All the choirs of last year's competition

The X Factor of University Gospel Choirs returns to Croydon

The 12th annual University Gospel Choir of the Year (UGCY) competition returns to Oasis House, Croydon this Saturday.

This year, seven choirs hope to secure the coveted title and return to their universities victorious.

UGCY was birthed after its founder Lorraine Wright MBE was inspired by her favourite movie Sister Act 2 and discovered an opportunity to make the movie a reality.

Wright said: “I wanted to find a way to bring the community of gospel choirs at universities to celebrate their talents and let the world see their talents too.”

In 2022, Wright was awarded with an MBE for her longstanding service over the years in the space of music and with young people.

From growing up in Brixton, where she said you would be lucky to break out of the cycle of deprivation or avoid prison to now living in Croydon, Wright expressed the importance of this year’s finals being held at Oasis House.

Wright said: “Having the event in Croydon – the borough of culture, a phrase coined by by the Mayor, just makes a lot of sense.”

Lorraine Wright - the visionary behind the competition
Lorraine Wright (pictured in the middle) has received an MBE for longstanding service over the years in the space of music and with young people

Five well acclaimed names in the gospel scene have been commissioned to judge this year’s event.

This year’s judges include:

  • Karen Gibson MBE, founder of Kingdom Choir (BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year Judge),
  • Howard Francis, co-founder of The Big Sing,
  • Anu Omideyi, music festival and choir director
  • Russell Scott, founder of UK Choir Fest
  • Becca Folkes, renowned singer/songwriter

The event will be hosted by MOBO Award winning singer/songwriter and vocal coach Rachel Kerr.

Introducing a twist to this year’s competition, Wright’s team has drafted in Stephen Asamoah-Duah, drummer for international band The Compozers, to judge the choir’s bands for the first time ever.

Gibson, who is widely known for leading the choir at Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding, said she is excited and honoured to judge at this year’s competition.

Gibson said: “I’m looking for a full, rounded gospel sound and would like to hear clean articulation and blend.

“I would like to watch choirs who make me believe what they are singing about and would like to see energy and a choir that enjoys what they do.

“I will also be watching the choir conductor to see how they lead and should be able to hear their instructions in how the choir sings.”

The 2023 UGCY judges applaud the contestants
POWER IN THEIR HANDS: The 2023 UGCY judges applaud the contestants

Aspiring finalists had to submit a five-minute video to be shortlisted for this year’s competition.

Kent Gospel Choir president William Gisa said: “Honestly, we just want to perform excellently to the glory of God, everything else is just formality.

“We won last year and it was such a great and pivotal moment for us as a choir so why not have a great time again whether we win or not.

“I feel proud, not because I think we’re going to win, but because of how far the choir has come and grown.”

UGCY 2024 is in partnership with AStepFWD, who are a multi-media platform organisation now in its tenth year, that curates the monthly UK Christian Charts.

Founder O’Neil Dennis said: “UGCY is one of the projects we have come to love because it’s a fantastic way to spread the gospel, bring about community and interact with universities across the country.

“Growing up gospel music became a part of my everyday life, and it is so powerful because genres such as Pop RnB and rock have influences from gospel music.

“Gospel music is a tool, gift, and talent and any way we can support the showcasing of the gift to allow the message to reach wider audience is special and such a big deal.”

Mayor of Croydon Jason Peery announces Kent GC as 2023 Winners
JUBILATION& JOY: Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry announces Kent Gospel Choir as 2023 winners

Wright is looking forward to the new combination of judges, while Dennis has expressed his excitement and anticipates a great all round event.

Gibson expects the standards from the choirs to keep increasing and Gisa says they have been rehearsing a lot and rehearsing hard.

Having previously held a competition in Ghana, Wright has ambitions of taking the UGCY to the global stage, across Europe and America.

The University Gospel Choir of the Year will be held at Oasis House, Croydon CR0 3EX on Saturday 16th March 2024 with doors open from 6pm (Tickets).

All image credits: Stanley Awuku

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