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Each week, the youthful voices of the Howard Gospel Choir fill the halls of the historic Andrew Rankin Chapel.

The venue, which sits prominently on the main quadrangle of Howard University, boasts an impressive list of visitors by American greats like Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy.

It also serves as the choir’s rehearsal space, where they put into practice the biblical directive found in the book of Psalms: to make a joyful noise unto the Lord — singing, clapping, and rocking, for example, to a reimagined, up-tempo version of the classic hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

Today its members serve as ambassadors of the university, performing around the world and offering a mix of soulful musicality with a ministry devoted to being “salt and light” wherever they go.

When Gospel Was a No-No

Yet several decades ago gospel music was deemed an unwelcomed genre by the faculty of the music department. During the 1960s and 1970s, a music major who was caught playing anything outside the catalogue of classical composers could be suspended.

“Gospel music was a no-no,” recalled Richard Smallwood, a Grammy Award-winning gospel artist, a 1971 graduate of Howard University, and one of the choir’s founding members.

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