HomeHard Work Pays Off For Duke's Rhythm and Blue

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When A.J. Biggers ran off the stage on a cold Friday night in November, all he could think about was the roar of the crowd.

“This is the most unreal experience ever,” Biggers said, his breath staggered as he hugged members of his group, a smile permanently plastered on his face. “It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”

That was the night Duke University’s Rhythm and Blue knew all the work, the tears, the plummeting grades were worth it: the group had taken SoJam 2010 by storm and earned first place in SoJam’s collegiate competition, a standing ovation and a handful of awards. Rhythm and Blue, which was started nearly two decades prior to their first-place win, didn’t travel far to get to the Durham auditorium, where it was declared the top dog of the annual a cappella convention. Instead, its members, who shed tears while holding each other and shouting with joy, said the group had experienced growing pains and ended up in a state beyond any of their expectations – finally, they said, the group had reached a place in which they can reside proudly.

“This is indescribable,” Biggers said.

Rhythm and Blue was founded in 1992 by Rebecca Christie and Amie Tedeschie, two Duke alumnae who “thought the segregation of boys and girls in a cappella music was quite an injustice,” according to the group’s website. Since its inaugural year, Rhythm and Blue has grown into a group praised by RARB (Recorded A Cappella Review Board) for its CDs and have become staples on a cappella compilations, including Voices Only 2006 and BOCA 2007 and 2008. The group also won two CARA (Contemporary A Cappella Award) runner-up awards for its sixth album, “With the Windows Down,” for Mixed Collegiate Solo and Mixed Collegiate Arrangement in 2007. It was also nominated for the Best Scholastic Original Song CARA the same year.

The group has recorded eight albums to date; its latest is “House on Fire,” which members said tells a story throughout the songs. The CD includes all the songs that comprised the group’s winning SoJam set: “Alone” by Heart, “Closer” by Ne-Yo and “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna. “It’s a really great album,” said Josh Silverman, the group’s president. “It’s probably our best album yet.”

In order to reach the level of competitiveness and dedication the group has achieved this year, Silverman said a lot of things had to change. The group was not competition-centric prior to this year, he said. “It really sucks when your priority is Rhythm and Blue and other people’s aren’t,” Silverman said.

But once the members and the group’s executive board decided to compete in SoJam and take the group to the next level, group dynamics and work ethic took a radical change. “This year is the first time everyone’s been on the same page”, president Silverman said. “Preparing for SoJam brought us together in an unreal way,” said Amber Sembly, the group’s musical director and soloist for “Alone.”

The group worked harder than ever, dedicating itself to learning powerful songs and choreography, which members said has not been the group’s strongest suit or top priority. “We’re not the best dancers in the world,” said Peter Park, the group’s assistant musical director, with a laugh. Silverman said although it was a tough road to be on, the group has evolved rapidly in the past four to eight years – all leading to what they’ve become today.

All 19 members of the group, which includes a graduate student, eight seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen, agree that the group is “eclectic” in its races, personalities, backgrounds and interests, but each person’s dedication to the group allows them each to contribute to a bigger picture.

“We are very unique and diverse, but we’re all committed to one work of art,” Park said.

SoJam may have been the culmination of years of work and months of intense dedication, but Rhythm and Blue isn’t ready to slow down. Aside from being awarded first place at the convention’s collegiate competition, Rhythm and Blue took home Best Soloist for “Alone,” awarded to Amber Sembly; Best Vocal Percussion, awarded to Brian Watts; and Audience Favorite, in which the audience text-messaged its support for the most-loved group.

Immediately following SoJam, Silverman and the rest of Rhythm and Blue’s members joked about focusing on Christmas music for upcoming holiday concerts. But beyond winter, the group is thinking bigger: ICCAs, CARAs – it’s all on the horizon.

The morning after the group’s big win, A.J. Biggers’ smile is still as wide as it was the night before when he reflects on the win. There’s nothing that could bring him down when he thinks about the moments he shared with his a cappella group onstage.

“It’s such a blessing,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

by Andrea Asuaje