82nd Airborne All-American Chorus inducted into Fayetteville Music Hall of Fame
By Sarah Campbell | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 5, 2014
Tracy Mozingo cries every time she hears the 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Chorus perform.
"They stir up all kinds of emotions inside of me," she said. "They really inspire me when I think about the sacrifices they're making for their country because they're soldiers, not just performers."
The well-known a capella group is likely the only chorus in the country whose members spend part of their time jumping out of airplanes.
Since the group formed in 1964, the soldiers have brought their crisp, high-energy show of patriotic and contemporary tunes to audiences in Cumberland County - and around the world.
Their impact was recognized Tuesday as the All-American Chorus became the first group inducted into the Fayetteville Music Hall of Fame, a project launched seven years ago by the Community Concerts organization.
The induction ceremony was held at the Crown Theatre, before a concert by Kenny Loggins.
The audience took to their feet before the chorus even started singing. Most clapped wildly, while a few let out loud cheers or whistles.
They performed the "National Anthem" and "An Honor to Serve," a song made popular by Ray Boltz.
The Community Concerts board of directors unanimously voted to induct the All-American Chorus this year in celebration of their 50th anniversary, said Mozingo, vice president of marketing for Community Concerts.
"They've brought so much recognition to Fayetteville and helped foster goodwill across America," she said.
Sgt. Evan Thomsen, director of the chorus, said the honor speaks to the legacy of the organization, which got its start performing for Sunday services at the division chapel.
"You can never look at the chorus as a set group," he said. "It's a revolving group that's constantly adding new members. It's 50 years of people who have moved in and contributed in their own unique way."
The men and women in the chorus are from units all over the 82nd Airborne Division with a range of backgrounds and jobs. There are currently 23 members, but the group can swell to 34 members.
"We end up with is a chorus made up of really a microcosm of the division," Thomsen said. "That adds not only to our effectiveness as entertainers, but our effectiveness as ambassadors of the division."
Thomsen got involved with the chorus after being stationed at Fort Bragg more than two years ago.
"I originally joined simply because I like music and I thought it was an interesting job and an interesting opportunity," he said. "It very quickly evolved into something completely different. I've really enjoyed getting out into the community and meeting new people."
Much of their time is spent performing at battalion functions as a way to boost morale. But by the end of this year, they will have made more than 300 appearances, including stops at elementary schools and retirement homes as well as national sporting events and in front of national dignitaries.
Spc. Jonathan Becker, who joined the chorus three months ago, said being part of the chorus offers a chance to spread awareness about the military.
"I enjoy singing, but I also wanted to be able to go out and show the rest of the world, especially the Fayetteville area, what it is that we do as a division," Becker said.
Staff Sgt. Alphaeus Baker and Sgt. First Class Eric Goodman were drawn to the group because of their lifelong love of music.
Goodman, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the chorus, said he was a bit intimidated when he was first tapped to lead the group, but that quickly changed.
"I think the relationships we have with the community make a huge impact," he said.
It's not easy to become part of the All-American Chorus. Those who get past the audition process have to survive a 30-day probation period that Goodman likens to the most difficult obstacle course on base.
And once they become part of the chorus, they continue to train with their units on a weekly basis while perfecting their routines and performing almost daily. The group has expanded its repertoire over the years by adding R&B, classic rock, pop, country, opera and doo-wop.
"We spend a lot of time working on the songs we have and developing new ones," Thomsen said.
Thomsen said the goal is to elicit emotions from their audiences, and it's common to see tearful reactions such as Mozingo's.
"There are plenty of times when we do a show, and we'll see people in the audience crying," he said.
That type of engagement makes what the chorus does all the more important, Thomsen said.
"We want an honest emotional connection with people because that makes what we do genuine," he said. "That makes the interaction and the memory genuine, so that it's something that will stay with people."
Tommy Bolton, a civilian aide senior to the Secretary of the Army, praised their work Tuesday during the ceremony.
"They are probably the finest ambassadors for this city, this region, this base, this division and this army that we could ever enlist," he said. "I don't think they've ever met someone they couldn't easily inspire with a renewed sense of patriotism and pride."