It's been a whirlwind past few years for the Detroit Youth Choir, the nonprofit musical group made up of young people with a big sound. In 2019, they exploded into the mainstream, making it to second place on the NBC show America's Got Talent. This year, the DYC earned a 2021 Stellar Award from the gospel music community for best youth program thanks to their rendition of "Glory," John Legend and Common's Oscar Award-winning song from the 2014 film Selma, which also was considered for a Grammy nomination. Two days later, the choir performed for Vice President Kamala Harris in Detroit.
Of course, between those accolades the COVID-19 pandemic hit, disrupting in-person rehearsals and leading to the deaths of two members of the youth choir. Anthony White, the artistic director at Detroit Youth Choir Performing Arts Company since 2001, also fell ill with COVID-19.
"COVID hit us real hard, but we still are out here performing," White says.
The youth choir will celebrate its successes and 25 years of making music on Saturday with its first annual gala at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. It's actually the choir's second gala, following a celebration of its 20th anniversary five years ago. The gala will help the nonprofit continue to raise money, after a group of local businesses and foundations came together in 2019 to create a $1 million endowment for the nonprofit on the heels of America's Got Talent.
The gala will be hosted by Kimberly Gill of WDIV-TV, and will also feature a special awards presentation for a group of civic and business leaders. There, the Detroit Youth Choir will perform a medley tribute to the late R&B star Aaliyah, which White says is set to include a medley of her hits including "One in a Million," "Try Again," "Are You That Somebody," and her cover of the Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)."
"That tribute is is for our queen Aaliyah," he says. "You know, we also have Aretha Franklin as our queen, but to the younger generation, she was going to be a superstar in her own right. So we wanted to make sure we would have paid tribute to her as well."
He adds, "We just hope to make her family proud."
Beyond the, Disney+ is at work on a documentary series on the group titled Choir as well as a scripted drama series inspired by the group.
White says that there is something special about the group,which about 125 kids, ranging in age from 8 to 18. "We have some younger kids and older kids, and that's what really makes the sound," he says.
"Our kids are hand-picked," he adds. "You know, they have to audition. So they're actually from around the whole metro Detroit area. And when you put all of that talent in one room, you're bound to get a special surprise. The Detroit youth choir has a whole sound ... There's no other choir that sounds like our choir. And that's what we kind of pride ourselves in."
The Detroit Youth Choir will also release a Christmas album. Then, in January, it will hold its annual auditions to find the next group of singers.
"We really find our best kids in January, because they have already been in school, and they can kind of see what they want to do," White says.
"We're planning on staying on top," he adds. "We want to be the best youth choir in the country. That's the goal. I know there's some great youth choirs out there. But you know, we have a special skill set that we want to try to maintain."
The Detroit Youth Choir's First Annual Gala will be held from 6-10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit; thewright.org. Tickets start at $105 and can be purchased at detroityouthchoir.org/gala.