PAA Gospel Choir Participates in Black History Month at WWU
By Gary McLain

Did you know? There are usually only 3 parts in a gospel choir—soprano, alto and tenor.
For more than twenty years. Walla Walla University Church has set aside the first Sabbath in February to honor and celebrate the history of African Americans. This “Black History Sabbath” takes part in prayer, spoken word, and traditional African American style song.
Drechelle McCray is head of the English department at Portland Adventist Academy (PAA), as well as student body sponsor, and director of PAA’s Gospel Choir.
Drechelle had a passion on her heart to bring a different style of music to PAA and to share another type of worship with the students. The PAA Gospel Choir started in 2010 under Drechelle’s direction. They began with 9 members and no pianist. The second year, they acquired a student musician, Zac White who accompanied them on the piano for the next four years. When Zac graduated, Brent Kight, another PAA student, accompanied the choir for the next two years. (These two musicians are now attending Walla Walla University.) Eight years have passed since those first 9 teens began singing and there are now 62 students in the choir. A local pianist, Joyce Smith, currently accompanies the Gospel Choir.
“I love music and love praising God,” says Drechelle. “And when students tell me they find joy in it as well, it just gives me affirmation. There have been times when I wanted to stop directing the choir because of trials, but I’m not going to stop until God tells me to stop.”
The teenagers participate because they love it and want to be a part of something different. Everyone involved in the choir volunteer their talents. They don’t get credit for it. They practice during one of their lunches each week, and the only funding they receive is if someone donates directly to the choir.
You may ask what the difference is between the two choirs on campus? Mainly the genre. According to, gospel comes from the Old English god meaning “good” and spel meaning “news.” Good News is used in reference to Jesus Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. –Usually a kind of Christian music based on American folk music.
This year, Walla Walla University invited PAA’s Gospel Choir to participate in Black History Weekend at the Walla Walla University Church that took place February 3 and 4. They arrived on Friday evening and began practicing with another smaller group for some performances together as one large choir under the direction of Dr. Wayne Buckner and Dr. Andrew Young. These gentlemen are well known for their contribution to music through composing and directing both within and without the Adventist church. It was a true treasure for the teens to have this experience. The students surprised themselves on how quickly and how well they learned the five new songs in such a short amount of time. They had the opportunity to praise God through music, at the Walla Walla University Church, during the eleven o’clock hour and in the evening at the Total Praise concert.
When asked what impact this weekend had on them, students responded with a variety of answers.
“I learned how to be more flexible. I didn’t know that we were learning new songs and we had to learn them very fast, but I learned that being flexible and trying something new was fun.” ~ Morgan J., junior
“This experience was my first gospel choir trip and I got to see the way it touches others. It really changed my perspective on gospel music.” ~ Alex T., senior
“I learned how big of an appreciation I have for gospel music. To me this experience meant a lot because we drew closer together as a choir, and I started talking to more people.” Ulani B., freshman
“I think it was a great honor to be able to sing and praise God with so many other people and for such a special occasion.” ~ Rachelle S., sophomore
Drechelle’s prayer for the gospel choir students: “I hope they take a passion and love for music with them and know that the words they sing are coming from scripture. You never know whose life you may touch with the words that you express to the audiences you sing to. It may be encouraging words that help someone through a difficult time in their life.”
The next PAA Gospel Choir Concert will be April 21st at the Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portland.