Almost 16 years ago, a 12-year-old girl worked her way backstage at the annual Church of God in Christ (COGIC) AIM hosted at the L.A. Convention Center inching closer and closer to the choir stand where a seat was waiting for her, her sister, and her cousin, in the Soprano section. And just as she was about to enter the stand, a large, lovely woman appeared and the girl looked up, said hello, and introduced herself. The woman grabbed her, hugged her, and said, "Do you know who your mother is?" The girl's mother had been quite a notable singer back in the day and the woman had had the opportunity to work with her several times. That little girl was me. And that large, lovely woman was Dr. Iris Stevenson.
What I did not know when I saw her was that I was staring into the face of a Gospel music legend.
Unfortunately, Dr. Stevenson has found herself in the news recently for very different reasons. She has been suspended from her 30-year post as the Crenshaw High School Choir Director until further notice.
She took her award-winning choir on a trip unsanctioned by the school, yet with the full support of the students' parents, and for that she is being punished. The community is in an outrage and just Friday, gathered outside of the high school at 7am to show their support. They want Dr. Stevenson reinstated immediately.
"The removal from her classroom was unwarranted and unjust, but she needs to return to her rightful place," a former Elite Choir member and Crenshaw High student, Vanity Brown said.
Civil Rights activist, Celes King IV stated, "This community is in outrage over it." The Los Angeles School District removed Stevenson at the end of 2013 and King feels that Professor Stevenson is being suspended (with pay) because she took the students to perform in france as well as to the White House for President Obama.
King said, "The parents decided that they wanted their children to take this trip. When they returned to Los Angeles, Ms. Stevenson was told that she was persona non grata on the campus of Crenshaw High School and she was to report to teacher jail."
"France, Austria, Belgium, Korea, Spain," Dr. Stevenson said. "In every country, we sing in that particular language."
The, again, award-winning choir is no stranger to "globetrotting trips." They were featured as the choir behind Latin pop star, Enrique Iglesias, at the 2011 American Music Awards. Professor Stevenson's musical direction is so well-known, that she was the inspiration for Whoopi Goldberg's high-school-choir-directing role in the popular 90s movie, Sister Act II: Back in Habit. In fact, it was Dr. Stevenson who taught the young actors her classic arrangement of "Joyful, Joyful."
But Dr. Stevenson's musical accolades reach back much further. She has risen to prominence over the years in the COGIC, the largest black protestant denomination in the world. A well-known choir director known for her uncanny musical abilities and foot-stomping, hand-clapping, roof-raising, Jesus-praising renditions of classic hymns, spirituals, and other Christian/Gospel songs.
HuffPost Impact's Rob Cipriano describes his first meeting with Dr. Stevenson as such: "I was ushered into a large room with 50 high school students. The good doctor sat me in a front row seat as she called them each to the make-shift stage. 'Silence,' she said. At this moment, she raised her arms and the heavens opened up with the most beautiful music I had ever heard....The sound of angels filled every square inch of space. JJ looked over at me and just smiled. She stood and joined them singing Joyful Joyful. My heart was touched and remained held for a lifetime." In his words, she "changed my life forever."
PRWeb reported that in 2002, Bishop Marvin L. Winans of the legendary Winans family, presided over the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame (IGMHM) as Master of Ceremonies in which Dr. Stevenson was inducted among other internationally known psalmists such as Kurt Carr, Take 6, and others.
In short, if LAUSD kicks out Dr. Stevenson, they can kiss their choir's award-winning status good-bye.
King will be taking up that case since Dr. Stevenson holds her peace. In the meantime, the LAUSD will continue their reassignment and investigation of the professor. In a recent press release, the school district referred to the situation as a "personnel matter" and maintain their confidentiality.
Watch a video of the news story on KABC-TV.