It was pure coincidence that College of Visual and Performing Arts students Tavis Cunningham, Christoff Hairston, and Julian Kennedy sat at the same table one afternoon in Fountain View Dining Hall, and bonded over their shared talent and musical idols.
But when they started singing together, the true magic happened.
The chemistry was instant, and the dining staff weren’t the only ones impressed with the melodic blend of their voices. The students posted a video that went viral of them singing online, and just a couple of months later, that viral video landed them an audition on America’s Got Talent Season 16. Thus, 1aChord was born.
Their performance of Coldplay’s “Fix You” was met with an enthusiastic “yes” from all four judges, who were blown away that the vocalists had met just months before.
“The audition was a little nerve-racking at first, but once we got into the moment, we were just kind of lost in the music and let the music speak for ourselves,” said Kennedy, a senior jazz studies major with a concentration in piano performance.
Two standing ovation-worthy performances later, garnering millions of views online, the trio has advanced to the semifinals of the competition.
And UNC Greensboro prepared them for the national stage in more ways than one.
“If it weren’t for UNCG, I never would have met Julian and Christoff, and 1aChord wouldn’t exist,” said Cunningham, a sophomore musical theatre major.
The three musicians and talented vocalists chose UNCG to develop their craft because of its diverse student body, broad liberal arts education, and talented faculty who have helped them develop invaluable technical and performance skills.
“Our professors have helped us become the musicians that we are, taking the time to be diligent teachers and help us grow,” said Hairston, a sophomore music major with a concentration in voice.
Cunningham echoes that sentiment.
“They have helped us by teaching us the basics of what we need to do on that stage when we perform – connect with ourselves and the audience – and to share our talent.”
Aside from their UNCG professors, the trio points to their musical influences and inspirations such as Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, The Clark Sisters, Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, and more.
“There are so many to name, but I think that’s kind of what makes us such an interesting group,” says Hairston. “We have so many different musical influences. That’s kind of how we’re good at taking a song and giving it an original flair because there are so many different types of music in our ears.”
1aChord have solidified themselves as serious competitors and a contender for the winning title this season with their pitch-perfect, soulful harmonies and by putting a gospel twist on popular ballads. The judges have described their sound as “angelic” and “heavenly.” Judge Howie Mandell commented that their contemporary gospel sound is creating a lane that doesn’t exist in the industry today.
And while on America’s Got Talent, UNCG is supporting them not only as singers, but also as students.
“UNCG is really providing us all the tools that we need to be able to be successful in both areas,” says Cunningham. “When it comes to our academics, our professors are able to work with us and make sure that we are achieving at a high academic level, as well as being able to perform on a high-performance level in California.”
Musical Theatre Program Coordinator Dominick Amendum describes their musical trajectory as “limitless,” which he believes will carry them far beyond Greensboro.
“I, along with the entire College of Visual and Performing Arts, am so proud of the members of 1aChord and how they have burst onto the national stage. They are not only showing the quality of a UNCG education in the arts, but also the kindness, compassion, and hard work that is exemplified by our Spartan Spirit. “
The trio’s talent, along with the support of UNCG, the community, and millions of fans across the country, have gotten them this far in the competition and will continue to propel them as they compete in the semifinals in the coming weeks.
“It’s really beautiful in any way to be supported, and so we’re just thankful to our university and the community for really just standing behind us,” says Hairston. “As an artist, it’s so beautiful to see people appreciate and support your art. We’re definitely the new kids on the block – we’ve only been singing together for a few months – but the success and the support that we have had has been incredible and it’s been immeasurable.”
You can support 1aChord as they compete in the semifinals by voting for the group through the AGT app or online at agt.vote.nbc.com. Share your support for these Spartans on social media by tagging @official1achord and #Vote1aChord on Instagram and Twitter.
Learn more about the students in this video interview:
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard, University Communications
Video interviewing/writing by Alexandra McQueen, Susan Kirby-Smith