Return to Headlines

The Jim Hill High School Choir

Jackson Chorale to be featured in Niagara Falls Film Festival & Lewiston Waterfall Freedom Crossing Monument.

In 2009, Jackson, MS Jim Hill High School Choir traveled to Toronto, Ontario to an International Choral Competition where they were named “Overall Winner” under Director James M. Hawkins. They had already performed in Washington, DC; Westminster Abbey in London, England; in Hawaii and Vancouver; in the Bahamas Cruise Festival; at Carnegie Hall, and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. They had received high awards in competitions at state, national and international levels.

After their Toronto achievement, the choir visited Niagara Falls, Ontario to honor composer Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), a Canadian-African composer, organist, choral director, and music professor who was born and is buried there. The students and Mr. Hawkins also met Ms. Wilma Morrison, the highly-regarded keeper of black history at the Nathaniel Dett AME Memorial Church.

In 2010, Ms. Morrison had another visit, this time with an American filmmaker who was developing a documentary about people in Lewiston, NY, who, as in other towns along the US- Canada border, helped guide fleeing slaves to safety in Canada. Isadore “Izzy” Bleckman was the highly-acclaimed CBS cameraman who had worked for years with Charles Kuralt for On the Road and CBS Sunday Morning. Bleckman and his wife, Mary G. Roseberry, of Buffalo, mentioned to Ms. Morrison that they were hoping to find a choir to perform in their film. Ms. Morrison recommended the Jim Hill High School Choir.

Thus it is that, several years later, the Jim Hill High School Choir is the soundtrack for the film “Risking Everything: A Story of Niagara’s Freedom Seekers” which first debuted in Jackson, Mississippi at the Jackson State e-Center on Saturday, March 9, 2019 with a crowd of approximately 150 in attendance. The film has now been entered into the Niagara Falls International Film Festival, September 18-21, 2019 in Niagara Falls, NY. The film is scheduled to be shown on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 2pm. Details at

The 2009-2011 choir members have long since graduated from high school, and Mr. Hawkins retired from his position as director in 2018. But former members of the school choir have reassembled as The James M. Hawkins Chorale, and others have joined them. They continue to perform a wide repertoire that includes traditional freedom songs but also liturgical music and songs in many languages. They have been invited to sing in Lewiston, NY on October 13, 2019 for the tenth anniversary of the town’s

installation of the “Freedom Crossing” monument. The monument by sculptor Susan Geissler of Youngstown, NY is composed of five figures whose facial expressions and physical stance convey the urgent emotion of standing at the edge of freedom. The monument honors individuals who risked their lives, and Lewiston residents who assisted them.

The James M. Hawkins Chorale, while on tour will also give a concert at Harriet Tubman’s church which is now called Salem BME Chapel in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada on Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 7 pm.

All donations and sponsorship request in any amount are accepted as we have a bus fee of $12, 500 that we are trying to raise to get the chorale to Canada.

You may make checks payable to:

The James M Hawkins Chorale


P.O. Box 443

Jackson, MS 39205-443



The James M Hawkins Chorale