Saint Paul, Minn. — Sounds of Blackness will perform their 1991 hit single “Optimistic” at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards on May 23. The Grammy-award winning group, which was formed at Macalester 50 years ago this year, will appear remotely from Prince’s Paisley Park alongside fellow Minnesota music legends Jimmy “Jam” Harris & Terry Lewis and singer Ann Nesby, a former member of the group. 

Founded by Gary Hines ‘74 and other Macalester students in 1971, Sounds of Blackness was originally called “Macalester College Black Choir.” A student publication called “Sounds of Blackness” inspired the name-change, as the original one did not reflect the variety of music the group performed, nor the fact that it drew upon students from other Twin Cities colleges, Hines told Macalester Today in a 1999 interview. 

Among its numerous distinctions, Sounds of Blackness have won three Grammys and produced six Top 40 albums on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart, as well as two Number One singles on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. Macalester awarded Hines an honorary degree in 1997 and the College invited him to give the 2016 commencement address

The 2021 Billboard Music Awards will air live on May 23 at 7 p.m. CT.

To learn more about Macalester, visit

May 19 2021

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