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Local choir director unites voices

United Voices of Detroit Choir; Inset: Nina Scott

United Voices of Detroit Choir; Inset: Nina Scott

By Puakea Olaisha Anderson
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Outside of high school and college, there aren’t many opportunities for singers to sing in a choir. Nina Scott, renowned choir director, founded the United Voices of Detroit in 2009 in hopes of changing that.

“My students for years and years would graduate college or high school and come back and say, ‘Start a choir, I want to sing,’” Scott told the Michigan Citizen. “So in March of 2009, right before my retirement, my partner, Andrea Pruitt, and I began the choir.”

With over 45 members in her choir, the choir is actually comprised of two choirs: The United Voices of Detroit and the United Voices of Detroit Youth Ensemble.

Scott, who herself is a Mezzo Sorprano, says, “I have been singing since I was (2 years old) and I have directed choirs professionally for 43 years.”

A Mississippi native, Scott taught music at Renaissance High School for almost two decades.

Although the choir consists of more than 45 people, Scott mentions most of the time she directs only 30 members due to their schedules. “Many of my choir members and students receive scholarships and invitations to sing at other venues, which makes me smile. It’s a wonderful thing to watch,” said Scott.

The United Voices of Detroit range in age from 19-65. Its members, which Scott handpicks, come from all over.

“Most of the time, I know the voices of the people auditioning to sing in my choir, but if I don’t, they sing, I listen and we go from there. It’s more of an intake process,” Scott says.

Recently, the choir held a healthy competition with other choirs at The Detroit Spirit Festival, which was held Jan. 24-26 at Bushnell Congregational Church. The concert included high school choirs, college choirs, church choirs and community choirs.

“The festival was created so that people would come in for the weekend and focus on nothing but spirituals; no music was performed, just spirituals,” says Scott. “They learned how to sing Negro spirituals. We preserved and taught people how to sing the spiritual properly and to form a love for it for our youth.”

Soloists Lawrence Matthews and Iris Hankins also lent their voices. “It turned out to be a wonderful weekend,” said Scott. The United Voices of Detroit has been invited to various venues, the biggest being Carnegie Hall in New York in February 2010. There, they gave a solo performance and performed with a mass choir under director Jackie Harriston. The United Voices of Detroit sings different genres, from classical, gospel and popular music — with all African American composers.

“You get a wide variety of our music and the experience at Carnegie Hall was amazing,” said Scott.

Still, even with such notoriety, funding is a struggle, Scott says.

“We sell CDs to raise money and we get paid for the concerts we do. Many of the choir members contribute as well. It’s harder to raise money for adults opposed to children,” said Scott.

The United Voices of Detroit performs in April at the Warren Symphony. Scott enjoys watching crowds react to their music.

“Our motto is promoting in the community through music,” says Scott. “In our city, we are saturated and rich with artistic development. If we take away the arts in this city, it would be devastating.”

Contact Puakea Olaisha Anderson at


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