Joan Wallace-Benjamin ’75 and Jill Foye ’22 may have started at Wellesley 47 years apart, but they share a bond across the years—the experience of music and sisterhood based with Ethos, at Harambee House.
When Wallace-Benjamin arrived at Wellesley in 1971, Ethos had a vibrant student-led choir of 30 to 40 voices. They performed gospel, as well as popular songs by vocalists like Curtis Mayfield with political and civil-rights messaging, and traveled all over the Northeast to sing at then all-male schools like Dartmouth and Wesleyan. “It was just the best,” Wallace-Benjamin says.
When Foye started at Wellesley, on the other hand, Ethos had no singing group. But thanks to funds donated by alumnae in honor of the recent 50th anniversary of the organization, she and 10 other students came together last semester as the Harambee Singers under the direction of Linda Brown-San Martin ’70, a local gospel director.
“I have always loved gospel music and singing from growing up in the church, so the opportunity to have a little piece of home at Wellesley was a big motivator,” Foye says. “Also, hearing how much the choir contributed to the Wellesley experience of black alumnae made me want to be a part of its resurgence.”
Wallace-Benjamin remembers finding a refuge during her student years with the choir, Ethos, and Harambee House. “To have a critical mass of women like yourself, it was wonderful,” she says.
Foye has had a similar experience. “Being a part of the Harambee Singers has given me a space to find peace in the hectic life of being a college student,” she says. “Coming to Harambee House every Tuesday night to … do something I love with people I love has been a crucial part of my first year at Wellesley.”
The group’s inaugural performance was on April 23, and Wallace-Benjamin was there for its predominantly gospel program. Her appraisal? “I call them small but mighty! They had really good harmony, and the timing was good.” She predicts fall will bring a buzz and more students joining. “They did a performance that will attract you to them.”