Detroit civic pride was palpable when the Detroit Youth Choir
(DYC) competed on “America’s Got Talent” in 2019. The group ultimately finished in second place, but they earned the respect of the Hollywood judges. Soon after their historic appearance on the TV series, they were gifted a $1 million endowment from several Metro Detroit foundations.
However, artistic director Anthony White says that endowment is given to the choir in incremental disbursements annually, leaving the group still with a financial need to grow. “A lot of people heard ‘a million dollars’, but didn’t hear the word ‘endowment’,” White says. “We only get a small percentage of that twice a year, so, no, we don’t have a million dollars.”
So, White and his team are innovating to help raise funds
for the choir.
The organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and recently held what they hope will become an annual gala event. The event, hosted at the Charles H. Wright Museum, sold out this year but, due to coronavirus pandemic protocols, only 100 tickets were available.
“DYC is here to stay and we need money to do that,” White says. “Anything helps. We have an ongoing organization. Our money goes toward staffing, it goes toward supplies, travel, food, water, and now we are paying a lease at Marygrove College. When parents ask us where do our registration fees go? That’s barely gas money.”
He adds, “We have a lot of liabilities and insurance requirements, things that I didn’t even know existed until I became the artistic director. Every little bit counts.”
The choir now totals 150 kids across three choirs. White believes that the choir is making a difference in the lives of its members.
“The thing that makes DYC what it is [...] we teach them how to multitask,” White says. “Singing number one, choreography, and stage presence. That’s what people love about the Detroit Youth Choir, we give people a show. We want people to get up and dance and clap. That’s why we perform gospel, soul, and even pop music. We believe that we can even teach through the lyrics of the songs that we choose.”
The choir will soon start filming a behind-the-scenes reality series, “Choir”, with Blumhouse, Imagine, and Disney+ that will chronicle their journey. “I believe when it comes on, it’s going to open up a new audience to the Detroit Youth Choir. Right now people just see us perform, but wait until they see the behind the scenes and the attitudes we deal with. Tonight I sent two kids home for their behavior.”
The DYC dresses in a formal uniform which is still a little playful, with matching socks and classic shell top Adidas sneakers. “We want people to know that we can be formal, but still a little street,” White says. He believes that the strict uniform policy and other rules in place for the choir teaches them how to be a part of a team.
“Like a basketball team, they all wear the same uniform,” he says. “I’m just trying to get them ready for life. At work we wear a uniform, we have to do certain things that we may not want to do sometimes. I believe a big part of what the choir teaches our kids is discipline.”
Precision is important to the DYC. “Everybody must be precise,” White says. “I’m always looking for even the slightest imperfections so that we can correct that.”
The DYC has a grade point average requirement as well. Members must turn in their report cards and can not drop below a 2.5 or they run the risk of being placed on academic probation or being dismissed from the group. “We have nothing but scholars,” White says of the student’s grades. “November is our next report card. So hopefully everybody stays up to par.”
There is a lot of structure in DYC, but the organization always puts its young members first. The choir won an award in July from the Stellar Awards — a gospel recognition ceremony where they were honored with Youth Project of the Year for their viral rendition of the Academy Award-winning song “Glory” from the film “Selma.” The clip earned them the praise of the song’s writer, John Legend.
Yet, even with so much momentum, White says the dynamic, boisterous choir needs the support of Detroit. “We teach life through the performing arts, and we definitely need help to keep doing that.”