Shemekia Cooper directs the Unity of Verbena choir during a practice.

Story and Photos by JOYANNA LOVE

Unity of Verbena’s soulful sound and catchy beats draw the audience in and encourage participation wherever they perform.

Although the members live throughout the region, each has a deep connection to Verbena and many are related.

Choir members attend a number of different churches but all come together to sing in the gospel-style.

“We sing traditional gospel — we go old school … then we sing modern songs,” Choir Director Shemekia Cooper said. “We don’t do a lot of contemporary style.”

She said the traditional music “speaks to my soul.”

“I like the flow of the traditional gospel music,” Copper said.

Unity of Verbena is the combination of a youth and a women’s choir that Cooper had led.

Cooper said she has known some of the youth members since they were born.

“We started with a youth choir, probably three or four years ago,” Cooper said.

Because many of the members are related, the group was invited to sing at get togethers and funerals.

“Last year, I was asked to do a women’s choir, so I got a women’s choir together,” Copper said. “This is just the combining of all of the choirs.”

The Unity of Verbena sang at Chestnut Creek Heritage Chapel in commemoration of the Alabama Bicentennial earlier this year. The combined choir has also been invited to sing at revivals.

While Cooper has never “studied music,” she has a lot of experience leading people in song.

“I have been over youth choirs for years,” Cooper said.

Her first experience with singing was at My Father’s Business Ministry in Verbena.

“Me and my brother used to stand right there in the front and sing songs there in the church,” Cooper said. “We have always been affiliated with singing. I love to just see everybody, family, friends getting together and giving God the glory.”

Her brother is now the pastor at My Father’s Business Ministry and Unity of Verbena frequently practices there.

However, the practice space is not always the same.

A few members of the Unity of Verbena.

Unity of Verbena practices on an as-needed basis when there is an event coming up. Members usually work on at least three songs per practice.

Of the songs the choir has done, founding member Lenora Price said “Free Worshipper” by Todd Dulaney is her favorite.

“We are all free to worship Him, and we all worship in a different way, and (to) be sincere about it,” Price said.

JaTahja White’s favorite song the choir sings is “How Excellent” because it highlights “how excellent Jesus is and what he’s done for me.

JaQue’vyus Hilliard, Shemekia Cooper’s son, has been a member since the beginning and enjoys singing with his cousins and other extended family.

He likes the vocals different members showcase through the gospel music.

“I like singing tenor and this music it’s just different than all the other gospel songs I listen to,” Hilliard said.

His favorite song with the choir is “Salvation and Glory,” which his cousin T.J. sings.

“He sings very good — he and his sister … anytime they lead a song they do very good,” Hilliard said. “You get a different feeling.”

When selecting songs, Cooper said she prays about which songs would the best fit for where they will be singing.

She said she prays about which of the songs she should select for a particular event.

Seven of the youth members left for college this fall, but they will return to Verbena as they can to participate in the choir.

Numbers have grown as people see the choir perform and ask about joining.

“We are not doing it for a show, we are just doing it to give God the praise,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the dedication of the singers and musicians traveling from wherever they live in the region is what makes the choir possible.

Price said she wanted be a part of the choir for the “sense of unity and bringing the community together.”

“Even though we worship in separate churches, we come together for that one purpose, which is to give praise and glory to our Savior,” Price said.

Price taught many of the members in her high school English class and said she enjoys interacting with them.

“It’s kind of helping me come out of my shell a little bit,” Price said.

She also enjoys “being a part of something that is bigger than one church — something that’s bigger than all of us.”

“Rhythm, emotion and the meaning behind the words” draws Price to gospel music, she said.

White has been a part of the choir for two years. Her enjoyment of singing prompted her to join.

While she had sung in the choir at her church, being in Unity of Verbena has given her the opportunity to sing with family.

The choir sings at six to seven events per year.

Those interested in joining the group can contact Cooper through Facebook Messenger.