By Rubin E. Grant
Special to The Times
DeZell Plump grew up singing in choirs.
“I always had a gift for it, and my parents stewarded it,” he said.
Plump sang in the Magic City Boys Choir, in Birmingham’s Carver High School choir and in choirs while he was a student at Alabama A&M University.
He figured his days of singing in a choir would be limited to church once he graduated from
Alabama A&M with a degree in biology with an emphasis on pre-med. He planned to enter dental school, but needed some money before he could take the dental exam to be admitted.
So he took a job as a long-term substitute teacher at Huffman High School in Birmingham, where his late father Alan Plump was a long-time educator and coach.
It was there DeZell Plump’s career path took a detour. “The Lord came to me and said ‘education,’” he said. “I’ve been teaching ever since. It’s been five years now.”
His decision to become a teacher eventually led him back to participating in choir. Except this time, it wasn’t as a singer, but as a choir director.
Following his stint at Huffman, Plump accepted a full-time job as a science teacher at Restoration Academy in Fairfield.
‘Lift Every Voice’
Ty Williams, the school’s director of development and community relations, knew of Plump’s musical background. In Plump’s second year at Restoration, Williams asked him to put together a group of students to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during one of the school’s monthly luncheons.
Plump agreed, but he went a step beyond what Williams asked. “I had them sing a three-part harmony,” he said.
The impressive rendition led to Plump and students being asked to sing during the school’s 2015 graduation ceremony. After the summer break, the school formed the Restoration Chorale with Plump as the director.
Plump, 27, certainly looks the part, almost as if he stepped out of GQ magazine. He’s always nattily attired, sporting a hip hairstyle, beard and bow tie.
“I love being able to give to the students a part of what was instilled in me, such as discipline, music and exposure,” Plump said. “I’ve had students who had never thought they could do music and they end up loving choir after being pushed to join by a friend.”
The chorale has grown from 18 students in its first year to 29 this year. Some of the more advanced singers comprise a 16-member chamber choir and there’s also the concert chorale that includes all of the singers. It practices in the school’s science lab.
Story Through Songs
Being in a school choir was not on the radar for some of the students, including choir president Devin Jones. He was in a music class, but his main interest was rap – until Plump took some students to an opera.
Jones became totally engaged in the operatic performance.
“I started listening to it,” he said. “It was about a sad clown who had to deal with the reality of getting older and still being a clown.
“I could feel the emotion and I could see how his story was told through the songs. It made me want to sing.”
Jones was so taken with the opera he became a founding member of Restoration’s chorale.
Ceon Agee joined the choir after Plump heard him singing in the hall.
“I love to sing, but I didn’t want to express my talent,” Agee said. “I would sing around the house and in the shower. I was in the hall singing different things when Mr. Plump came to me and said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to be in the choir.’ You can’t tell Mr. Plump no.”
Kennessy Grant always figured she was too shy to sing in a choir. “I was too scared to sing in front of people,” she said.
But she heard the choir practicing one day and mustered up the courage to join. Her shyness disappeared and twice she has sung solos during performances.
“The choir gave me confidence,” Grant said.
Reputation For Excellence
Restoration’s chorale primarily sings sacred choral music, but also has gospel, secular songs, and even jazz in its repertoire.
It has quickly gained a reputation for excellence. Last year, it competed in the Birmingham City Chorale festival and received a superior rating. Later in 2016, it traveled to Dothan to compete in the National Peanut Festival Choral Competition and again received superior as well as the Spirit of the Festival Award for their professionalism, discipline, and encouragement throughout the festival.
Next month, the Restoration Chorale will face its biggest challenge yet, competing for a national title in the prestigious St. Louis Heritage Festival April 6-9.
“It’s something I competed in when I was in the choir at Carver,” Plump said. “I remember it being my favorite competition, so I reached out to them. Plus, our principal, Mr. (Brian) Goessling, is a native of St. Louis, so that makes it even more special.”
The cost of trip is $30,000. Plump has set up a GoFundMe account to help with expenses.
Before its trip to St. Louis, the chorale will sing March 19 at Winewood Baptist Christian Fellowship Church during its 10 a.m. worship service and also on March 20 at 6 p.m. during Restoration’s fine arts show.
“The RA Chorale plans to continue to serve the Birmingham area and lift the hearts of many throughout the world,” Plump said.
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