By Jaelyn Moon, 14, of East Ridge High School
Willie Kitchens, former lead singer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, The Impressions, brought his skills and talent to Camp REACH this summer.
“You are a little bit off pitch,” said Kitchens after listening to the Camp REACH choir sing. “We can work on that.”
The choir sings at Hope City Church at noon July 14. The event is free and open to the public. Students will also participate in a Spelling Bee, discuss reading improvements they’ve made through the Lexia Reading program and act in a skit about Mary Walker, a former slave who learned to read at age 116.
Timiethea DeLaney, who also teaches choir at the camp, says she hopes the choir and camp give teens an outlet to positively channel their energy and an appreciation for discipline.
“A lot of us, we don’t get discipline at home,” she said. “I want them to learn and grow, learn how to respect themselves, respect others and have self-control.”
Several students engaged in conversation and music lessons with Kitchens.
“I like that he didn’t go on and on preaching, or lecturing. He got right into the lesson or the fun part,” said LaToria Battle, a 14-year-old upcoming freshman at The Howard School.
Kitchens promised that by the time the six-week camp ended, the group made of high school students from around the city would better understand stage presence and music.
The local pastor and professional singer has a lot of experience to share.
He released a 12-song gospel jazz CD in 2021 titled “You Kept Me” that tells how God never gave up on him despite his life struggles. But he is best known for joining as lead singer of the Impressions in 1999. The rhythm and blues group, which started in Chattanooga and once included the late lead singer Curtis Mayfield, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early 2000s, said Kitchens.
Kitchens grew up in Chattanooga and fell in love with music. By age 16, he was a skilled bass guitarist and background vocalist. His father, Willie Kitchens Sr., taught him to play the guitar at age 10. Six years later, Kitchens joined the Five Sons of Calvary as a bass guitarist and background singer. He taught himself to play the harmonica, electric keyboard and piano, according to the website, https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/willie-kitchens-41.
At REACH, he did an amazing performance for students that included rapping, singing and even playing the piano. His main style is gospel music, but he can do it all.
“Somebody asked me today, do I do everything?,” said Kitchens. “I said well I do a lot.”
Then he performed a rap that left campers clapping and standing on their feet.
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