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Meet Soul Children Of Chicago, a Grammy-winning musical ensemble

The Soul Children of Chicago (SCC) is not just a choir; it’s a movement that has been transforming the lives of children and young people in the Windy City for more than forty years. This dynamic church group, founded in 1981 by Dr. Walt Whitman, Jr., has achieved international acclaim, including a Grammy win, for musical excellence and her dedication to empowering her members through music and mentorship.

Dr. Whitman, Jr. founded SCC with the mission of providing a positive and nurturing environment for youth in Chicago Public Schools. In a recent telephone interview, he noted that SCC initially started as a program in elementary schools on the South Side of Chicago but now includes children from ages 7 to 17. “I have personally coached five generations of my community through this program,” he states proudly. His goal was to use the power of music to inspire and motivate children from different backgrounds, especially those facing socio-economic challenges. The foundation of the choir is built on the principles of discipline, hard work and the power of community, which are instilled through training and mentoring. “Sometimes all we do is talk, but that is also so important for these children: the feeling of belonging and believing in themselves.”

Musical excellence and performance

Over the past 43 years, SCC has evolved into a versatile repertoire of musical talent spanning gospel, classical, jazz and contemporary. “It started out as traditional gospel music, but as the kids listen to other genres, those influences find their way into our voices,” notes Dr. Whitman op. “I always tell the kids to take a song and make it their own because that makes us unique.”

This versatility has enabled the choir to perform in a wide range of venues, from local churches and community centers to prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the White House. They have shared the stage with critically acclaimed artists, such as Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, highlighting their talent and broad appeal. In 2010, the choir received a Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album as part of the compilation “Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration,” in which they collaborated with the rock group 3 Doors Down on the song “Presence of the Lord.” Most recently, the group was one of the main talents (lead singers) in the new Flyover Chicago experience, a love letter to the city, seen through the eyes of its citizens: musicians, artists, performers and dancers the experience is ‘I believe’, which Dr. Whitman tries to convey to all his children.

Focus on youth development

In addition to their musical prowess, SCC plays a crucial role in the personal development of its members. Dr. Whitman emphasizes the importance of education, character building and leadership skills. Choir members are encouraged to excel academically and receive tutoring and college prep resources. The group also has strong ties with Corporate America and the children have access to scholarships and mentorship through these connections.

The choir’s motto, “We are not just a choir, we are a movement,” completely sums up their mission. Through their performances and outreach programs, SCC tackles social issues such as violence, substance abuse and racial inequality and advocates for positive change.

International involvement and outreach

SCC is not only a state or national phenomenon, they are also well connected to the international music scene. The group participates in many national and international events and has even hosted other visiting music ensembles to listen and be part of SCC. “There are other Soul Children groups in countries like Norway, Sweden, Germany and hopefully soon in South Africa,” says Dr. Whitman. “Together we want to show that music, especially through youth groups, knows no boundaries and offers a beacon of hope and inspiration for anyone who needs it.”

Chicago’s music scene

As SCC continues to evolve, a new music collaboration is in the works. This time the group is collaborating with award-winning, multidisciplinary contemporary artist and songwriter Sir The Baptist on a CD release. “We have worked with many A-list artists in the past, but this time the kids are creating something of our own, which is indeed an amazing feeling,” beams Dr. Whitman. “Being one of the longest-standing youth gospel groups in the world is a huge achievement.”

Dr. Whitman, Jr. is a music lover himself and having lived in Chicago for many years, he shares some must-visits to Chicago for anyone wanting to get a feel for the city’s music scene. “Chi-town has always been known for its blues, jazz and gospel and while we may not be known as a great music producer like Detroit or Nashville, we have a sound that can be heard loud and clear throughout the city,” notes he up. “House of Blues Chicago, Andy’s Jazz Club plus festivals like Gospel Fest and Blues Festival are great for new and emerging Chicago talent, along with national favorites.”

The legacy of SCC and Dr. Whitman, Jr. is a testament to the transformative power of music. As they move forward, SCC remains committed to its mission of empowering youth, promoting excellence and using music as a vehicle for positive change.

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