As the assistant director of the Office of Equality Opportunity Programs at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Carl Wells saw something missing from the Knowles School of Music.
There was no gospel choir.
So, in 2011 he founded the University of South Carolina Gospel Choir, which will perform "Souls and Sounds of Gospel Music" at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts at 4 p.m. Jan. 27. Scott Gibbs and the Beaufort Mass Choir will open.
For as long as Wells can remember, gospel music has been a part of his life.
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It began in his childhood days singing in the church choir in Mayesville.
From there he went on to direct a choir at every stage of his education -- leading a youth choir at that same church when he was in high school, the gospel choir at Winthrop University as an undergraduate student and at Emory University while earning his master's degree in divinity.
"I became aware at that time that singing in a gospel ensemble was for more than simply making music," Wells said. "It became a means of helping retain students, helping them transition into the community, giving them a place and sense of belonging."
That mindset and tradition has been passed on to his daughter, Karli Wells, a freshman at University of South Carolina and a member of the choir.
Karli said she enjoys the time she gets to spend with her father, but he still can be a typical, embarrassing parent sometimes.
"His vocabulary is not necessarily one of the 21st century," she said of her father's use of words such as "funk," and "jammin'."
"He should have left that in the '90s," she said, laughing.
Not all of the 40 students in the gospel choir are Christians.
But all of them are connected through the music, something Karli said they feel is bigger than themselves.
"Whether you're a Christian or not, the acknowledgment is there, that we are giving praise to God, to a higher power," she said.
Carl Wells said the diversity of the group often has the biggest effect on the audience.
"(The students) come together and get along and enjoy singing this music together," he said. "That almost impacts people more than the music itself."
The show always ends with the song "Total Praise," which features three different soloists.
"My dad is big on opportunities, and it's helping people come out of their shells," Karli said. "It's about the growth of the choir."
Having different soloists prevents the performance from being about one person and helps connect the choir.
"It's a song we all identify with," Karli said. "It's impactful on us, and, in turn, hopefully our audience will be impacted."