WSSU’s Singing Rams stand for social justice

Throughout the civil rights movement, music was a driving force that brought people together and brought change. 

Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) Singing Rams have picked up the mantle, with a yearlong theme of social justice and hope. 

Maestra D’Walla Simmons-Burke, director of choral and vocal studies for WSSU, says the songs have helped the healing process for students in the choir, who have faced a number of challenges, including the death of one of their fellow students in January due to gun violence.

“Our students have been asking, ‘Why and how long do we have to endure some of these injustices?’ ” Simmons-Burke says. “The best way for us to answer this is through music.” 

She says this year’s spring tour, which spanned seven states over a week, was among the most attended that she can remember, a testament to this year’s theme.

Nia Lewis, a junior music business major and member of the WSSU Choir, says this year’s concerts have helped bring people together. 

“The focus on social justice issues has just been phenomenal in my eyes,” Lewis says. “It has even awakened me to see how I can implement these conversations in my daily conversations with my friends and my professors.”

Highlights of 2017-18 year for WSSU’s choral ensembles include:

  • A first-ever collaboration with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
  • Performances during “I Dream a World,” WSSU’s 125th anniversary commemoration in September.
  • Recognition by the Wake Forest University School of Theology.
  • A presentation and performance on social justice in the classroom during the Multicultural Awareness Session at the annual North Carolina Music Educators Association Conference.
  • A spring tour that included stops in six northern states. 
  • Partnering with the Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy to bring the social justice message to 28 high school students who are in the advanced mixed chorus.
  • A viral video for the “Singing Rams Hype Jam,” a tune written by five Singing Rams.
  • Helped to create a YouTube video with guest international opera baritone, Kenneth Overton that has been visited by over 17,000 viewers.

Audiences love the theme, Lewis says.

“The first reaction that we always get is just, ‘Thank you so much,” Lewis says. “They then start talking more. In looking at the things that we see on the news, we don’t see that many people who are using music and using their talents and their gifts to really talk about these issues and bring life to them.” 

Evy Mosqueda-Garcia, a freshman Singing Ram and graduate of East Forsyth High School, says she hopes the concerts have had a positive impact on the community. 

“I’ve heard people say they feel hopeful,” Mosqueda-Garcia says. “Even if it’s just for the smallest amount of time, it’s still better than feeling the hopelessness that’s going on.”

Annual Spring Concert

The Singing Rams will conclude the year with the annual Spring Concert, “Sing Down Justice: Songs of Life, Justice and Hope."

  • When: 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 29
  • Where: St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, 2575 Parkway Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
  • About: The concert is free and open to the public (a free will donation will be taken). Special guests are Kenneth Overton, baritone (international opera singer), and the Winston-Salem Preparatory High School Advanced Mixed Chorus under the direction of WSSU alumna Reneé Matthews. 
  • More Information: 336-750-2525
The WSSU Choir rehearses for the annual Spring Concert. 

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