The voices of the Los Angeles Inner City Mass Choir practice once a week in a South LA church, but the group’s founder says they resonate beyond the chapel doors.
"[It's] not a church choir, but a community choir," said Jeffrey Coprich Sr.
Coprich Sr. began the group about four decades ago. The choir has since shared the stage with vocal greats like Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle, but it started small, with Corprich Sr. recruiting people he knew from his local neighborhood.
Some are still members today, while others have gone to perform with famed singers.
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"Our first set of musicians are now on the road with Mary J. Blige and so many [other] wonderful, amazing artists," Coprich Sr. said.
The Watts native says he started the group in the late 80s, when he saw a void in his community.
"We needed something positive in Watts at the time. There was a lot of negativity," Corprich Sr. said. "I said, 'We gotta do something.'"
That "something" turned out to be the creation of the LA Inner City Mass Choir, with Coprich Sr. inviting kids from the neighborhood, as well as his friends and family, to join the group. That included his daughter Essence.
There are some young faces in the choir that remind Coprich Sr. of the 7-year-old girl. Music, he says, has a way of healing. He speaks from experience.
"We were leaving at night to go to Vegas, and I had the entire choir," he said. "We were driving just fine, and then the unimaginable happened."
After the accident, Coprich Sr. woke up in the hospital. His daughter wasn’t there.
"I couldn’t keep control of the car, so we flipped seven or eight times," he said.
That was 1996. Essence would never return to the choir, nor to 116th Street School, which named its library after the vibrant girl who loved reading and helping others.
"Out of this tragedy, great things started to happen. One of the things is this library," Coprich Sr. said.
Community work is a family affair. Essence’s brother, Jeffrey Coprich Jr., survived the crash. The former college football player is now an LA Police Department officer who says he tries to honor his sister’s legacy by promoting literacy – and her library.
"The books that were inside the library were old and molded," he said. "Some of the books dated back to when my sister was in the school, so the kids needed updated books."
Essence’s name lives on through her school library, and Coprich Sr. says his choir provides healing through its community — and its music.
"Losing her has been a big void in my life. It’s still like yesterday," he said. "I know that her spirit still lives, and I do everything I can do make sure other kids will be happy like she was."
The Coprich family also founded the Unsung Heroes Leadership Foundation, which aims to empower inner-city youth. The charity’s annual gala is hosted next month. For more information, click here.