To our former directors, who built and sustained the African American Choral Ensemble’s legacy, we say to you THANKS for devoting your time, talents, and dedication to the important ensemble. We honor you with this small glimpse of your life and accomplishments.
In 1975 Michael V. W. Gordon left his position as District Director of Music for the Bedford –Stuyvesant district, Brooklyn, NY to become Professor of Music in the IU School of Music. That same year Gordon was appointed as the first Director of the Afro-American Choral Ensemble, and worked with assistant director Mellonee Burnim to forge this new addition to the AAAI. Gordon left the Choral Ensemble and AAAI after that inaugural year, but remained at IU until his retirement. While maintaining his music faculty position, Gordon served from 1981 to 1991 as IU’s Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students. He retired and was awarded the Professor Emeritus title in 2001.
Gordon is well known as a speaker and clinician and has published articles in professional journals and other publications. In 1976, during his tenure as Professor of Music, he sang the role of Porgy in IU Opera Theatre’s production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. He continued to perform the role of Porgy with a traveling company throughout the mid-west as well as in concert with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Gordon still manages to perform as a choral conductor and baritone soloist with symphony orchestras and opera companies in the United States and abroad.
After more than forty years of teaching, he has found new ways of dealing with learning and teaching in the arts in his retirement years. He was one of the original founders of the National Black Music Caucus (now called the National Association for the Preservation and Performance of African American Music), which for many years was an affiliate organization of the Music Educators National Conference He served as its National President from 1978-1981. He received the B.S. in Music from Virginia State University, Master of Music from The Cleveland Institute of Music, Masters and Doctorate of Education from Columbia University's Graduate School of Education, Teachers College. Gordon is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
In 1975, AAAI founder Herman C. Hudson initiated efforts to establish a third ensemble, a choral music group, to add to the AAAI’s already established performance entities, IU Soul Revue and Afro-American Dance Company. Hudson recruited Mellonee Burnim to accomplish this task. During her first year Burnim, an IU graduate student in Ethnomusicology at the time, served as assistant director and worked with director Michael Gordon to get the Afro-American Choral Ensemble off the ground. In 1976 she took over the director post, and moved full-time into her academic appointment in the Department of Afro-American Studies. As Choral Ensemble director, Burnim developed the ensemble into an academic course that provided students with opportunities to experience the breadth of choral music genres that evolved from the Black experience. Under her directorship the Choral Ensemble served as the chorus in the IU Opera Theatre’s 1976 and 1980 productions of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Mellonee Burnim is currently a professor and director of undergraduate studies in IU’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture, and adjunct professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. She is one of the world’s leading authorities on African American music with a particular emphasis on gospel music. She began performing at an early age and by the age of 12 served as a pianist for choirs in three local churches. She is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of North Texas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education with an emphasis on choral music. After a few years of teaching middle school choirs, Burnim chose to further her education by pursing a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1980, and while serving as Afro-American Choral Ensemble director, she earned her doctorate at IU in ethnomusicology, writing her dissertation on black gospel music as a symbol of ethnicity.
Mellonee Burnim is currently Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and director of that department’s undergraduate studies program. She is also Director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture, and adjunct professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at IU. She is one of the world’s leading authorities on African American music with a particular emphasis on gospel music. She began performing at an early age and by the age of 12 served as a pianist for choirs in three local churches. She is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of North Texas, where she earned a bachelor's degree in music education with an emphasis on choral music. After a few years of teaching middle school choirs, Burnim chose to further her education by pursing a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1980, and while serving as director of the Afro-American Choral Ensemble, she earned her doctorate at IU in ethnomusicology, writing her dissertation on black gospel music as a symbol of ethnicity.
Burnim has been a consultant for the Smithsonian Institution American Folklife Festival. Prestigious institutions have recognized her contributions as a researcher and educator, including Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music, where she served as the first Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethnomusicology and Ritual Studies in 2004. As a performer-scholar Burnim has done fieldwork and led workshops on African American religious music across the United States, as well as in Cuba, Liberia, and Malawi. Her writings on African American religious music and theoretical issues in ethnomusicology appear in a number of edited volumes and journals, including Ethnomusicology, The Western Journal of Black Studies, and the Music Educator’s Journal, among others. Burnim is co-editor, with Portia Maultsby, of African American Music: An Introduction. She also remains an active musician. She has served as the minister of music for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and Fairview United Methodist churches in Bloomington, as well as a number of church choirs of various denominations across the United States.
While a doctoral student in music education at IU, John Williams served as interim director of the Afro-American Choral Ensemble in spring semester of 1983. A former choral director Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, Williams focused his graduate study on voice and African American music. While a student he played the role of Crown in the IU Opera Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess in 1976. A dedicated music teacher and gifted vocalist, after leaving IU Williams returned to his position Director of Choral Activities at Paine College, and later became and Music Coordinator for the Charleston County School District. He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
In 1983 James E. Mumford became Director of the Afro-American Choral Ensemble (changed to (African American Choral Ensemble during Mumford’s directorship), and devoted 23 years building upon the foundation established by those before him, and growing the "ACE" legacy national recognition.
Mumford joined the AAAI staff as a graduate associate instructor with the IU Soul Revue, eventually becoming the Revue’s director from 1981 to 1984. During his last year with the Revue he took on the Choral Ensemble as an additional responsibility, a responsibility that moved him completely into his area of focus, vocal music. As director, Mumford expanded the ensemble repertoire to include gospel group selection, performed by three gospel groups that emerged under his leadership: Sojourner, Soul-ACE, and God’s Progress.
Mumford received his Ph.D. in Music Education, with concentrations in voice and ethnomusicology, from the IU School of Music. While a student appeared in the IU Opera Theatre’s productions of Porgy and Bess: as Crab Man, Crown, and Frazier in 1976, and Crown in 1980.
His dissertation on Black music allowed the opportunity to draw upon years of successful teaching, early on in the Camden, New Jersey school system, and eventually in his ensemble classrooms at IU. Excellence in teaching has been a hallmark of Mumford’s career and the success that resulted form his work with students. In 1992 he was inducted into IU’s prestigious Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET). A documentary illustrating Mumford’s teaching methodology, "What’s a Teacher For? The Nurturing No-Nonsense Classroom," is distributed through Films Media Group: Films for the Humanities & Sciences.
Under Mumford’s direction the Choral Ensemble received performance invitations across the Mid-West and East Coast. The ensemble appeared as guest chorus with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Northwest Symphony Orchestra of Merrillville, Indiana. Mumford composed several works premiered the Choral Ensemble, including Sojourner Truth: Choral Portraits, Black Nativity and Ebon-One.
Mumford was the inaugural recipient of the Black History Month Trailblazer Award. The Trailblazer Award was created by the City of Bloomington Black History Month Committee to honor individuals who are especially meaningful to many African Americans in Bloomington. "Strides made by Dr. Mumford and others like him have opened doors that have created opportunities for so many that have come after them," Safe and Civil City Director Beverly Calender-Anderson said. "This is one way of saying thank you." James E. Mumford retired in 2006 and at the time gained professor emeritus status.
Keith D. McCutchen brought his diverse musical background to IU in 2006 to serve the African American Choral Ensemble’s director, while continuing graduate student toward a doctor of music and choral conducting. As a composer, arranger, pianist and choral director, Keith McCutchen has received numerous commissions and grants for his religious choral music as well as his original jazz compositions and arrangements. Under a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1998, McCutchen was commissioned to write a composition combining the elements of gospel and jazz. The composition is entitled "Spiritual Medley", the piece, written for a community choir in Kentucky, was accompanied by legendary jazz artists, including pianist Kenny Barron, the late saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Richard Davis, and Carl Allen on drums.
As a jazz pianist, McCutchen has performed with such artists as Mel Torme, Doc Severinson, Diane Schurr, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Eric Gravatt. Several well-known choral groups have recorded his compositions: The American Spiritual Ensemble, The St. Olaf Choir (Anton Armstrong, director), The St. Olaf Gospel Choir, trumpeter Michael Suman, and the Twin Cities Gospel Choir. McCutchen’s choral works are available through Earthsongs Publishing, and he has also completed commissions for The University of St. Thomas and VocalEssence. Keith McCutchen has traveled and performed internationally as a pianist and arranger with the American Spiritual Ensemble, and as a cruise ship musical director. This fall, McCutchen will be travelling to Brazil to conduct the Camerata Antiqua de Curitiba in a concert of the music of North America.
McCutchen is now a faculty member at the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University, where he serves as the Director of the ASU Gospel Choir, Men’s Glee Club and the Jazz Vocal Ensemble. Keith received his Masters of Music in Choral Conducting from the University of Minnesota and is currently completing his Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music.