In early 2013, I researched and invited two vocal groups based in Flint, Michigan to perform for the public and each other at an unconventional place, outdoors at Chevy-in-the-Hole, the now defunct Flint-Chevy auto production facility in downtown Flint. I asked each group in advance to choose songs from their repertoire in reaction to memory and thoughts about the place.
Special note: this event was held a year before Flint began using water from the local river (which runs adjasent to the site of performance). However, the current ongoing water crisis was set into motion just days before this event, when Flint formally ended its agreement to source water from Detroit.
In the two concert excerpts below, The Flint City Wide Choir sings “There Is No Way I Can Live Without You”, and the Flint Male Chorus sings “To The Sky” in reverse, dedicated to all past members and to their long-time director, Jack Ewing, who passed away several years ago.
The Flint Male Chorus is directly descended from the company-era Chevrolet-Flint Male Chorus of the Chevrolet Manufacturing Division originally located at the site, and the Flint City Wide Choir is an interdenominational group from more than 50 churches across Flint. Many of the performers worked at the car factory years ago, or have family and friends who did. As of now, the site is open to the elements, a cemented lot with weeds framing the downtown Flint skyline. The title of the social performance, Happy Valley, is a past name of the Flint-Chevy site used while factories were in full production.
A few weeks before the event, directors from each vocal group visited each other’s rehearsals, and during the hour-long performance, the chorus and choir sang separately and then together. The event was emotionally moving for everyone involved. I videotaped during the performance, and a few months later produced a DVD and sent copies to more than seventy performance participants.
Made famous by Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me, Flint, Michigan suffers from an outdated reputation, much like where I live, in the Bronx. In reality there is life in Flint, and talent. Happy Valley brought everyone together to synthesize something new out of these legacies.
The social performance also demonstrated American forms of cultural and racial separation. Despite working in a similar field in a small city, the choir and chorus directors had not met each other before. The Flint City Wide Choir, rehearsing in Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, is largely Black and sings to uplift the name of Jesus. The Flint Male Chorus focuses on secular musical numbers and American classics and its members are all white. The title of the performance, Happy Valley, can be read as institutional critique of the current state of things. Regardless, local television, newspapers, and the mayor characterized the event as happy — a step forward and vision for the future.
Special thanks to Sis. Delores Roberts and Sis. LaDon McNeil of the Flint City Wide Choir, Matt Packer of the Flint Male Chorus, Jerome Chou of the Flint Public Art Project, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, Moderator Lewis Randolf, and especially all participating performers.
Happy Valley was an advance event of the Free City Public Art Festival, organized by Laura Napier and produced by Flint Public Art Project in affiliation with Flint Institute of Arts with support from ArtPlace.