What began as a one-time choir performance featuring girls from North Memphis has – four years later – become a thriving youth program offering music education for neighborhood girls.
What was supposed to be a one-time choir performance spawned a bi-weekly gathering at a permanent space in Bickford Community Center for mentoring and music education. And there was another byproduct – an American Idol contestant in the show’s final season last year.
Founder and Executive Director (as well as Fundraising and Performance Advisor) Jill Dyson has been on the worship team for 15 years at Hope Church and on the church’s women’s ministry team for ten.
Angel Street became an official subsidiary of Hope Church’s Oasis of Hope which had already been operating in the neighborhood for 12 years.
Angel Street is available to girls ages eight to 18. Auditions are held at the beginning of every fall semester. Dyson recruits from Humes Middle School, Manassas High School, KIPP Memphis Collegiate School, and Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School.
For the general public, private guitar and piano lessons are available every Saturday year round.
Angel Street Choir Director Angela Hyde begins rehearsal with students in the program
Dyson said the program started with 11 girls the first year and 22 girls the next year. Fifty girls were recruited last year, with more than half of them remaining active in the program currently. Dyson said the goal next year is to recruit 75 girls, in order to end up with about 50 active students.
The group is intentional in starting with girls at a younger age to build longevity with the program. Through its correlation to music education, higher education is stressed.
“We’re not a charity; we’re equity builders,” Dyson said.
Curriculum includes basic music education, songwriting, team building, art projects and other activities, performance opportunities, and live studio recording. During the fall and spring semester the girls participate in two to three big performances.
On Mondays and Thursdays during the school year during the spring, Angel Street staff bring donated Halo oranges from moms across the city to students at the feeder schools as a small treat (whether or not they are a part of the group), as well as a reminder for practice after school that evening. During the fall months, staff members bring Pink Lady apples.
And if a girl needs help with transportation, she can call a number on a sticker provided to make sure she can get to the community center.
Since its inception, Angel Street has been active only during the school year, but this year summer programming was added. Dyson said during the summer the staff has focused on developing better relationships with students. The group provides “a safe environment for sharing.”
During a recent summer outing, staff and the girls attended a Levitt Shell concert, where the organization was spotlighted.
Middle and high school aged girls, who are typically more advanced musically, can audition to be a part of the crew. Students in the crew are considered leadership; they can volunteer to work with the community and younger students, plus learn more advanced music theory, harmonies and movement. Dyson would like to eventually have 12 girls eligible to be crew members. These girls will be eligible for the Angel Street scholarships once they become seniors.
Terrian Bass was one of the active students in Angel Street early on and she now mentors current students.
Bass joined Angel Street in its first year when she was a senior in high school. She has since gone on to compete on American Idol and received an Angel Street book scholarship for her studies at Visible Music College.
Her first single, “I am Free,” is scheduled to be released on August 8.
“By the time (Angel Street) became a non-profit, I had already graduated high school,” Bass said. “So, I became a mentor and vocal coach. I am very glad there was still a place for me there. It's been a great journey so far, and I've received many opportunities through the program. Through Angel Street I went to Germany to lead worship alongside Jill, I have had the opportunities of traveling to and from Nashville to write and record, and it's how I became a part of front line at Hope (Church). Everything else has stemmed from my involvement with this program, and I have no doubt it's doing the same for the other girls.”
Dyson said that one of the important parts of Angel Street is listening to students in the program and learning from their feedback.
“So many times youth programs don’t focus on the needs on the youth we’re supposed to be supporting,” she added.
Dyson, the girls, and the other Angel Street staff are preparing to perform for the opening ceremonies of Habitat for Humanity’s 2016 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project on August 21. From August 21 through 27 volunteers will work with 19 homeowner families to build new homes in the area of Uptown called Bearwater Park, as well as conduct 10 beautification projects and six Aging in Place projects for seniors.
Support for this story was provided in part by the Memphis Music Initiative; it is part of a series highlighting the impact and importance of music on the community in neighborhoods across Memphis.