Reunion: 100 Men in Black
The 100 Men in Black chorus has spent the past 12 years becoming a Durham institution. The all-male chorus of mostly African-American men and youths has performed in tuxedos at churches, at Duke Chapel, at the holiday Lucky Strike Tower lighting, at Hayti Heritage Center, at sporting events and abroad, too.
Some men may have moved on geographically, but kept their connection to a group where they value the fellowship as much as the music. On Saturday, 100 Men in Black will have a reunion concert at Hillside High School which is also a fundraiser for scholarships.
Among the 100 Men in Black alumni returning for the concert is Checo Rorie, now a biology professor at N.C. A&T State University. A decade ago, Rorie was working on his doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill and attending Orange Grove Baptist Church, where Men in Black founder and director Marlon West previously served as music minister. Rorie usually sat in back at church, but MIB changed that. His wife, Tiarra, a dentist who was then his girlfriend and also in grad school, urged him to join. Beyond the music, Rorie loves the fellowship of 100 Men in Black.
“It’s a chance to sit around and everyone’s on the same page. There’s positivity,” he said. They go around and fill each other in on what’s happening in their lives. When West asked Rorie, who now lives in Greensboro, to come back for the reunion concert, Rorie said, “Absolutely.” He’ll be the soloist on the song “Just to Say Thank You” by The Williams Brothers. It’s a song he sang with the choir years ago.
“The message is very powerful. They lyrics talk about worldly events and people going through trials and tribulations. … The song is saying thank you for small things,” Rorie said.
Mario Bonner moved to Washington, D.C., but is still dedicated to 100 Men in Black.
“The music is one thing and I love to sing and love the subject of our music. But fellowship with the guys is most important. We uplift others, but also each other,” Bonner said. As they are mostly African-American men, it’s also important to be role models to the younger members. “We show that we can be an inspiration all over the world,” he said.
Bonner will be featured on “His Glory.” Just the little faith of a mustard seed can get you through, he said, referring to the Bible verses.
“What I do for other people through that song is something that radiates from [God] through me,” Bonner said. “His glory is something you can’t touch and see but encourages you.”
Another alum performing in the reunion concert is Marichal Gentry, who sang with Men in Black in 2003. He is now dean of students at Yale University.
“Though the music, singing, and fellowship appealed to me, the idea of service to others was essential to my continued participation in 100 MIB,” Gentry said. “The group’s engagement in community service is not merely paying lip service, but is true service in action.” This reunion concert is one example, he said.
West said they take pride in giving money for scholarships for young men. College scholarships will go to a Hillside student, choir members and their children. The concert Saturday at Hillside will feature a lot of traditional male gospel songs, a couple of a cappella songs, a few contemporary songs and a few that have a praise and worship feel, West said. They’ll also sing what he considers the chorus’ theme song, “Pass Me Not,” a hymn rearranged for gospel. Songs have personal meaning for the singers. West said Spencer Bridges will sing “God Has Done So Much For Me.” Bridges has overcome hurdles including a stroke and car accident, West said.
West said the reunion concert brings him back to memories of their humble beginnings that have expanded to youth mentoring and international travel.
“You think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are hoping to go,” he said. “I’d love to see this group on stages all across the world.” They recorded a single of the song “Don’t Let Me Go” by Luther Barnes, which will be available at the concert and on iTunes. About 115 men will sing in the chorus for the reunion concert.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: 100 Men in Black reunion concert
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Hillside High School
3727 Fayetteville St., Durham
TICKETS: $10 available at the door, by phone at 800-965-9324 or online at www.itickets.com/events/326709.html.
On Twitter: @dawnbvaughan