Oakland School for the Arts’ singing group Vocal Rush has been a powerhouse on the national a cappella circuit since its founding four years ago. The high school ensemble, which started out as an after-school club, quickly grew into a serious ensemble, winning three International Championships of High School A Cappella (ICHSA), including the title this spring.
Vocal Rush has a decidedly Oakland sound and style, incorporating beat-boxing, vocal percussion, stepping, and other dance routines into their energetic repertoire of pop and jazz songs. But the 11 high school students of the 2014-2015 group wanted to make a special point in this year’s ICHSA competition in New York. So they dedicated their effort to Black Lives Matter, a national movement founded in 2013 to challenge police killings and other disparities African Americans face.
“Being an African American girl and living in Oakland, California, I have to be very aware of who I am and cautious of who I am,” said Barbara DeVeaux-Griffith, Vocal Rush member. “Black Lives Matter really brings that back into focus.”
In the video above, we see powerful performances by Vocal Rush from “Lost in the World” by Kanye West to Mumford and Sons' “Awake My Soul” captured at one of the group's last concerts of 2015 at Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland back in May.
As Vocal Rush began crafting its competition last fall, the ensemble's attention was also keenly focused on the world outside the classrooms of their campus -- Oakland's Fox Theater. The fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the death of Eric Garner last year in New York had ignited street protests throughout the Bay Area. The group also responded to Oakland’s own painful history of police shootings of African Americans, including the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009 by a BART officer.