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Some 60 choir members from Toronto and Virginia will join in an international concert here Saturday that has historic ties to the Underground Railroad.

"This is one of the most important events the Lewiston Council on the Arts has ever staged," said Eva Nicklas, the council's artistic director. "It's a musical Underground Railroad."

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale from Toronto will perform with Virginia's Hampton University Concert Choir at 8 p.m. in First Presbyterian Church, 505 Cayuga St., in a concert called "Voices of Freedom, Spirits of Joy."

The two choirs are connected to this area and to each other through history, Nicklas explained.

The Hampton College Choir visited Lewiston in 1887 to pay tribute to Josiah Tryon, a Lewiston abolitionist who led slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

The Toronto choir was founded three years ago to celebrate the work of Nathaniel Dett, a gifted black musician and descendant of freed slaves.

Born in Drummondville, Ont., Dett moved to Niagara Falls, N.Y., as teenager and in the 1920s became the musical director at Hampton College, Va.

This is the first time the two choirs have been together on stage. Led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, director of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, and Hampton's Royzell Dillard, the vocalists and musicians will draw on classical jazz and the traditional Negro spiritual made famous by Nathaniel Dett.

Of the two choir directors, Nicklas said, "Their hearts are bursting to be able to share the same stage and to celebrate the works of Nathaniel Dett."

First Presbyterian Church holds 600 people and, judging by adance ticket sales, is expected to be filled for the concert, she said.

"People have a need to hear this kind of uplifting spiritual music, especially in these troubled times," Nicklas said.

The Lewiston Council on the Arts credited Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls, for leading a drive to obtain a grant from Empire State Development Corp. to put on the concert.

The two choirs will give a repeat performance on the Canadian side of the border at 8 p.m. next Sunday in the Niagara Falls, Ont., Collegiate Auditorium, Epworth Circle.


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