The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and its IN UNISON Chorus will pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Robert Ray in a free community concert at Powell Hall on Monday, May 1, 2023. Ray was the founding director of the IN UNISON Chorus, a resident SLSO chorus that specializes in the performance and preservation of music from the African diaspora. He passed away in December 2022 at age 76.
The concert celebrates Ray’s many contributions to the country’s arts and music landscape, featuring the IN UNISON Chorus, SLSO musicians, vocalists Jennifer Kelley and Jermaine Smith, and singers from ensembles impacted by Ray’s signature musicianship, led by current chorus director Kevin McBeth and guest conductor Dr. Brandon Boyd.
Free tickets can be reserved by visiting slso.org.
Marie-Hélène Bernard, President and CEO of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, called Ray a "trailblazer" and a "brilliant musician and educator with a heart for the St. Louis community."
Among Ray's many achievements are his formation of the IN UNISON Chorus in 1994. He led the ensemble until 2010.
"His formation and leadership of the IN UNISON Chorus, and his devotion to its evolution as an essential choral group in the region, is one of countless legacies he leaves," Bernard said. "We are honored to pay tribute to his legacy with the IN UNISON Chorus and Director Kevin McBeth.”
The free community concert highlights Ray’s career as a composer, director, and educator. More than 200 singers from various ensembles impacted by Ray will collaborate on the concert, including the IN UNISON Chorus and IUC alumni, The Legend Singers, the UMSL Community Choir, and the choirs of Manchester United Methodist Church and Webster Groves Presbyterian Church. Current IN UNISON Chorus Director Kevin McBeth will lead the concert alongside Dr. Brandon Boyd, a protégé of Ray’s and the Assistant Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education at the University of Missouri. Boyd’s I’ll Fly Away and Sign Me Up will be performed. The concert includes music by John Rutter, whose music Ray championed during his career. Additional selections include music by Jeffrey Ames, Isaac Cates, and Evelyn Simpson-Curenton.
The performance includes selections from Ray’s own Gospel Mass—a landmark work that has been performed in Carnegie Hall—with well-known local vocalists Jennifer Kelley and Jermaine Smith, as well as Ray’s He Never Failed Me Yet. The SLSO has performed Gospel Mass many times since the orchestra's first performance of the work in 1996. Throughout the concert, family, friends, and past and present IN UNISON Chorus members will remember Ray through song, poetry, and spoken word.
With unwavering dedication, Ray shaped the chorus' distinct sound and deep artistic profile. In addition to his wholehearted leadership of the IN UNISON Chorus for 16 years, Ray was a gifted composer and teacher, guiding many young musicians into their careers as a professor first at the University of Illinois, and most recently at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. His music filled many spaces, from local churches all the way to Carnegie Hall. Many of his compositions blended elements of music from the African diaspora with traditional classical forms, resulting in pieces with a singular voice.