BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir will be honored during the City of Birmingham’s AWAKEN 2023 event Oct. 27.

According to the City of Birmingham, the community is invited to celebrate the group who sang inspiring freedom songs during Birmingham’s civil and human rights movement. The free event will start at 10 a.m. at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Attendees must register for the event, which they can do so here.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth recognized in July 1959, while leading the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the need to incorporate music into his effort to rally the community. He commissioned Mamie Brown Mason and Nims Gray, who established the ACMHR Choir with singers from Birmingham.

The following year, the choir embraced Carlton Reese, a talented young musician who made an immediate impact and composed freedom songs that epitomized the civil and human rights movement.

“It has been long due for this historic choir to be celebrated by our community,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a release. “Carlton Reese’s legacy lives on through this amazing choir and his timeless songs serve as the soundtrack to Birmingham’s movement. We invite everyone to join us and become a part of something truly special.” 

The October AWAKEN 2023 event is set to showcase the Miles College Gospel Choir and Carver-Hudson Combined Choir with veteran journalist Art Franklin providing narration. The City of Birmingham’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity is arranging the event.

The Carlton Reese Memorial Union Choir is composed of singers from around Birmingham, from 30 years old to above 80. Members include retired people, educators, administrators, bankers, musicians, clergy, engineers, nurses, teachers and students. The choir is led by Eloise Ford Gaffney, an original ACMHR member, and Patricia H. Reese, board president and wife of Carlton Reese.

“We sang for the cause of freedom every night during really critical times,” Gaffney said in a release. “The Carlton Reese group gets great joy in sharing our experiences and stories with young students and encouraging them to be all that they can be.”