The Wichita Choir celebrates unity through song in Washington, DC

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – It has been less than two weeks since the ARISE Ensemble returned from Washington, DC National Memorial Day Choir Festival.

ARISE President Gerald Norwood said he hopes his choir and others attending the event could show the country through song what is possible when people unite.

“This opportunity that ARISE has this weekend is just a phenomenal opportunity to represent the United States as a combined force of voices,” he said.

The choir’s trip included a stop at the World War II Memorial, a free concert at the Kennedy Center honoring veterans and all branches of the military, and a performance at the opening ceremony of the National Memorial Day Parade. The group even met with members of Bethany College from Lindsborg, Kansas, who also attended the event.

Representative Susan Estes, along with Representative KC Ohaebosim, accompanied the group on a guided tour of the US Capitol. ARISE also visited landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Eisenhower Memorial, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

But it was at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial that ARISE did what they do best. Without a rehearsal, the group sang “One Nation, One Dream,” written by Wichita singer, songwriter and musician Cherrie Baldon. Conducted by alto Prisca Barnes, ARISE received applause and gratitude from other attendees there.

Before the end of the journey, ARISE stopped at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous restaurant known for its celebrity guests – and its chili. President-elect Barack Obama put Ben’s Chili at the top of DC restaurants when he and Mayor Adrian Fenty stopped by for a chili and sausage in 2009.

In 2022 ARISE should put its stamp on the famous restaurant. The chorus warmed the heart of owner Virginia Ali (her late husband, Ben Ali, founded Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958; he died in 2009). Ali couldn’t believe a choir from Wichita, Kan., had walked through their doors not only to partake in good food, but to share the good news.

Conducted by tenor Bryce Sund, the ARISE Ensemble sang “Fare Thee Well” followed by an encore of “Ain’t Got Time to Die” conducted by President Norwood. The building filled with clapping, singing and even shouts of joy as the combined voices of the choir echoed off walls filled with photos of famous actors, politicians and fellow musicians.

ARISE exited the restaurant sharing hugs and high fives with staff and customers who understood the value of their mission to preserve the spirituality of an enslaved people who used music as a secret communication and to chronicle their struggles, conflicts and victories.

To learn more about the ARISE Ensemble, visit

Copyright 2022 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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