Throughout Homecoming Weekend, approximately 100 alumni of a groundbreaking campus musical group rekindled joy and hope and resurrected the message of faith and love that distinguished it during a turbulent time in history.
The Eastern Kentucky University Ensemble was established in 1968 to spread the Gospel message in song and fellowship. As it celebrated its 48th anniversary, however, it was not just looking back.
This reunion was about what one organizer called “the event, the rebirth and scholarship.”
Russell Behanan, Louisville, a member of the group in its first four years, said the event was simply all the activities planned for the weekend: rehearsals, a performance of the national anthem at the Homecoming football game, meals, memorial service for deceased members and a free Saturday nighr concert.
“The rebirth,” he added, “is simply the continuation of the Ensemble as a real support for students. It has not been active for about three years.”
Finally, the reunion will serve as the impetus for helping future students achieve their own educational dreams.
“Scholarship is a big part of our vision,” Behanan said, “as we want to regularly fund the Dr. William and Marion Berge Scholarship as well as an Ensemble foundation. We hope to raise funds each year, with a goal of raising $100,000 over a period of time.”
Dr. Berge, a long-time history professor who passed away in 2012, was the Ensemble’s first faculty adviser and fondly remembered for fostering racial harmony on campus. The scholarship that honors the Berges was established to assist deserving African American students at Eastern.
One of the founding student members of the Ensemble, Reginald Walters, went on to a distinguished career in music and was inducted into the University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni earlier this year. Walters joined with a classmate, Paul Eric Abercrombie, to launch the group almost a half-century ago. “We knew it would probably house mostly African American students,” Walters recalled, “but would help unify us.”
Walters remembered Berge and then-President Robert R. Martin as “true lights and inspirations for all of us.”
The same could be said of the Ensemble. In fact, as the group toured throughout the South and Midwest, it became a formidable recruiting tool for the University.
Donna Kenney, a long-time EKU employee who was a member of the group in the mid-1970s, remembers making Admissions recruiting trips far from Richmond where prospective students would ask about the Ensemble, which traveled widely to perform during church worship services.
The group “was well known and well respected,” she said, recalling one Black Youth Gospel Explosion in Atlanta where the EKU Ensemble was the largest choral ensemble performing.
The hope that permeated the Ensemble’s members and their performances was contagious, Kenney said, spreading to appreciative audiences. But the members themselves were perhaps the biggest beneficiaries.
“The Ensemble was our worship vehicle away from home,” Kenney recalled, “and our connection to God and our spiritual values.”