American Portrait

Lift Every Voice


Stream for free right now on WILL-TV's watch page or by searching "Lift Every Voice" on the PBS Video App.

This holiday season, WILL-TV’s series American Portrait | Central Illinois wanted to find out how other locals are being creative during these difficult and dark times. The idea was inspired by a conversation with Dr. William Southerland of Windy City Performing Arts in Chicago. He was about to embark on his inaugural season as the conductor of the organization’s two choirs – The Windy City Gay Chorus and the Windy City Treble Quire – but from his home in North Carolina.

From that conversation, American Portrait | Central Illinois: Lift Every Voice was born. Along with the Windy City Performing Arts choirs, the program also documents the work the Danville High School Madrigals and the University of Illinois Black Chorus. Jeff Thomas, who is the director of the Madrigals, also has his choir operating entirely virtually, but you’ll see that Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, longtime conductor of the Black Chorus, is navigating a different set of challenges. Chorus members contend with singing in oversized “singers masks,” maintaining distance, changing locations every half-hour, as well as the isolating experience of singing along virtually.

American Portrait | Central Illinois: Lift Every Voice will feature the debut of Dr. Davis’ original composition, inspired by the challenges of the pandemic, along with performances from all three organizations. It’s a timely portrait of the staying power of music and the arts in strange and uncertain times.

Panel Discussion

On January 7, Sarah Edwards, the film's producer and director, gathered all three conductors for a live panel discussion on Facebook. Take a look:

Special Holiday Performances:

Windy City Performing Arts - "Christmastime is Here"

Directed by William Southerland, edited by Aaron Beasley, piano by Madelyn Tan-Cohen, drums by John Stout (Stock footage licensed from

U of I Black Chorus - "Harambee"

The University of Illinois Black Chorus performs an impromptu version of "Harambee" in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts' parking garage during a break to air out rehearsal space to meet safety requirements in November 2020. "Harambee" is by Sounds of Blackness, Gary Hines conductor and arranger.

Danville High School Madrigals - "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

The Danville High School Madrigals perform "Go Tell It on the Mountain". Produced by the Danville High School Madrigals, editing by Jeffrey Thomas, and arrangement by Greg Jasperse.


Windy City Chorus performs together

The Windy City Performing Arts choirs perform together virtually.

Black Chorus performs in parking deck

University of Illinois Black Chorus performs together in a parking deck to meet safety guidelines.

Danville choir performs together

Danville High School Madrigals performs together virtually.