Wendell Whalum, a choral music legend
Wendell P. Whalum
*Wendell P. Whalum was born on this date in 1931. He was an African American gospel musician, educator and minister.
Wendell Phillips Whalum was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the third of five children of the late Thelma T. and H. David Whalum. When he was a very young boy, his musical talent, which was nurtured by his parents, was evident. He played for Avery Chapel A.M.E. Church, Central Baptist Church and Providence A.M.E. Church, all located in his hometown. In 1948, Whalum graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1952, the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1953, and the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Iowa in 1965. The University of Haiti conferred upon him the Doctor Honoris Causa in 1968.
After joining the faculty of Morehouse College in the fall of 1953, Dr. Whalum was appointed Director of the Morehouse College Glee Club, which earned national and international acclaim during his thirty-four years of leadership. In spite of numerous attractive offers of positions at major college and universities, he chose to remain at Morehouse where he spent his entire professional career and achieved an enviable record as a professor, director of both Band and Glee Club, Chairman of the Music Department, and Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Music. He was elected Faculty Representative to the Morehouse Board of Trustees and the National Alumni Association. He was also a Merrill Faculty Travel-Study Grant Abroad recipient and a Danforth Fellow.
Dr. Whalum achieved international recognition as teacher, organist, conductor, musicologist, arranger, composer, author and lecturer; and he traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad. In Bonn, Germany, he studied the origin and the intricate construction of the pipe organ. He performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as an organ soloist in 1968, and he prepared the chorus for the world premier of the opera in 1972. During that same year, he took the Glee Club on a State Department tour of five countries in West and East Africa. He also prepared the Morehouse College Glee Club and the Atlanta University Center Community Chorus for numerous appearances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and he conducted at major music centers, including the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. Through his involvement in and contributions to the community, Dr. Whalum reached legendary fame. He organized and directed the Atlanta University Center Community Chorus and was co-director of the Morehouse-Spelman Chorus.
Because he was always extremely interested in quality church music, he accepted positions as organist-choirmaster for several Atlanta churches: Providence Baptist Church; Allen Temple A.M.E. Church, at which he was a member and trustee; Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Friendship Baptist Church, where he was serving at the time of his passing. He was constantly selected as a music consultant, as a member of evaluation committees, as a conductor or workshops, and as a lecturer throughout the United States and abroad. He held memberships on advisory boards of numerous music and civic organizations. Dr. Whalum created an immense variety of musical arrangements and published numerous articles and chapters in publications.
He was known more for his scholarship in the area of hymnody, Negro spirituals, and anthems. In 1972 he worked with the world premiere of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha. Dr. Whalum was the choral director for this production where many rehearsals took place at Morehouse College. The first orchestration of that work was done by Dr. T. J. Anderson who was the first African American artist in residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and on the music faculty at Morehouse College at that time.
Whalum was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, American Guild of Organists, National Humanities Faculty, National Society of Literature and the Arts, Music Educators National Conference, Georgia Folklore Society, Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and the Intercollegiate Musical Council. He possessed the rare mixture of intellect, common sense and humility. Dr. Wendell Whalum died June 9, 1987 in Atlanta, GA.
An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage
by Marvin Andrew McMickle
Judson Press, Copyright 2002
Choral Director and Music Professor, Anton Armstrong talks about the uniqueness that separates choral music from other genres