All children deserve the opportunity to express and empower themselves through performing arts, but not every community has the necessary resources to support music education. Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey faced this concern while teaching music in Baltimore City schools. Although her kids had talent, they had nowhere to showcase it.
To help, Mincey founded Singing Sensations Youth Choir in 2004, a traveling choir that allows children to perform and bring their musical artistry to other communities. Rather than limiting participation to one school, the choir accepts youth from across Baltimore City, surrounding counties and communities in South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“We’ve gone to rehearse and perform with the kids from out of state or they’ve come to us. I’m really trying to create sister choirs all over,” says Mincey.
The choir, which typically has 45 to 50 participants each year, runs “Sensational Sounds” for students ages four through second grade and “Singing Sensations” for children in third through 12th grade.
A typical Singing Sensations session lasts three hours while Sensational Sounds runs for about 90 minutes. Each session includes time for leadership training, singing and music reading and theory. Music genres range from classical and choral to soul and gospel, with some dancing and theatrics included.
Each year, the choir hosts a Christmas, Black History Month and spring concert with proceeds benefiting college scholarships or traveling costs for children who have become quite the globetrotters.
Since starting, Singings Sensations has performed in locations such as Virginia, the Carolinas and Universal Studios as well as Canada, Spain, the Bahamas, Trinidad and South Africa, where they were asked to sing for Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday celebration.
“Singing at that celebration was a real honor. Seeing how these kids are received in other countries blows me away every time,” says Mincey. “They’re treated like celebrities; people can’t believe little kids are able to perform like this.”
For Mincey, Singing Sensations offers children singing and mentoring opportunities. Kids are encouraged to talk with the choir leaders about what’s going on in their lives, and Mincey brings in therapy professionals for one-on-one sessions.
To stay in the choir, youth are required to maintain good grades and demonstrate leadership and role modeling at school. Several of Mincey’s students have graduated at the top of their high school class and attend college in Maryland.
“I have kids who are homeless or who have lived with me and my family during high school due to their home situation,” says Mincey. “If it wasn’t for this choir, some kids would have gone to jail or would be doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing. We keep them occupied and give them opportunities.”
In addition to performing and traveling, opportunities also include college support. Kids who stay in the choir between ninth and 12th grades receive a $2,000 scholarship from the choir.
Singing Sensations has also partnered with Morgan State University’s theater department since 2006 and has participated in many productions including “The Lion King,” “Sarafina!” and “The Wiz.” As part of their collaboration, any Singing Sensations choir member who attends Morgan State and joins the university’s choir automatically receives an academic scholarship.
“One year, I had 12 kids go there. It’s fantastic because a lot of kids didn’t know where they were going to college or even if they were going,” says Mincey. “My son received a scholarship by joining the choir, and he just graduated summa cum laude.”
Academics are a top priority for Mincey, who hopes to one day open her own school for the arts where kids can learn various musical avenues from singing and playing an instrument to playwriting and theater.
“Kids are talented in so many ways, and I’d love to offer them other opportunities,” says Mincey. “Schools in the United States don’t start off kids in performing arts until they’re older, but why shouldn’t we expose kids (to the arts) earlier? Why can’t music be seen as a critical part of education?”
Until then, Mincey remains dedicated to creating a stable foundation for the choir, a legacy she hopes will continue long after her leadership tenure.
“We’ve become a family, confidantes and friends,” she says. “To me, this is more than a choir. It’s a ministry.”