Bleckley County singers ready to hit stage with Foreigner

pramati@macon.comMarch 10, 2014 

  • The Royal Singers of Bleckley County High School were chosen from among other Middle Georgia high school choirs to perform in Macon with the rock band Foreigner. Video by Woody Marshall

COCHRAN -- It’s a safe bet that some of the current Bleckley County High School students had parents who were in high school when the Foreigner album “Agent Provocateur” was released in 1984.

Now, 30 years later, it’s the current crop of Bleckley students -- specifically, 34 members of the school choir, the Royal Singers -- who will stand in the middle of the stage at the Macon City Auditorium on Tuesday night and perform the hit “I Want To Know What Love Is” alongside members of the Grammy-nominated band.

The Royal Singers were chosen from among other Middle Georgia high school choirs that submitted audition videos to Clear Channel Media, which ran a contest last week for the right to perform with Foreigner.

Choir director Kelli Greer got an email from Q106-FM, telling her that her students had won.

“We had just barely over a week to get ready” for the contest, she said. Later, “I started to tell each of the kids as they came in (for practice) that we had won. They said, ‘Are you joking?’”

Greer said the band will perform the opening part of the song while the choir walks onstage. The choir will then start singing the song’s chorus.

“I Want To Know What Love Is” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in early 1985 and was listed by Rolling Stone magazine in a 2004 survey as one of the Top 500 songs of all time. It’s been covered by the likes of Wynonna Judd, Mariah Carey and Australian singer Tina Arena, among others.

Foreigner has incorporated high school choirs into “I Want To Know What Love Is” for the past several years in virtually every one of its concerts, band publicist John Lappen said.

“There’s no rehearsal,” he said. “The choir learns the song by ear. We’ve probably done it close to 300-plus times over the last six years. They’ll be right in the middle of the stage, and they’ll do their own choreography.”

The idea started when the band wanted to do a fundraising project with the Grammy Foundation to help keep music education in schools.

“A lot of high schools have had their music and arts education budgets cut,” Lappen said. “When I was a kid, we took for granted that those classes would be there. Now, it’s been diminished, or they don’t have them at all.”

The band has donated proceeds from CD sales at its concerts to the foundation, raising about $500,000 over the past six years. In addition, the band donates $500 to each high school choir that performs with them.

During rehearsals, some choir members filled in to perform the parts that Foreigner will sing Tuesday night, in order for the rest of the choir to get its timing down.

Joseph Arnold, a senior, sang the song’s opening notes.

“It’s going to be amazing,” said Arnold, who is jointly enrolled at the high school and Middle Georgia State College. “I listened to them as a kid. My parents raised me on their music. My dad bought tickets when he first heard they were coming. My parents were going to go to the show anyway. When they learned we won the competition, it was icing on the cake.”

A trio consisting of junior Madison Phelps as well as sophomores Allie Keel and Ashley Strickland shared singing the Foreigner parts with Arnold. The three girls recently won first place for Best Trio at a regional competition.

Members of the Bleckley County community have paid close attention since the announcement was made.

“It’s very exciting, once in a lifetime,” Phelps said. “I’ve never seen stuff like that come to a small town.”

Greer said she hopes her students appreciate how special the evening promises to be.

“I feel very grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “Hopefully, it will inspire some of them who are budding musicians.”

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