International Opera Star records with Stone County, Mississippi Singers

Members of The New Welcome Hill Baptist Church Choir, in Stone County, Mississippi, led by Music Director and lead soprano Kaliahya Lashun Collins along with soprano Dwana Haley Wells and a quintet of girls from Stone High School, have recorded a spectacular anthem ‘Heaven is My Home’ with British International Opera star Andrew Staples.    

Staples, an outstanding classical tenor, has performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, The Metropolitan Opera, New York, The Lyric Opera, Chicago, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The London Symphony Orchestra, and The Berlin Philharmonic.  He regards the recording of ‘Heaven is My Home’ with the Stone County singers as ‘epic’.    

The anthem, composed by Emmy Award Winner (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) Michael J Lewis, a Stone County resident, has words by Thomas Rawson Taylor, the eighteenth-century English hymnist.    

Lewis was introduced to the local singers at a choral concert in The First Baptist Church of Wiggins in 2017. Four gospel singers from New Welcome Hill astounded Lewis with their spontaneous, improvisational music presentation. “I thought they were absolutely marvelous - as were the choir from Stone High. I immediately knew that I wanted to record them and demonstrate to the world how alive and well choral music is in South Mississippi.    

The idea began to germinate for a recording that would combine the more traditional British music style, reflecting my roots, with the variety of styles, from different cultures, to be found here in Stone County, my home amongst the pines. Distinctly different sounds and approaches combining together in total harmony in praise of God.” English oratorio joining hands with Mississippi Gospel.

The first tracks to be recorded were the drums at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Hattiesburg on February 9, 2018, followed by virtuosic guitar, bass, piano recordings in Austin, Texas and B3 and Conga tracks in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

After the rhythm tracks were laid and edited, The New Welcome Hill and Stone County High singers were multi-tracked at the historic Stone County Court House that was originally intended, when built in 1917, to be as much a cultural as a legal center. A beautiful sounding room that has rarely, if ever, been used for recording.

Lewis says that “It’s a great place to record voices. Warm and sonorous. Everyone at the Court House was so helpful and welcoming. The singers were a delight to work with and produced great sounds. It was a tremendous experience right here in Stone County, Mississippi. 

With the soloists, KaIiahya and Dwana, I wanted to use a more complicated recording technique. So, after considerable rehearsal here in Stone County, we travelled to a studio in New Orleans to record. The sessions were fabulous, and the New Welcome Hill soloists delivered wonderfully, exceptionally. Truly world-class. Exhilarating, thrilling, improvisational. 

In the course of the next year, I searched Jackson, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, London, for a bass-baritone soloist to match the remarkable tracks recorded by the Stone County singers. I auditioned, via the phone and the Internet, dozens of male voices in the US and the UK but not one appealed to me. None matched the magic created here in South Mississippi. Then in January of this year, after three years working on ‘Heaven,’ the good Lord intervened, and I, by pure chance, heard Andrew Staples singing Bizet on YouTube. I immediately knew that I had been looking in the wrong direction. What I needed was a tenor of Andrew’s caliber to complete my recording, not a bass-baritone. Kaliahya had a recorded a bell- like high C in the last measures of ‘Heaven’ and I needed my leading man to do the same. Pure high Cs do not come along very often. And to have two on the same recording would be exceptional. 

I approached Andrew in England, played him the tracks created here in Stone County and to my delight he agreed to record ‘Heaven is My Home’ remotely via the Internet. His performance is amazing. Full of passion, energy and remarkable enunciation - along with a perfect high C.  A stunning match for the great performances by New Welcome Hill and Stone County High.” 

The recording leads us from the loneliness and dangers of life here on earth to the joy of uniting with those we love most and best, as we stand at our Lord’s right hand in our heavenly home above. ‘Heaven is My Home’ can be heard, for free, at