This year, the UCSB Gospel Choir celebrated their 25th anniversary with a Reunion Concert at the Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on June 3. All three choir directors – Pastor Jimmy Fisher, Dr. Dr. Diane White-Clayton MA `96, Ph.D. `98 and Pastor Victor Bell – performed popular hymns and original gospel compositions with students and alumni on stage.
In this special eCoastlines feature, we interviewed all three choir directors and one very special alum about faith, music and why the UCSB Gospel Choir continues to be an integral part of campus life.
For over a decade, UCSB student Rosalyn Y. Collins has found solace in song
with the Gospel Choir
By Marge Perko
Religious studies major, singer and longtime gospel music fan Rosalyn Y. Collins is a UCSB Gospel Choir veteran who worked with all three choir directors. “It’s wonderful to have had a personal connection with all of them,” she said. “I have witnessed and felt the great impact gospel music has had on the students and the community over the years.”
From 1992 to 1998, Collins was part of the choir directed by Pastor Jimmy Fisher and was close friends with Dr. Diane White-Clayton MA `96, Ph.D. `98. In 2015, she re-enrolled at UC Santa Barbara and signed up to join the Gospel Choir again, this time under the leadership of current director Pastor Victor Bell.
Collins went through her first graduation ceremony at UCSB in 1998 – but didn’t take home a diploma due to illness. “I got sick on and off so many times,’ she said. “And then, I discovered I had cancer.”
In 1999, Collins was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage II-B. For years, she stayed home listening to gospel music and praying with her parents, brother and family friends as she went through a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. “I stopped singing for a while, because of the illness,” she said. “My voice started changing on me. I was singing at the choir at my church and I would sing with a couple of groups in town – and it got to where I couldn’t even do that.”
Three years later, Collins returned to UCSB, determined to finish her undergraduate degree. “I knew I had to go back,” she said. “I did – and it has been a struggle ever since. I’m just trying to find myself and adjusting to not being able to do a lot of things I used to do -- and living in this new body. I take a lot of medication and am still going through some treatment but I am just so grateful to be here. I never thought I would be back in school, nor did I think I would be able to be part of the choir again.”
A lot changed at UC Santa Barbara since her first time as an undergraduate student. “When I was first here, students didn’t bring laptops to classrooms!” she said. Collins first attended UCSB with an interest in pursuing a career in marine biology. When she had to stay home after her diagnosis, she was close to graduating as a Black Studies major. Now a religious studies major, she has thrived in her new chosen discipline, placing second for her research paper "How Praise Mime Gave Me A Voice Again at the recent Undergraduate Research Colloquium.
Now an undergraduate student in her forties, Collins sought a familiar source of support by signing up again for the Gospel Choir. “The choir really continues to help me through some of the harder times,” she said. “We would pray with Pastor Bell at the beginning of class and at the end. Hearing what other students’ prayer requests were and being able to lift each other up in prayer – it builds me up too.”
One big change for Collins is her ongoing struggle to regain her voice. “I can’t sing alto anymore – I’m so much more of a tenor,” she said. “But Pastor Bell makes me step up. I told him I would love to sing tenor. He said, `no, you WILL sing alto’ – and he’s nurturing me back, and building my confidence in so many ways.”
This past summer, Collins joined fellow alumni and students on stage at the UCSB Gospel Choir 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert, performing with Fisher, White-Clayton and Bell to a sold-out crowd at the Lotte Lehmann concert hall. Collins performed seated, but rallied to serve as the event’s intermission emcee, handing out certificates to different generations of choir alumni from the podium.
“Victor would tell the other students that I wasn’t a TA, I was just `old school,’” she laughed. “Back in the 90s, this was `church’ for so many of us. I actually had to explain this feeling to young people who have been in choir this past year. We didn’t have any other place to go because we were studying all the time – so Tuesday nights, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. was – and still continues to be -`church.’”
Eager to spread the good news about gospel music across the UCSB community, Collins shares songs, Bible verses and artist spotlights on her radio show “The Experience with Rosalyn” on KCSB