Voices of the Valley performed at Clayton Center Feb. 2

“Voices of the Valley” performed at Clayton Center Feb. 2

Jan. 18, 2019

“Voices of the Valley: Black Voices of a Company Town Called Alcoa, Tennessee” will be performed twice at the Clayton Center for the Arts on Sat., Feb. 2.

Sponsored by Maryville College and the City of Alcoa in joint celebration of the College’s bicentennial year and the city’s centennial year, the performances are scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Haslam Family Flexible Theatre and 7 p.m. in the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall.

Attendance is free but does require a ticket that can be picked up at the Clayton Center Box Office.

Written by Maryville College alumna Joyce Williams Leo ’62, the one-act choral play with monologues tells the story of African-American men and their families who were recruited from the Deep South to work in the pot rooms of the Aluminum Company of America’s plant in Blount County.

The monologues are representative of people who call – and have called for a century – Alcoa “home.” They are the stories of employees of the plant, veterans, teachers, musicians, activists and community leaders. A spiritual shaman opens and closes the play. Cast members include Robert Darrell Orange, Lucinda Mynatt Williams, Cato Clowney, Paul Sudderth, Brenda Williams, Marlena Allison and Stanley Young.

Larry Ervin ’97, Maryville College alumnus and director of the College’s director of Multicultural Affairs and Voices of Praise gospel choir, created a CD of original music for the play. During the performance, several actors also perform solos.

MC students helped with project

Leo based her play on oral histories that were collected by Maryville College students in 2003, 2004 and 2007. At the request of – and with help from – alumnus and Alcoa historian Dr. Shirley Carr Clowney ’58, Maryville College Sociology Professor Dr. Susan Ambler paired older Alcoa residents with students enrolled in her Sociology 222: Sociology of Appalachian Culture and Sociology 202: Social Problems courses for interviews. In addition to asking questions about work and family life, students asked their interviewees about racism and discrimination that they experienced while living in Blount County.

Ambler, who retired in 2015, shared the resulting transcripts, cassette tapes and video recordings of the interviews with Clowney, who kept them for her organization African-Americans of Appalachia & Blount County (AAABC) and eventually turned them over to the Blount County Public Library. Meeting Leo years later, Clowney encouraged the writer to take the transcripts and produce something that would help more (and younger) Blount Countians know and understand the origins of Alcoa and the people who helped build it. Leo decided on a play.

Programs accompany performances

The College’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) will introduce the 2 p.m. matinee. A reception, sponsored by the BSA, will be held immediately after the performance to allow attendees and cast members to meet and talk, informally.

The 7 p.m. performance will include an introductory program highlighting the play’s origins as an oral history project. Ambler’s former students are especially invited to attend and be recognized. Tanya Henderson Martin, the first African-American woman elected to the Alcoa City Commission, will speak on behalf of the city in the introduction.

To reserve a seat, visit the Clayton Center Box Office or contact staff members at 865.981.8590 or boxoffice@claytonartscenter.com.

Written by Karen Beaty Eldridge '94, Executive Director for Marketing and Communications


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.