The 25 to 30 performers, consisting only of children ages five through twelve, are selected for their talent from thousands of hopefuls in impoverished areas of five African countries: Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Most of the children are orphans or have only one parent, and being part of the African Children's Choir not only develops their musical potential, but gives them the opportunity to tour the world for one year. At the end of the year they either begin or return to their schooling, which is provided for by donations received during the tour. Their education is then assured through the graduation, and many go on to become doctors, lawyers, or professional leaders. Without the opportunity provided by being in the choir, the majority of the children would have no schooling.
A new group of 25 to 30 children is chosen for the next year's tour. This has been the routine since 1984 when Ray Barnett, a minister who was raised an orphan in Ireland, heard of the devastating plight of the children in Africa. In Uganda, tens of thousands of children were dying or suffering due to the bloody civil war that left them homeless and abandoned. They were being eaten by wild animals or had no water or food. Barnett had memories from an earlier trip to Africa of a young boy singing with a beautiful simplicity and joy. Recalling this, he conceived the idea of a choir of such children, traveling together to raise money to educate themselves, and to educate people around the globe about the children's needs. Through the choir, over 6,000 needy children in Africa receive schooling, housing, and food.
Abraham Lulwago was one of the lucky choir members during its first year and is now the choir director. Since 1984, the choir has earned international acclaim with its thousands of concerts. With brilliant native costumes created in bright, bold colors, and using native drums and other ethnic instruments, the choir captivates audiences with its children's songs, energetic spirituals, and popular gospel tunes. Sell-out performances are common, from the Royal Albert Hall and Coventry Cathedral in the United Kingdom, to the Disney theme parks in the U.S. Desmond Wilcox made an award-winning television documentary of the choir, and the choir sang with Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey on a Hollywood film soundtrack, and sang with Roger Whitaker, the famous whistler, at the Palladium in London. The choir performed on the Michael Barrymore Show, at Ulster Hall in Belfast, at the Berlin Stadium in Germany, and appeared with Esther Ranzen in Hearts of Gold. The choir was in concert with Billy Graham at Amsterdam 2000, and also sang at The United Nations in New York. In Britain the group sang with Sir Cliff Richard
, a rock and pop idol for over 30 years. Among the choir's thousands of radio and television appearances were the Hour of Power, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the Dove Awards. Throughout Southern Africa, Singapore, Romania, Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Malaysia, the choir has thrilled audiences with their enthusiasm and inspiration. For the six-month anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero the African Children's Choir put together a unique blend of Christian hymns and traditional African melodies and dances, along with "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful."
Videos of the choir include Still Walking in the Light and The Story of the African Children's Choir from Desmond Wilcox's series, The Visit. Popular recordings include It Takes a Whole Village, Omega -- The Album, plus two BBC Radio documentaries.
The 15th anniversary of the choir on January 14, 2000, was celebrated by producing the CD, Still Walking in the Light. Butterfly released Window on the World in September, 2003. This CD is aimed at children ages four-seven, and Jodi Benson
, Disney's Little Mermaid voice, is the featured vocalist on it.
While the African Children's Choir also has popular Christmas CDs out, its ability to make you stomp your feet and singalong with joy has proven to be popular all year round -- all around the world. ~ Eleanor Ditzel, Rovi