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Pictured are members of the United Voices of Western Inspirational Singers gospel choir.
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UVOWIS Founder and Director Alphonso Simpson is pictured with the choir and with gospel innovator and ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones, host of the "Bobby Jones Presents" television show.
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UVOWIS has been chosen for the Thomas Andrew Dorsey Hall of Fame, the first collegiate gospel choir in the country to achieve such an honor.
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WIU UVOWIS Gospel Choir Honored for Excellence

April 27, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – Western Illinois University's gospel choir, the United Voices of Western Inspirational Singers (UVOWIS), has gathered two prestigious honors this semester from gospel music greatness.

The singers are a 45-member student organization founded and directed by WIU Liberal Arts and Sciences Chair Alphonso Simpson. UVOWIS will perform songs based on this semester's theme of "Friend Request" at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29 at Macomb's Wesley United Methodist Church. The event is open free to the public and doors open at 6 p.m.

In recent weeks, UVOWIS was invited to sing for the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (NCGCC) at its meeting in Chicago, the birthplace of gospel music.

"This was an honor in itself," said Simpson. "Of all of the collegiate gospel choirs they could ask, they chose Western."

It was during this event that Simpson was surprised to learn UVOWIS had been chosen for the Thomas Andrew Dorsey Hall of Fame, the first collegiate gospel choir in the country to achieve such an honor.

"They said they were adopting our choir as a Dorsey Choir," said Simpson. "They told us we are making history and they offered to support us in any way they can. The NCGCC is an organization with many gospel greats and contemporary gospel music artists as members."

The award was presented by Geoffrey Golden, a gospel artist signed with RCA Inspiration Records and winner of season seven of BET's "Sunday Best."

Earlier this semester, UVOWIS was also invited to perform at an event in Davenport, IA, which was hosted by gospel innovator and ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones, former host of "The Bobby Jones Show" on the BET network. Simpson said Jones approached him immediately after the show and invited the WIU students to perform on his new show "Bobby Jones Presents," on the IMPACT network in April.

Although scheduling could not be worked out, the choir is expected to travel to Nashville, TN, during the 2018-19 academic year to perform live on the show.

"It was an honor to be asked to perform on his new television show; for a collegiate gospel choir to be asked," he said. "Bobby Jones has big names on his show and of all choirs, he wants Western's gospel choir."

When the members of UVOWIS perform around the United States, they also recruit potential new students to Western. Simpson said students have transferred to WIU after seeing UVOWIS perform and deciding they wanted to be a part of the choir.

In the history of the choir, which began in 2006, Simpson said there have been a total of more than 550 members.

"Our students are still members, even after they graduate," he said. "Several alumni come out whenever we perform."

Simpson has directed gospel choirs in Missouri and Wyoming. When he came to Western, he directed the Heritage Ensemble through the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center. The Heritage Ensemble is a University course, founded by the late Professor Emeritus Rudy Whomack, to preserve the history of the spiritual, anthems, jazz show tunes from the African American tradition.

When Simpson arrived at Western he decided to form a choir dedicated strictly to the preservation of gospel music. He wanted everyone to be involved, so "United" was included in the name.

In the past, there have been several faculty and staff members of all races who have participated. Faculty members currently participating in the choir also serve as co-advisors, and include Curriculum and Instruction Assistant Professor Ty Jiles, Academic Advisor Sharon Hunter and Counselor Tyra Steverson.

Simpson said all practices are a capella, and he transcribes and teaches the music to the students in the tradition of Dr. Thomas Andrew Dorsey.

"The choir practices the rote methodology. I sing it to them and they sing it back to me," he said. "There are no auditions and what's magical is the students come in and find a place – when their voices blend together it's amazing."

Simpson said UVOWS is a "jewel in the crown of Western."

For more information about UVOWIS, visit or on Facebook.

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing