The group was founded in war-torn Uganda by human rights activist Ray Barnett, who wanted to show the world that the orphaned and impoverished children of the choir — like millions of their peers in Africa — had talent, beauty, dignity and unlimited potential.
Their heartfelt performance of 17 songs and dances had the audience clapping and whooping. Selections varied from uplifting traditional music and Ugandan dance to spirituals and children’s songs, as well as some contemporary tunes such as “Because You Loved Me.” The finale featured “This Little Light [of Mine],” and members of the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus came on stage to perform with the African Children’s Choir as one group. It was an inspiring and touching moment, and the children all gave each other hugs afterward.
This performance, one of 13 events over 14 days, was part of the Winter Festival that also kicked off the Campaign for Arts & Lectures, a five-year campaign to raise $20 million, split evenly between annual support and a permanent endowment to secure the future of UCSB Arts & Lectures.
One of the goals of the annual support portion of the campaign is to provide schoolchildren, community partners and UCSB students access to free or low-cost events.
“We’re excited to invite the community to join us in Arts & Lectures’ first fundraising campaign,” said Celesta Billeci, the Miller McCune Executive Director of UCSB Arts & Lectures.
The group has assembled some stellar volunteer talent to help them achieve the $20 million goal. The Council for Arts & Lectures includes co-chairs Sara Miller McCune and Dan Burnham and council members Barrie Bergman, Timothy Fisher, Rich Janssen, Tom Kenny, Kath Lavidge, Susan McCaw, Lois Mitchell, Natalie Orfalea, Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, Frederic Steck, Anne Towbes and Lynda Weinman. The Honorary Campaign Committee includes Laurie Anderson, Ken Burns, Sarah Chang, Philip Glass, Bill Jones, Peter Martins, David McCullough, Bill Moyers, Mary Oliver, Amy Tam and Fareed Zakaria.
In a brief video message preceding the children’s performance, McCune said, “I want to leave Arts & Lectures hale and hearty for many generations to come. Supporting A&L is a legacy as well as a way of enhancing my life. My grandchildren are now attending Arts & Lectures events. I want for them to be able to enjoy what I am enjoying now. Isn’t that what every parent and grandparent wants?”
Burnham added: “We have to do everything we can to maintain this unbelievable level of quality. We must continue to attract the very best and to fuel the excellent community outreach programs that offer new experiences to so many.”
Toward the end of the African’s Children’s Choir performance, each of the 18 children stated their name and “what they wanted to be when they grow up.” Their aspirations included teacher, pastor, lawyer, professional football player, doctor and president. Several former choir members who are now adults and are traveling with the troupe as chaperones told of their lives and what they had achieved after joining the choir. Despite impoverished circumstances, loss of parents and growing with up to 10 siblings and cousins in a one bedroom, all had completed their college degrees and were independent and employed, thanks to the Music for Life Institute — the organization behind the choir.
Through the Music for Life Institute, the choir has educated more than 52,000 children in Uganda, Southern Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, and has established primary and secondary schools, skills training centers, health clinics and relief programs.
The choir has performed for presidents and royalty, at events like Live 8 and World AIDS Day and to global audiences through TV programs and film soundtracks. In the West, the children’s music has brought hope and inspiration to places such as ground zero in New York and in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. In Kenya, the children sing as brothers and sisters in a country divided by tribal tensions. The organization continues to help Africa’s most vulnerable children today, so they can help Africa tomorrow.
Now in its 53rd season, UCSB Arts & Lectures presents more than 100 events a year, including critically acclaimed concerts and dance performances, lectures by inspiring authors, as well as film series at UCSB and Santa Barbara-area venues. With a mission to “educate, entertain and inspire,” A&L also oversees an outreach program featuring master classes, open rehearsals, lecture-demonstrations and classroom discussions with visiting artists and speakers at UCSB, as well as local elementary and high schools.