They're Happy: Detroit Academy Choir With Viral Video Will Be On 'Today'
March 18th, 2014, 6:09 PM
It might seem crazy what I'm about to say . . .
It was just 11 days ago when Edward Bone posted a cell phone video on YouTube that he taped during a choir rehearsal at the east-side Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. The proud dad wanted to share daughter Aisha Newsome's solo during a gospel-style performance of "Happy," the No. 1 pop hit by Pharrell Williams.
Mission accomplished. The infectious two-minute clip (below) has been played more than 820,000 times and the school got calls Tuesday from producers at BET and three programs you've heard of: "Today," "The Queen Latifah Show" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
"We're still talking to a 'Today' producer about the arrangements," academy CEO Maurice Morton, 44, tells Deadline Detroit by phone Tuesday afternoon. The NBC morning show may fly all or some of the 40 elementary and middle school singers to New York, Morton says, or shoot a segment at the school -- as it did in May 2012, when correspondent Jenna Bush Hager came. Morton doesn't know yet whether the former presidential daughter will do the follow-up.
Pharrell Williams may be part of the segment in person or remotely, Morton hinted to Eric Lacy of MLive earlier Tuesday.
Related coverage: Pupils' Video of Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' Passes 150,000 Views
The whirlwind of attention is "exciting for the kids" and choir director Angela Kee, Morton says.
Kee tells Cassandra Spratling of the Free Press:
“I picked the song because it is a favorite of the children. It’s catchy. It’s easy to teach, and the lyrics are positive. It drives negativity out of your heart.
“I can hear the children singing and whistling the song in the hallway after they’ve left class." . . .
The teacher and the students created the choreography together. “I threw in some of my old-school moves, and the students added some more modern steps,” Kee said. “I didn’t think they would like my dances, like ‘the swim’ and ‘the shimmy,’ but they did.”
Fox 2 Detroit posted the video March 12, five days after Bones put it on YouTube, and apparently was the first local news outlet to notice the rousing, well-choreographed. Deadline Detroit posted it three days later on Saturday morning, noting that the clip had been seen 5,600 times. National pickups began Monday, boosting the figure above a half-million.
The tape's opening soloist is Samuel Pickins.
Benefits reach beyond the 16-year-old school, as Morton sees it. "Detroit has talent," the education administrator says, his voice rising with an oral exclamation mark. "Here's an inspiring example people can see of the revival of Detroit."
Seeing their video's numbers climbing steadily is horizon-expanding for the animated young singers from grades 3 through 8 -- who put arms, legs and voices into the rousing, harmonious performance. "They realize their talents are touching so many people around the country and the world," Morton says during the interview. "It's a teachable moment, allowing them to realize they can do anything."
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space . . .
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
At DAAS, a shorthand name for the academy chartered by Oakland University, academic performance is required to join what's called the show choir. Singers must maintain a 3.0 grade point average.
Dividends from lifting their voices in song will last a lifetime, Morton and Kee feel. "These kids are exhibiting talent and skill sets they're need later," the CEO says. "They learn about poise, confidence, teamwork, communication skill, voice projection, appropriate appearance and articulation. It's powerful."
He notes that nearly all of the academy's roughly 1,000 elementary and middle school students are from Detroit. "Many are from the east side and a lot of our families live in poverty," Morton adds.
In addition to managing the East Jefferson charter schools, the chief executive is a Democratic candidate for the14th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Gary Peters, who wants to succeed Sen. Carl Levin.
His focus on the academic job and his political sidelight may explain why Morton is a relative newcomer to the catchy tune Williams performed at the Oscars telecast Feb. 24.
"Truthfully," he says with a laugh when asked, "I hadn't heard the song until my kids performed it. Then I thought, I have to see the [original] video."
In past years, the DAAS choir has performed at Ford Field during halftime of a Detroit Lions game and as an opening act locally for Chaka Khan and The O’Jays.
Donations sought: The academy wants to send 50 students to perform a Disney World this spring if it can raise at least $20,000 for travel costs. Checks to Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences can be sent to 3100 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48207. To learn more, call (313) 259-1704.