The Voices of Unity youth choir truly will represent Fort Wayne when it performs Saturday in Carnegie Hall in New York and in July at the World Choir Games in Riga, Latvia.
Nearly 60 youngsters and about 25 adult staff and chaperones will leave late Wednesday for the trip to New York, returning Sunday. Thirty-four singers and 20 staff and chaperones will travel July 9-19 to Riga.
Just as exciting for choir founder Marshall White has been the growth in the choir's diversity.
Since it started in 2000, Voices of Unity has shifted gradually from a mostly African-American choir to a vocal group that's now about 44 percent African American, 22 percent Caucasian, 15 percent biracial, 13 percent Hispanic and 6 percent African.
Singers come from about 20 ZIP codes in the Fort Wayne area, including a few from outside Allen County, said White, CEO of the Unity Performing Arts Foundation (UPAF), which offers the choir and other youth development programs.
The income levels of choir members' families range from 38 percent earning $24,000 or less annually to more than 7 percent earning $100,000 or more a year.
“We are bring kids from every background together,” White said. The choir enjoys similar diversity in its backstage crew and its audiences.
Voices of Unity currently has more than 80 youngsters ages 6 through high school age actively involved in the choir program, said White, whose UPAF organization has an office on the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne campus.
About another 40 youth take part in UPAF's creative writing and arts academy programs.
Each of the programs also incorporates activities to build character, self-discipline, and leadership and job skills, White said.
That has contributed to about 120 choir alumni attending college, White said proudly.
The performance at Carnegie Hall, one of America's most prestigious music venues, will take place as part of the Choirs of America Music Performance Nationals.
“They were invited and selected,” White said of Voices of Unity members.
“It is a great feeling for me in that I am able to take young kids to a place in life they likely never would be able to experience,” said White, who also will make his first appearance on the Carnegie Hall stage with the choir.
Along with learning about Carnegie Hall and New York before they go, White will keep choir members busy in the Big Apple with a performance Thursday in the Harlem Children's Zone, a workshop and performance Friday at Queens College in Queens, N.Y., and visits to the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Ground Zero and attending the stage show “The Lion King” on Broadway.
In Latvia, they will gather with more than 490 choirs from around the world, White said. Voices of Unity will compete in the Gospel music category.
The choir won a gold medal in the Popular Choral Music category at the 2012 World Choir Games in Cincinnati. At the 2010 World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China, the group won a gold medal in Popular Choral Music and world champion status in the Gospel and Spiritual Music category.
“What we are giving these kids is the opportunity to believe anything is possible,” White said of the trips.
To pay for the choir's travel, White announced a Gold for the City fundraising campaign in November.
The organization and choir members since have raised about $366,000 toward a $500,000 goal, White said. The goal includes funds for organization operations and possible travel to choir appearances after they return from Riga.
Donors contributing $50,000 or more include the Tim and Libby Ash Foundation, Sweetwater, Parkview Health and English, Bonter, Mitchell Foundation.