Alumni Singers keep black heritage alive through song

- A way for slaves to make it through the struggle of slavery was music and a local group is preserving those traditional spirituals.

Born out of a high school choir in St. Pete, the Alumni Singers have been singing negro spirituals for 36 years. The music celebrates the African American experience.

"These songs are heart-felt," Carolyn Hobbs, co-founder of the choir said. "The spirituals are a original music in America because, out of the spirituals came everything else, came jazz, came reggae."

The group formed in 1980 when they were members of the Gibbs High School Choir. They wanted to highlight their African American Heritage.

"The music plus the words give such a deep meaning," Carolyn explained.

The songs were first sung by slaves to give them hope.
"In their homes, in the fields, where they were working, to their children," Carolyn added.

The songs became part of an escape plan for slaves. A sort of musical "code," signaling the right time to flee their owners. 
"When Harriet Tubman, when she lead people from one point to the other they sang songs, but  those songs were songs like "Steal Away," Carolyn said.

Malcolm Limpley was born in Mississippi. He still remembers the sting of segregation.
"These songs brought us through," Malcolm said. "I can remember my mother always singing songs that would get us through."

"I been singing since I was five years old," 89-year-old Katherine Jones said.

She says the group has a mission.

"We are singing to serve people to make other people feel good," Katherine said.

"It's us. It's a part of our history. We must know where we came from in order to know were we are going," Carolyn said.

The group has performed with the Florida Orchestra and at churches and concert halls.  

Anyone is welcome to sing with the choir. Call (727) 323-7004 for more information.

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