African Children's Choir

The African Children’s Choir will perform Jan. 31 at St. Mark AME Church.

The African Children’s Choir will bring a blend of song and dance to St. Mark AME Church in Rocky Mount that continues a 36-year-old concert tour.

The free concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the church at 1150 Tarboro St.

For many American audiences, the live sounds of a well-coordinated, African youth choir is a rare but special addition to their public music collection. The children learn critical lessons that build confidence, improve their stage presence and gain an appreciation for public performances.

The choir is an educational tool for the children and audiences around the world.

Their international tours expose them to landscapes, cityscapes and townships they might otherwise not see. Many of these children come from impoverished communities where too few children are educated. The African Children’s Choir is a means of educating, exposing and preparing them. Many of their concerts are free, but donations are accepted to cover education costs. The musical production is like a magic carpet that transports them from site to site and links them to audiences who share an appreciation for live performances.

Choir Manager Tina Sipp said there have been over 50 editions of the African Children’s Choir as children enter between the ages of 7 to 10, perform on tour and return to complete educational programs back home. The children also are educated while they travel in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Sipp said the value of an international tour is immeasurable for children who have had few opportunities to travel as tourists.

“There is so much more than what people see on the the stage. It’s beautiful to see how the children grow, how they are changed, transformed as they travel,” Sipp said. “They are accepting of all kinds of people they meet from the elderly to other children — even the joy of seeing babies. Some of them had to take care of a baby back home to help parents or grandparents.

“As they travel, they are becoming proficient in English,” she said. “They are having new experiences like horseback riding or seeing an aquarium for the first time. They are so grateful and willing to share. The donations we receive not only help the children on stage but their families and friends back home.”

People may arrive at the concert thinking about their poverty, Sipp said, but are touched by their joy. Poverty certainly limits the span of one’s experiences but it does not curb the joy of learning. These children are eager to learn even when lessons are taking place thousands of miles away from home.

This tour is known as the “Just as I Am” program, which was launched a year ago. Sipp said it includes familiar hymns with an African twist based on arrangements made by a Ugandan musician. The program includes some drumming and dance as well as their songs. Over the years, the choirs have performed in front of the Queen of England and in front of American dignitaries. Sipp said past choirs recorded with the Gaithers, Michael W. Smith and Jars of Clay and shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox and Elton John.

The children come from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa. They appreciate lessons of faith taught by the staff overseeing them. They also appreciate the hospitality shown by churches and other organizations that host them.

Some performances are paid performances scheduled to support educational programming. Many are free performances at churches where donations are accepted to support them. Sipp said organizers are grateful the public desires to shower the children with food, but too many perishable foods on their bus may lead to wasted food the children are not used to seeing. Numerous trinkets or donated items such as teddy bears also must be overseen by staff to reduce overcrowding on the traveling bus. Donations can be made via the organization’s website,

The African Children’s Choir is a nonprofit organization coordinated by Music for Life Institute. It has offices in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Since its inception, the organization has supported over 1,300 children through the choir. The goal is for the children to spread the message of beauty, dignity and the unlimited potential of African children.

The African Children’s Choir, according to the organization’s website, has helped support the education of over 52,000 children while allowing the organization to contribute to the lives of 100,000 people in areas of conflict and crisis.