Last week, faculty and students at the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) were excitedly tweeting and re-tweeting the news: The Grammy Foundation announced on March 18 that BAA, the city’s only public arts high school, was one of 13 US schools to be selected as a 2016 GRAMMY® Signature School with special distinction going to Dorchester’s Tyrone Sutton, co-chair of the BAA music faculty.
BAA’s music department, where a third of the members are Dorchester and Mattapan residents, was selected for a 2016 GRAMMY Signature Schools Enterprise Award. It is one of only two schools in New England to earn this distinction.
The Grammy Foundation’s review committee of top music educators and professionals singled out BAA’s award-winning Spirituals Ensemble, an auditioned group of 30 sophomores, juniors, and seniors, that explores the evolution of the African-American sacred choral music tradition. Founded and directed by Tyrone Sutton, the Ensemble is perhaps best known for winning the premiere season of WGBH-TV’s vocal competition “Sing That Thing.”
In 2015 the ensemble bested 23 Massachusetts choirs in four categories to take first place in the WGBH’s reality show, which Sutton describes as “American Idol for community choirs.” The group earned praise for its “astounding maturity,” with one judge adding, “These young people restored my faith that music can make a difference.”
Among the group’s other recent honors was a 2015 gold medal at the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association Festival and a date on the stage of Symphony Hall on Sat., April 11, for MICCA’s Gold Medal Showcase
Several members of the ensemble have gone on to major in music in college and have received full scholarships at leading colleges, including Boston University, Berklee College of Music, and the Hartt School of Music.
Though the spotlight was on the Spirituals Ensemble, Sutton, former music director at Dorchester’s historic Charles Street A.M.E. Church, was quick to share the acclaim with the rest of the music faculty, “We have a tremendous department, a very diverse faculty, who are passionate about working with students.” He went on to highlight the school’s recruitment/feeder program for high school pianists in Orchard Gardens and the string outreach in other parts of the city.
BAA headmaster Anne Clark applauded Sutton and his Ensemble. “Tyrone and his students are amazing and I am so happy that they are getting recognized for the depth of their artistic expression and hard work,” she said. “The Grammy Foundation’s award underscores how critical it is for urban public students to have access to high-quality arts education, and how we continue to need the support of our community to make this possible for BAA students.”
The Spirituals Ensemble, which appears frequently at the behest of Mayor Martin Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, is in high demand for public performances, as its Spring/Summer 2016 calendar shows.
On March 12 the group made its Cape Cod debut as part of the Sandwich Arts Alliance Village Concert Series. Next, they will be part of the huge semester finale concert on May 25 at the Madison Park/O’Bryant campus where the Roland Hayes School of Music will showcase the talents of the various campuses it serves. And on June 17, the group will perform at the opening of the 2016 Annual Convention of Americans for the Arts at the Boston Sheraton Hotel.
As to their WGBH victory, interested parties can view the group’s triumphant progress at singthatthing.wgbh.org.