The Shambrey Chorale was conceived as an idea in 1972, organized into a non-profit group of volunteer, non-paid musicians, began rehearsing immediately and gave its first public appearance February 25, 1973. The founding conductor was Celestine Shambrey, and the founding accompanist was Vennie F. Johnson. This Los Angeles group was an example of a locally celebrated ecumenical community choir, with an African American founder-conductor, and an integrated performance roster (though predominantly African American). The ensemble was devoted to
- presenting music of varied styles, “by traditional (meaning Spirituals) and contemporary composers,” and
- demonstrating “the possibilities and creative advantages of inter-group sharing, regardless of religious, educational, social, or ethnic backgrounds.
The history and musical practice of this ensemble provides an excellent introduction to the sustaining, community-building power of African American musical practice. Over 27 years, the ensemble gave major performances throughout the Los Angeles area. The story must be told – to the world.
The Shambrey Chorale was a "giving" ensemble, supporting scholarships for young gifted but disadvantaged students to attend colleges and universities and summer workshops (e.g. Idyllwild). They also supported the scholarship fund of the Compton Civic Youth Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble conducted by Joseph R. Taylor.
The Shambrey Chorale stopped performing in 2000. The founding director is now deceased and many of the Legacy Members of the Chorale now are over 70-years old. With the passage of time, their stories are fading from memory. Still, the impact they made on the Los Angeles African American community was both significant and symbolic. The life stories represent the embodiment of the African American cultural experience within Los AngelesCounty (1950 to the present), bringing a new understanding of how the African American component of this diverse County evolved.