300 of singers performed a rich range of music under the watchful eye of legendary director Joyce Garrett and those who packed the Fort Washington sanctuary sang along, clapped and took a musical tour back to the choir room of their old red school building on East Capitol Street.

Joyce Garrett directs the multigenerational Eastern High School Choir. (Courtesy Photo)

“It was an amazing event,” said Joyce Garrett, the concert’s visionary, who directed choirs at Eastern for more than three decades after she first arrived at the school in 1972. “The Eastern Choir sound was still there and there was so much love on stage.”

The concert featured singers from the 1970’s, 1980’s 1990’s and the 2000’s and was moderated by WHUR’s Jacquie  Gales- Webb, who said the singers  “just didn’t get older they got better.”

In the wake of the 1968 riots and a city torn by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Garrett had a vision for her choir that was much more than singing. That vision was reflected in the music Saturday with upbeat selections like “Let Freedom Ring.”

One of the highlights of the concert was when Y’Anna Crawley, Class of 1995 and the winner of BET’s second season of “Sunday Best,” led the 1990’s choir in Kirk Franklin’s “Silver and Gold.”

Over the years Garrett’s groups performed for Presidents and many of the city’s premiere events. In 1988, Garrett took an Eastern choir to Vienna Austria to compete in the 17th annual International Youth and Music Festival where the choir came in second among choirs from around the world.

The Eastern High School Choir combined several generations for a reunion concert hosted at the National Church of God in Fort Washington, Maryland. (Courtesy Photo)

Garrett’s said it has never been easy to produce that Eastern choir sound over three decades. It is a mixture of classical, gospel and other music performed with great discipline.

“I like a full rich sound that sounds electric,” said Garrett who has trained and performed with many of the city’s top voices over the years as she was also director of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Mass Choir, along with many other artists and musical directors.

Garrett said the title of the concert was “Glorious Dreams” because for decades she has pushed young people to excel in life. “It wasn’t just about music. I used music as a tool to teach students what  they needed to know  to be successful in life.”

The 2000 choir was directed by noted gospel artist Patrick Lundy, who succeeded Garrett after she retired in 1999.

Garrett continues to direct groups to this day. She currently serves as the Music and Worship Arts Director at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandra, Virginia where she has been a member for nearly 40 years.

Garrett said that wherever she has gone she stressed excellence and at-least five key attributes: “Perseverance, Loyalty, Dependability, Self-Control, and the value of higher education and high achievement.”

The concert ended with all of the choirs singing in mass “There is a Dream With Your Name In It.” Garrett was showered with hugs and words of thanks from many of her students including Maurice Jenkins, Eastern Class of 1973, who serves as executive vice president and chief development officer for the United Negro College Fund.

“To join old classmates and choir members and reminisce about those extraordinary times we had together is a blessing. This choir, under the leadership of Joyce Garrett, was very inspirational and motivating. She believed in excellence; therefore I left Eastern to go to college with the many inspirational songs in my heart and my spirit, which has been very much a part of who I am today,” Jenkins wrote in the souvenir program.