When Almetris “Mama” Duren, the namesake of Duren Residence Hall, founded Innervisions Gospel Choir in 1974, it was one of the first black, non-Greek organizations on campus.
This year, the choir celebrated its 40th year as an official campus organization. Duren founded the choir after she noticed a group of African-American girls singing around the Jester Center piano. Allison Stinnett, health promotion senior and choir president, said the choir was originally called “Innervisions of Blackness,” but it was changed to be more inclusive and welcoming to all UT students.
“We are the first black, non-Greek organization here on campus,” Stinnett said. “I think that having that amount of weight to carry as part of UT’s history makes us really significant, and being a student-run organization that can survive that long on campus is really powerful.”
Today, the choir is a student-run, Christian organization that aims to minister to its audience through song. In addition to performances at University events, such as Gone to Texas and Black Student Orientation, members of the choir sing at weddings and other outside events.
Stinnett said she feels she strengthens her relationship with God through the choir.
“I love music; I always have,” Stinnett said. “When I’m singing gospel with our choir, I feel [God’s] presence, and I feel closest to him when I am singing because that’s the talent he gave me.”
Cherise Lee, journalism and physical culture and sports sophomore, said singing with the choir is especially powerful because music impacts people on a different level.
“We can get up and preach every Sunday and talk to people,” Lee said. “But when we sing, we know what we’re singing about. Music speaks to me a lot more than someone standing up there [talking].”
The choir ministers to others during the events the group hosts beyond the boundaries of UT. Aside from the group’s Christmas special “O Holy Night,” one of the choir’s biggest events is College Day — an annual gathering of college gospel choirs across Texas for a day of singing and performance.
Johnnie Adkins, economics senior and choir vice president, said he always planned on singing in college, and Innervisions Gospel Choir gave him that opportunity.
“I’ve always sang in a gospel choir, so I had my eye set on joining even before I came here,” Adkins said. “It’s always been a part of me — being part of a gospel choir.”
Innervisions singers said the choir community often resembles a tight-knit family. In addition to creating lifelong friendships and becoming spiritually stronger, Valencia Campbell, social work senior and choir director, said the lessons members learn and the personal growth they experience are what make the choir such a memorable experience.
“I’ve had a chance to watch myself grow,” Campbell said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and who I am as a person, and that is the most powerful thing — to see how an organization can impact you and how it becomes part of your life.”
Campbell said she tries to spread her passion to group members, so they can experience the joy that comes from singing.
“As a director, I’m always pushing [the choir] to ‘sing with soul’ and ‘give it 100 percent’ because I know what it does for me,” Campbell said. “When I close my eyes and sing from my heart, that’s when it’s the most authentic, and that’s the only thing that matters.”