Praise, worship and community: UK Black Voices Gospel Choir


The UK Black Voices Gospel Choir sings in the Gatton Student Center on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff file photo

La’Miya Starnes, Reporter

Black Voices Gospel Choir, also known as BV, is the second oldest organization on campus that recruits African American students and cultivates a space for praise, worship and community enrichment. 

“We went to one practice and never missed a Wednesday,” Jada Peden, senior public health major and secretary of BV, said. 

Founded at the University of Kentucky in 1970, BV started with a small group of students who loved singing gospel music. After meeting a few times, the group wanted BV to be considered an official UK student organization. 

The choir has sung at high stature gospel events such as the National Collegiate Gospel Festival in Atlanta, the Bobby Jones Gospel Explosion and the Gospel Praise Company Workshop. It was also hosted by Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

According to BBNvolved, the choir “won the first ‘Battle of the Choirs,’ held in Lexington, Kentucky featuring Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and they were blessed to lead the worship service for the Mississippi Mass Choir (June 2000).” In April 2000, BV was awarded the “Outstanding African American Student Organization” award. 

As the years continued, the choir was slightly impacted in numbers by COVID-19, but it sustained. 

“I appreciate Black Voices, and I am glad that it is here,” Peden said. 

Najiya Clayborn, a sophomore theater arts major, joined BV in the second semester of her freshman year. While this is a gospel choir, the organization also volunteers as a group and fellowships with church communities. 

Najiya says that everyone who attends the choir is there for similar reasons: “ to come together, praise the Lord and talk about any struggles we may be having.” 

The organization’s executive board consists of President Aciaya Timmons, Vice President Tameera Rutledge, Secretary Jada Peden, Treasurer Amira Mckee and Interim Treasurer Taylor Williams. 

Additionally, BV offers an opportunity to register the choir as a class, MUS174. 

“You are dedicating your time to something every week, so why not get credit for it in a way of community service, performing on and off campus?” Peden said. 

The organization’s president, senior social work manager Aciaya Timmons, has been a member of the choir since her freshman year. 

“Going every Wednesday fills me with a sense of joy and purpose,” she said. 

Timmons explained that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the choir’s ability to practice and perform.

“I wanted to be one of the main pushers for the choir to be how it was my freshman year, and that is what inspired me to run for president of the organization,” she said. 

Members of BV feel that the choir is more than just a space for singing. 

“Since I joined Black Voices, I have absolutely loved it because of the family bond we create here,” Najiya Clayborn said. 

BV is currently directed by Stewart Batey, who has been associated with the choir since 2009. Batey said he joined BV 12 years ago as a student who wanted to “use the gift of singing with other like-minded creatives.” 

“Black Voices has been a whole of things for plenty of people including myself. This choir has been a place of hope, safety, encouragement, and joy. We as a choir want to spread these values across campus,” Batey said.

Black Voices Gospel Choir student choir meets every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. inside the Fine Arts Building Room 17.