Brining the music home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2006

For the first time in history the Central State University Chorus from Wilberforce, Ohio, got a chance to see the city their conductor William Henry Caldwell has been talking about for years.

Last night, Caldwell and his Grammy-nominated choir performed at the Demopolis Civic Center after enjoying dinner and fellowshipping with members of the Eastern Star Baptist Church.

“We thought it would be one building with outhouses and watering holes,” New York native and choir member Brandon Kerr laughed, “but it’s cool.”

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“It’s opened our eyes to an entirely different culture,” Derrick Franklin, a choir member from Dayton, Ohio, said.

“It was culture shock,” Cleveland, Ohio, singer Donald King added. “Now we can put the pieces to the puzzle together and actually see what he’s been telling us about.”

“Now we see what makes Bill, Bill,” Kerr added.

“But we are delighted to be the first group he brought here,” Lanaya Self, Springfield, Ohio, singer said.

“This is special to me because I can retire soon and none of my choirs have ever been here before,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been to Tuscaloosa, but that’s the furthest south we’ve been.”

After singing a melodic grace and eating a home-cooked dinner in the community room at Eastern Star, the choir had the opportunity to sit in the sanctuary and sing where their director got his musical beginnings.

Caldwell was raised in Demopolis and his music roots began at the local church. Since then his music has taken him across the United States and around the world to Europe, Africa and Italy.

“Having been so encouraged to do music at Eastern Star and at U.S. Jones I ended up majoring in music at Stillman College,” he said, “The pastor here was the Rev. Earnest Palmer and he told the director at Stillman that he was sending them ‘the best baritone.’ So I had to learn to play the piano and read music. I had to work hard for it.”

Now, Caldwell is leading students from all over the country in song, while telling them stories about growing up in Demopolis.

“He had the desire to bring the choir home and he told me all his students have heard about Eastern Star Baptist Church,” Eastern Star pastor Terry Gosa said. “I am proud they finally had a chance to see where everything started because all his students have had to endure stories about us.”

“I tell my students all the time- because they don’t think they can do anything- that I am from Demopolis and I did it,” Caldwell said. “These kids are from large cities across the country where the greatest art was in their back yard and they didn’t even know it. I was raised here and had to read about it, but I can tell them more about it than they know.”

In a strong speaking voice, Caldwell says the words “center stage” to get the full attention of his students to introduce Demopolis friends who welcomed him back home with open arms.

“It was an excellent warm spirit from the moment they drove up,” Gosa said. “It’s been an outstanding reception and I can tell the choir is excited to be here. I am thrilled and excited to say the least.”

“He always comes back home,” childhood friend and Eastern Star member Geraldine Walker said, “but it’s great to have him here with his choir.

“People are still looking up to you because you’ve never changed,” Demopolis High School choir director Arletha Perry said to Caldwell, “Dr. Caldwell is still William Caldwell.”