McMain wins Grammy

Singing Mustangs snag Grammy
Posted on 08/05/2021

The McMain International Singing Mustangs have something very few high school choirs, or musicians in general, can claim: A Grammy award.

The choir was recognized as one of the top three high schools in the country and is one of 14 to receive the prestigious 2021 Grammy Museum Signature Schools Award and a $5,500 grant.

The choir is under the direction of Clyde Lawrence, a native New Orleanian who’s been teaching for 34 years. Lawrence, who is also a McDonogh 35 Class of 1981 alumni, heads the vocal music program at McMain, which includes music theory, music appreciation, and Fine Arts Survey Music classes. 

Lawrence said he originally thought the award was a hoax.

“I received an email from someone that said they have been following our choir and saw us on YouTube and invited us to apply for an award,” he said. 

He filled out the application and thought nothing of it until a few weeks later he got another email saying they needed some more information.

“Three days after that, I received an email saying we were being awarded for Outstanding High School Music Program,” he said, adding that it was only when he received a phone call from the organizer that he was told it was a Grammy awarded through the Grammy Foundation. 

Though Lawrence found out about the award in February, he had to keep it under wraps until the Foundation made an official announcement.

“I’m humbled by this, but I am so excited for the kids,” he said. “They are very excited about it.”

The choir averages 25-30 students a year, though after nearly 18 months of inability to practice as a group, Lawrence said he is taking this year to rebuild the choir, which traditionally holds two major performances each year: their annual Christmas concert and their Spring Concert. They also perform as part of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as at many school and community events. 

In 2014 and 2016, 11 members of the choir had the opportunity to perform in Lulea, Sweden at an all-expenses-paid International Music Festival called “Singing People Together.” 

“We were in the process of going again in 2020, but then COVID hit,” he said, adding they are hoping to attend the next festival there. 

Lawrence said he works to instill the value of hard work in his choir members, no matter what accolades they get.

“They are of the mindset that you don’t compare yourself based on how good you are to others, but ‘You appreciate quality when you witness the lack thereof,’ which is the choir’s motto,” he said.

He said he wants to make sure his choir members are musicians, not just singers.

“I’ve always wanted my kids to be well rounded and to be able to do different genres of music,” he said, adding that he also makes sure they all know how to read music.

Lawrence said the students at McMain fully support the choir.

“They’ve learned to appreciate good music,” he said.

Lawrence himself has been singing since he was 4. 

“It started in church and hasn’t stopped,” he said. 

Though he originally wanted to major in accounting, as a freshman at the University of New Orleans, he auditioned for the opera program and was awarded a scholarship. Some of his professional affiliations include the New Orleans Black Choral, New Orleans Gospel Soul Children, Inc., and the New Orleans Society of Musicians.  He is also the Minister of Music at his home church the Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church. Lawrence is affectionately known as “Mr. Music” among his music friends and as “Mr. M.O.M.” (Mr. Minister of Music) among his church family. 

He said seeing his choir members continue to share the love of music as adults is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. 

“I’m very proud to have four former choir members who now teach music in schools. That really does a job for me when I get to go sit in their concert and reflect,” he said. “A lot of my students are still in their church choirs or have even become their church choir directors. That’s more than any paycheck can give me.”

As students return to in-person learning, Lawrence said he’s looking forward to getting his choir back together.

“They keep my passion alive,” he said about his incoming freshmen and sophomore members. “I’m excited about them and am really looking forward to working with them.”