By Renee Foose
Special to the AFRO
On Sunday evenings after attending church service and ministering to several others, Angelo Johnson can be found back at the altar, but not to preach. Johnson, 43 of Baltimore, and a group of Morgan State Alumni, the Carter Legacy Singers, meet weekly in Baltimore to practice and rehearse choral music they learned in college and new songs they collectively create.
The Carter Legacy Singers is a community-based ensemble, comprised of many of the finest voices influenced by the teachings of Dr. Nathan Carter. A protégé of Dr. Carter, Johnson said “Dr. Carter dedicated his life to breaking down cultural barriers through music. We are his legacy; a generation of musicians and leaders who come together to keep his legacy alive and inspire the next generation of musicians.”
Angelo Johnson leading choir rehearsal. (Courtesy Photo)
“My spirit is fed at church, but my soul is fed by the choir” he said.
The group was formed in 2018 to perform a benefit concert and has been in demand all over the country ever since, according to the director. “We’ve performed for the Embassies of France, Uzbekistan, and Egypt and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, and the Cosmic Symphony in Southern Maryland,” he said.
“We want to keep Dr. Carter’s legacy alive and bring more arts to Baltimore,” said Chrissy Thornton, 43, of Baltimore and an alto singer in the choir. “Some of us were inner city kids that were turned into world travelers after we joined the choir at Morgan State.” she said.“Dr. Carter taught music, demanded perfection, gave us once in a lifetime experiences and he modeled values that we all use in our lives now,” Thornton said.
Carter Legacy Singers read music at rehearsal. (Courtesy Photo)
Johnson considers himself an inner-city student who was forever changed by Dr. Carter. A native of Cleveland, Johnson attended middle and high school at the Cleveland School for the Arts. In the mid-1990s he attended a concert in Cleveland where he heard the Morgan State Choir perform and met Dr. Carter for the first time. Johnson said he was so moved by the performance that he made it his goal to study under Dr. Carter and began corresponding with him regularly. “I didn’t want him to forget who I was, so I reached out to him regularly,” said Johnson.
In the Spring of 1995 Johnson and four other music enthusiasts traveled to Baltimore to visit Morgan and sit in on Dr. Carter’s classes. At the end of the week, Dr. Carter asked the group to change their plans and travel with the Morgan Choir to New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall. Johnson did. “I couldn’t believe what was happening, I was actually singing at Carnegie Hall, I was only 17. I was hooked and knew I wanted to study at Morgan with Dr. Carter,” Johnson said.
“The success of the group is our talent. What makes us different is we are able to be soloists or perform in an ensemble and sing professionally. We learned this while at Morgan” said Mary Fields, 33, of Baltimore.
Angelo Johnson at choir rehearsal. (Courtesy Photo)
“A large part of our success is Angelo’s facility with conducting genre. He is masterful and his interpretation of Dr. Carter’s standards and musicianship is outside of what people normally hear. I think that takes us farther,” said Francese Brooks, 49,
“Dr. Carter made us top notch performers and world travelers. Because of our shared experience with Dr. Carter and our commitment to his work, we’ve become a family,” Johnson said.
“We were all raised in the same home; we all came from the same village in a way. Dr. Carter was the one leader that set the standard for all of us and we’ve been nurtured under his leadership,” said Brandon Shaw-McKnight, 27, of Baltimore.
Dr. Nathan M. Carter conducted the Morgan State Choir for 34 years and received international prominence. He died in 2004.
For the final concert of 2019, the Carter Legacy Singers will travel to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Johnson. “It’s really ironic that we are going back to Carnegie Hall. We’ve come full circle, and Dr. Carter would be proud,” Johnson said.