Singing alongside pop music legends

  • Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    The UMES Gospel Choir joins 2012 Gala guests Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. in song

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (March 6, 2012) - The 2012 Gala at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore produced its share of memories, which were quickly circulated via e-mail and social media.

    From Larry King's amusing story of his role in an adolescent prank at his Brooklyn, N.Y junior high school, to heartfelt remarks from Tippi Hedren and S. Epatha Merkerson, the 400-plus guests heard well-traveled celebrities express appreciation for UMES recognizing their contributions to American culture.

    There also was a moment singer Marilyn McCoo described during Saturday's banquet as being "serenaded" that had special meaning for her and her husband, Billy Davis Jr. She graciously told only half the story, however.

    After a low-key ceremony to award honorary degrees before a reception and dinner, the quintet of stars slipped backstage to change out of their robes in preparation for a night of fine-dining and dancing.

    In an adjoining hallway, wearing florescent-colored clothes and headbands, students from UMES' Gospel Choir began singing "Stoned Soul Picnic" a capella.

    "And from the sky, come the Lord and lightning.

    Stoned soul, stoned soul

    Surry on soul …"

    McCoo and Davis helped make that song a pop music hit in 1968 as part of the 5th Dimension. The couple came to the changing room door to investigate the commotion. They immediately stepped into the hallway, looked at one another and smiled as the students put their generational stamp on the song. The other celebrities quickly joined McCoo and Davis, and all clapped gently in rhythm, swaying back and forth.

    "I was nervous at first," freshman Tayla Witcher said. "I mean, we were singing their song."

    As the students circled back to the first verse for an encore, McCoo and Davis walked over to the students, joining them shoulder-to-shoulder.

    "They jumped right in there with us," choir president Dallas Taylor said. "They enjoyed it. I could see it on their faces."

    So could the others who were there.

    Andrea Sims, who has helped the university arrange the celebrity-themed Gala the past three years, said, "I truly had chills when (Marilyn) and Billy walked over to the students and began performing."

    It was difficult to determine who had more fun, the students or McCoo or Davis - or the dozen or so folks jammed into that hallway witnessing the performance.

    "We were definitely surprised," Davis said. "We loved it."

    "It was so sweet," McCoo added. "We were honored, and it made us want to get in there and pitch in. They even had on the style of clothes we wore when we first sang that song."

    It was an indelible snapshot from a special evening that will live on with lucky choir members who sang alongside two legendary performers.

    "I want you to know how comfortable they made us feel," said Taylor, a senior.

    Witcher remembered thinking at the moment how she "felt honored to be singix