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Homeless Choir Inspires Voices Of Love

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The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a collaborative effort of WFAE, the Charlotte Observer, WCNC-TV, QCityMetro.com,

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Choir practice. Video: Ashley Talley Voices of Love is one of many gospel choirs in our region. But what makes this choir unusual is that most of its members are homeless or working their way out of homelessness. Ashley Talley spent time with them at the Urban Ministry Center and produced this report. Voices of Love is one of many gospel choirs in our region. But what makes this choir unusual is that most of its members are homeless or working their way out of homelessness. Ashley Talley spent time with them at the Urban Ministry Center and produced this report.Each rehearsal of Voices of Love begins with a prayer. A piano sits in one corner of a large multi-purpose room at Charlotte's Urban Ministry Center. The choir members form a circle. They pray for friends in hospice, a father who misses his daughter, a friend's wife battling cancer. "The Urb," as some people call it, is more than a soup kitchen. The center offers art lessons, soccer, gardening andVoices of Love. The choir was formed almost four years ago by a Katrina survivor who relocated to Charlotte. After his death, Phillip Harris took over as the group's director. "I have a few volunteers and then the rest of the majority is neighbors, people who come here for services." Today, seven people show up for practice, though Harris says it can range from five or six, up to 20. He knows the challenges the choir members face on a daily basis - drug problems, violence, unstable living situations, even just finding a place to sleep at night. The choir offers an encouraging, structured atmosphere to people who need just that. Aubrie Thompson-Myrick says she depends on Voices of Love. "Music is the thing I love, so... It's something I can't live without. It keeps me sane," she says. Harris has seen members come and go, but says he has a small dedicated core group who almost always show up for their regular Tuesday and Thursday practices. They laugh together and are supportive of one another. "Let's do Luckey's" they say when they're deciding on their warm-up songs for today. On cue, Felix Luckey shyly smiles and moves forward. His voice is strong. This choir has changed the lives of several of its members, like William Pumphrey. He's the character in the group, with his mohawk, silver jewelry and Elvis impressions He's struggled for over a decade with a tough, uncertain lifestyle. "After 12 years of homelessness, off and on, you know it just got to be too much," Pumphrey says. "God knows that I could not have taken another six months, much less another year of this." Pumphrey recently got the good news that he was accepted at Moore Place, the brand new permanent supportive housing complex that has everyone at Urban Ministries really excited. After all these years on the streets, he now has a warm, comfortable place to lay his head every night. "A year ago, our choir sang at the groundbreaking, and I had not the singlest, minutest knowledge of the fact that I would be, a year later not only singing at the grand opening but I'm going to be the only member of the choir that's actually moving in to Moore Place." William Pumphrey's faith is a guiding force in his life, and his gratitude for the choir is evident. "It gives me confidence, it gives me accountability, to you know, just be responsible... of my position and being needed as a voice. Because this is not only our choir, it's a ministry as well, and it helps me to live, um, a better quality of life, and have fun doing what I love at the same time." Grammy nominations and big record deals may not be on the horizon for Voices of Love, but its success can be seen in every face that sings around that piano. The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a collaborative effort of WFAE, the Charlotte Observer, WCNC-TV, QCityMetro.com, Charlotte Viewpoint and UNC-Charlotte to enhance arts coverage in our region