About 45 former Westinghouse classmates and enthusiastic singers from throughout the United States boarded a bus bound for McKinley Memorial Baptist Church in Willow Grove, Pa., to surprise their former choir director, Birdie Nichols, for her birthday.
|SURPRISE, SURPRISE—Former members of Westinghouse Choir paid tribute to their director, Birdie Nicols. Birdie Nicols is in left, bottom insert on the right side, and is directing in top right photo insert.
“In coordination with the church, its new shepherd, Pastor Marlon Millner, and Mrs. Nichols’ son and daughter-in-law, we were listed on the afternoon program as ‘a choir from Pittsburgh,’” said Glorious Rebirth member Cheryl Reed. “Shortly after service in the fellowship hall of the church, the choir surprised ‘Aunt Birdie’ by walking in and singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Dazed and amazed would best describe her reaction.
“Aunt Birdie has touched all of our lives throughout high school and beyond and because she is far more than just a music teacher, no one batted an eye at the idea to do this honor,” Reed said. “Unfortunately—but understandably—not all of Aunt Birdie’s ‘children’ could attend but many did from Pittsburgh—New York, Atlanta, Maryland and Chicago, to name a few. In her humility she said that she just couldn’t believe we had traveled there for her. But in our hearts and minds there was no place else we’d rather be.”
Nichols started Glorious Rebirth Performance Troupe in 1980 with former students from her Westinghouse Choir.
The choir performed several musical genres including gospel, jazz, blues and show tunes. In addition, the troupe also staged musical plays and has performed throughout the eastern and southern United States and with musical heavyweights Nell Carter and Al Green. The group also gives out a $1,000 scholarship yearly to a student who chooses to pursue a music career in college.
Glorious Rebirth performs annually September through June. Its goal is to share an uplifting message of hope, joy and love.
“We rehearse with purpose but not plan for payment. We meet our goal and perform as professionals,” said choir member Michael Powell.
Although the group has made a name for itself in the Golden Triangle and beyond, the caveat of Glorious Rebirth’s performing time came when the group did so for Aunt Birdie.
“Being together again was so amazing! It was amazing to see how remarkably talented and skillful we still were,” said Anna Anderson Hill. “Birdie, thank you for all that you do and for who you are. I will forever be grateful you were in my life.”
Choir member Richard Reed echoed Hill’s thoughts.
“It was a blessing how we remembered the words of the songs and the harmonic blend from back in the day still exist. We all collaborated the idea of Birdie’s surprise,” Reed said. “I remember back in the ’60s and ’70s we were the best high school choir in the city of Pittsburgh. In the 1970s we sang for the house of representatives in Harrisburg and got a standing ovation.”
Nichols honed her musical ear on the piano. She began playing at the age of 12, practicing relentlessly each morning. Nichols took that dedication into a long teaching career at Westinghouse High School and later at CAPA. Nichols held numerous positions within the educational field including staff development, teacher supervisor and vocal and instrumental coordinator. She holds a bachelors and masters degree from Duquesne University.
Following her beloved choir’s performance, Nichols stepped back into her role as director and led the group through the song “Closer To Thee.”
“It was no surprise to any of us that the magic of her hand, arm, finger movements and facial expressions were still there working our vocals like the fine instruments she had trained us all to be. We are honored and blessed to have been students of Birdie Nichols and to still be a part of this outstanding ensemble, our music family Glorious Rebirth!” Reed said.