Hear the Leo High School choir ‘bring it’ during its busy holiday season

“You can expect a lot of joy” one of the singers says of the in-demand group’s performances around Chicago.

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Members of the Leo High School choir on Chicago’s South Side perform during its winter concert.

Members of the Leo High School choir on Chicago’s South Side perform during its winter concert earlier this month.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

It’s the busiest season of all for the choir students at Leo High School in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

“The choir is in high demand,” Leo Principal Shaka Rawls said. “I think it’s just a beautiful sight to see young, predominantly African American and Latino students singing … lifting their voices to the Lord or in celebration.”

In the last month, the Catholic choir has done four gigs, including singing at Wrigley Field’s 1914 Club and caroling downtown at 203 N. LaSalle St.

Rawls said the demand usually lasts through the winter, from Christmastime to Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Black History Month. In January, the choir performed on the field at halftime during a Chicago Bears game.

But on a recent Thursday evening, the students took their talents back home for their annual winter concert.

“You can expect a lot of joy,” said junior Theauntae Jones. “We’re gonna bring it, and we’re gonna rock the building.”

Indeed, it was no silent night in the school’s auditorium.

After performances by Leo’s general music class, and singers from St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Ukrainian Village, the high school choir belted out about 10 tunes, from “Carol of the Bells” to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The packed rows of friends and relatives sang along.

Sophomore Christian Whiteside first joined the choir after a chance encounter in the school’s halls.

“One day, I was singing in the hallway and the choir teacher, she came up to me and asked me, did I like to sing?” Christian recounted. “And I said, yes. And she asked, did I want to join choir?”

That teacher was LaDonna Hill, who’s directed the choir for more than two decades. Along the way, Hill said she tries to impart life lessons: There are no insignificant parts. Any gift, regardless of how small you think it is, makes a difference.

“That’s kind of how music is. If you take a sheet of music, if you find yourself ignoring those small symbols, at the end of the piece, it’s had a major impact on the outcome of that piece,” Hill said. “It’s the same in life.”

Hill, herself an accomplished singer, led the audience in a stirring rendition of “Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory.”

After the show, spirits were merry and bright. Tanisha Williams, mother of Theauntae Jones, said she’s proud to watch her son on stage.

“Sometimes it makes me cry,” Williams said. “Because I think I’m doing a good job.”

For Theauntae, a highlight of participating in the choir has been getting to know the other singers.

“We can literally sit there and talk about anything, joke about anything with each other,” Theauntae said. “We’re all basically just brothers. Like brothers in Christ. Brothers at Leo.”

Lauren Frost is a producer for WBEZ.

Theauntae Jones sings “Hallelujah” with the Leo High School choir. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Theauntae Jones sings “Hallelujah” with the Leo High School choir. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

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