Wichita choir celebrates unity through song in Washington, D.C.

The ARISE Ensemble traveled to the nation's capital as one of two choirs representing Kansas in the National Memorial Day Choral Festival.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 7:58 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - It’s been less than two weeks since the ARISE Ensemble returned from Washington, D.C. The group spent six days in the nation’s capital joining voices with choirs from across the country for the National Memorial Day Choral Festival.

ARISE President Gerald Norwood said he hoped that through song, his choir and others that participated in the event, could show the country what is possible when people unite.

“This opportunity that ARISE has this weekend is just a phenomenal opportunity to represent the United States as a combined forces of voices,” he said.

The choir’s trip included a stop at the World War II Memorial, a free concert at the Kennedy Center honoring veterans and all branches of the military, and performing in the opening ceremony of the National Memorial Day Parade. The group even met with the members of Bethany College, from Lindsborg, Kan., who also participated in the event.

Rep. Susan Estes escorted the group along a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol, along with Rep. KC Ohaebosim. ARISE also visited such landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House the Eisenhower Memorial, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

But, it was at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial where ARISE brought did what they do best. Without one rehearsal, the group sang, “One Nation, One Dream,” written by Wichita singer, songwriter and musician, Cherrie Baldon. Led by alto Prisca Barnes, it was there that ARISE drew applause and a show of gratitude from other visitors.

Before the trip concluded, ARISE stopped by Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous restaurant known for its celebrity patrons - and its chili. President-elect Barack Obama put Ben’s Chili at the forefront of D.C. dining when he and Mayor Adrian Fenty stopped by for some chili and sausage in 2009.

In 2022, ARISE was set to leave its mark on the famous restaurant. The choir warmed the heart of owner Virginia Ali (her late husband Ben Ali founded Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958; he died in 2009). Ali could not believe that a choir all the way from Wichita, Kan. had walked through her doors not only to take part in good food but to spread the good news.

Led by tenor Bryce Sund, the ARISE Ensemble sang “Fare Thee Well,” followed by an encore performance of “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” led by President Norwood. The building filled with clapping, singing, and even shouts of joy as the choir’s united voices bounced off the walls filled with photos of famous actors, politicians and fellow musicians.

ARISE walked out of the restaurant sharing hugs and high fives with staff and customers who understood the value of their mission to preserve the spirituals of an enslaved people who used music as secret communications and to chronicle their struggles, conflicts and victories.

To find out more about the ARISE Ensemble, visit https://www.facebook.com/AriseEnsemblePage/

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