Shades of Yale lifts voices and uplifts spirits with familiar medley

The a cappella group, which is devoted to songs of the African diaspora, debuted a virtual Spring Jam on May 2, including their trademark closing medley.

The Shades of Yale, an a cappella group devoted to songs of the African diaspora, closes every concert with a medley arrangement of the traditional spirituals “Amen” and “We Shall Overcome.” Alumni who are in the audience join in the song, particularly during Family Weekend and the group’s annual Spring Jam. The familiar hymn begins simply, somberly, with just the deep bass notes, and swells to a powerful, uplifting song of hope uniting all voices by the medley’s end.

The same arrangement has been part of the Shades repertoire since the group’s founding at Yale in 1988 (making it one of the university’s youngest a cappella groups), and is taught orally to new members, said Shades co-business manager Gabrielle Barnes ‘22.

In this difficult moment of pandemic and quarantine, she said, it has brought the group together across generations.

During this time, we need uplifting music,” said Barnes. “We really miss singing with each other.”

The medley was one of three songs with a message of hope chosen for the group’s recent virtual Spring Jam (the others are “Brighter Day” by Kirk Franklin and “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke). The concert debuted on YouTube on May 2, and for the closing medley more than 50 alumni from around the world joined in the song.

Alumni singers were recruited from the active Shades’ Facebook page and were eager to participate, Barnes said. Since the song has been such an integral part of the Shades’ repertoire, she added, no one had to learn their part.

Past and present members recorded their parts independently, so no one heard the full impact of the song until the video was arranged.

Barnes said Shades’ musical director Amara Mgbeike ’22 and Dzidedi Azumah ’23 B.A. did a masterful job in translating the passion and joy of a Shades concert — as well as the members’ love for the group —into a digital experience.

This [virtual Spring Jam] came from the power of Amara’s heart,” she added.

Singing with the Shades of Yale is a formative part of the Yale experience for members, Barnes said. “It’s not just the musicality of the group,” she said, “but that this is music to uplift and encourage the black voice and to share African culture.”

Since the quarantine began, the group has not held regular rehearsals and Barnes said she has come to appreciate how much she looks forward to interacting with the other members in song. “Singing is such an integral part of our relationships,” she said. “I miss their voices.”

Watching the final video, she said: “It came together in such a beautiful way.”

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