May 13, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 17

Voices of Imani Director Rev. Hubert Walters and the choir prepare for their performance at the Boston College Arts Festival, where Rev. Walters received an Arts Achievement Award. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Giving Voice to Faith, Tradition and History

For 22 years, Rev. Walters has taught BC students to listen as well as sing

No detailed instructions are needed to find Rev. Hubert Walters' office on the third floor of Lyons Hall. Visitors just listen for the music.

On one recent afternoon, Rev. Walters had a jazz piece streaming from a portable stereo as he worked in his office - but not for ambience.

"I'm just preparing for class," said Rev. Walters, with a wide grin and outstretched hand. "I have to be prepared for my students. Learning to listen is a part of my class. Anyone can hear, but you must be taught how to listen."

Teaching students to listen to music is an art form Rev. Walters has developed for 22 years as an adjunct lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences. His Rhythm and Blues in America and Jazz in America courses are popular among music majors and non-majors alike.

Recently Rev. Walters was recognized for his service outside of the classroom as director of the Voices of Imani gospel choir, a campus institution that got its start just before Walters' arrival on campus in 1982. The Boston College Arts Council presented him with an artistic achievement award at a ceremony held April 30 during the annual Arts Festival.

Also receiving awards were Ellis Paul '87 and students Jennifer Mingucci '04, Paul Schutz '04, Krista D'Agostino '05 and Elyse Mallouk '06 [see story on page 8].

"It is very important that Boston College has recognized the contribution of African Americans to music through the Voices of Imani," said Rev. Walters. "At some schools they just throw money at you, but this school has embraced the choir."

Rev. Walters' association with BC began when, while teaching at what was then Boston State University - now the University of Massachusetts-Boston - a friend told him about a newly formed choir at Boston College that was in sore need of a director.

"Amanda Houston needed someone who knew how to get that going in a proper way," recalled Rev. Walters, referring to the late director of BC's Black Studies Program.

The group would eventually be known as the Voices of Imani and under Rev. Walter's leadership developed a wide range of styles from the black religious tradition, including spirituals, traditional gospel, contemporary gospel, and music of the European tradition.

For Rev. Walters the Voices of Imani - "Imani" is the Swahili word for "faith" - represent the perfect nexus between music and faith, and has flourished at Boston College because of the school's religious character.

"I think that the difference between developing a group like the Voices of Imani at Boston College and another school is that this university is not ashamed of faith."

Voices of Imani performs at various campus activities and for local churches and civic organizations. The group has toured the nation and performed with professional singers and entertainers, and in 2002 released a CD.

In recent years Rev. Walters has directed a second choir group called the New Fisk Jubilee Singers, which performs during the Arts Festival each year. The choir is based on the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of nine men and women who were former slaves or children of slaves and began singing together at Fisk University in Nashville during the late 19th century. The original Fisk Jubilee Singers are credited with first introducing African music in America, says Rev. Walters, and he has assembled this group as a contemporary remembrance of this very old tradition.

"What the New Fisk and Voices of Imani do is carrying on the tradition that Fisk started," said Walters. "The African-American tradition is so dominant in American music. I'm very happy to have this opportunity to share it."

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