Professor Iris Stevenson McCullough
She is a major artistic force in Los Angeles, who has dedicated her life to nurturing urban youth. A gifted composer, concert pianist, educator, evangelist, music consultant, and vocal coach, she has trained and inspired thousands of singers and musicians throughout the years. As the constituency of the International Music Department of the Church Of God In Christ, we are most proud to have been led by this phenomenal woman, “God’s Global Music Ambassador”, our beloved third appointed International President and the fourth leader in succession, the remarkable Professor Iris Stevenson McCullough.
Born June 24, 1952 to an humble background in Buffalo, New York — Professor Iris was an early musical prodigy from birth. She began her musical journey at age three when she begin playing the piano and later progressing to writing music a year later. Her parents were determined to help her succeed by making unprecedented sacrifices that would allow her musical talent to flourish.
Professor Iris attended the Villa Maria Institute of Music, one of America’s finest Fine Arts schools in Buffalo, New York. She continued on to Oberlin Conservatory of Music, as a student and teacher. Upon graduation, she taught at Canisius College in New York, while receiving her Master’s of Fine Arts in Pedagogy from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Professor Iris was recruited by the Los Angeles Unified School District to teach at Crenshaw High School in 1985, where she currently serves as the chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. The school has since honored her with the dedication of the Iris Stevenson Music Wing. Simultaneously in 2001, President Jacques Chirac and the Ministry of Education of France commemorated the global work of Professor Stevenson by re-naming their Fine Arts building in Tarare, France in her honor.
Professor Iris’s charisma — like her atypical teaching methods and her commitment to the community — made her classes successful, leading her to her Hollywood destiny. In 1991, she garnered national attention by invading the court of Los Angeles with 200 choir members to protest against the closure of many music schools across the country. The legend was born, and in December 1993, the world celebrated the release of the widely anticipated movie “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” starring Whoopi Goldberg. The movie was inspired by the life and music of Iris Stevenson McCullough and the Crenshaw High School Elite Choir. In fact, it was Professor Iris who taught the young actors her classic arrangement of “Joyful, Joyful.” Other recently released documentaries include “Rappin’ with Shakespeare”, “I Am Because We Are” with Madonna and the people of Malawi; and “The Angel’s Flight” with Wataru Ezaki and Fujisankei Television.
Under her direction, the award-winning Crenshaw Elite Choir has performed command performances at the private residences of Prince Charles at St. James’s Palace of London, England; the Royal Grimaldi Family of Prince Rainier in Monaco; the Dalai Lama, and numerous Heads-of-State around the world including China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. They have performed regularly as artists at several renowned Worldwide Music and Jazz Festivals, including Antibes, Nice and Jamaica.
Her untiring devotion to excellence in education, character building, performance, and all-around academics has led to the superior achievement of the Crenshaw High School Elite Choir – winners of the International Choir Olympics Competition in Busan, Korea (2002), World Choir Games in Xiamen, China (2006) and Graz, Austria (2008), bringing home the champion Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals.
Crenshaw Elite Choir has performed as Special Guest Artists with the Southeast Symphony Orchestra (John Dennison) in the World Premiere of the choral version of “Some Trust In Chariots” written by Iris Stevenson McCullough; with The Yellowjackets (Russell Ferrante) in the World Premiere of the Maya Angelou Inaugural Poem “On The Pulse Of The Morning” at the 1996 Playboy Jazz Festival; with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Yvette Devereaux) with the World Premiere of “The Easter Suite” written by Joe Westmoreland and Charles May; with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (H.B.Barnum) in the World Premiere of “Stand And Be Proud” also featuring Iris Stevenson McCullough’s rendition of “America”; with the Cerritos Symphony (Gail Deadrick) on “The Colors of Christmas”; and with Disney’s Young Musicians Orchestra featuring the World Premiere of “The Power Of The Dream,” the 1996 Olympic Theme written by David Foster. The critically acclaimed “Tribute to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” was arranged by Iris Stevenson McCullough and performed for Quincy Jones in May 1998. This same performance was requested at the 1998 Nice Jazz Festival as the Choir appeared with Lionel Hampton. Josh Groban’s award winning rendition of “You Raise Me Up” with the Crenshaw Elite Choir was recorded “Live at the Greek Theatre” and released late 2005. Michel Polnareff’s acclaimed recording of “When I’m In Love” and video was taped by Crenshaw for his highly successful 2007 World Tour.
Because of her passion and emphasis on Global Ministry, Professor Iris has developed cultural exchange programs and “Sharing Through Common Ground” experiences. Professor Stevenson’s music, in various genres and languages, has been recorded and she has received several Grammy and Emmy nominations. Her published works include the internationally acclaimed “Yes, Lord!” Hymnal of the Church of God in Christ, of which she served as editor.
Professor Iris Stevenson McCullough has always been a staple within the International Music Department of the Church Of God In Christ. She still serves as the minister of music at her local ministry, the 88th Street Church Of God In Christ, as well as the Jurisdictional Minister of Music for the Southwest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of California. She was appointed as an International Vice President by the late Presiding Bishop Louis Henry Ford in 1994, and reappointed by the late Presiding Bishop Chandler David Owens. In 2001, his eminence, the late Presiding Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson elevated Professor Iris Stevenson-McCollough to the high office of International President. During her tenure, Professor Iris employed a global ministry focus and a parade of colorful gospel songs and arrangements, full of joviality and infectious rhythms. In 2014, President Judith McAllister and the International Music Department introduced the Professor Iris Stevenson McCullough Choral Innovation Award, presented annually during the IMD‘s Honors Luncheon and Heritage Awards.
On August 3, 2013, Elder George McCullough and Professor Iris Stevenson were joined in holy matrimony in Los Angeles, California.
Although she has never given birth physically, Professor Iris mothered thousands, showing love to numerous young people with her unique brand of tough love. Whether in the classroom or on an international platform, she remains an inspiration to countless scores of people. Through her faith and fervent care, many lives have been and continue to be touched, nurtured, and changed for the better.
With great esteem and grateful hearts, President Judith Christie McAllister and the International Music Department of the Church Of God In Christ are proud to honor and salute “God’s Global Music Ambassador,” Professor Iris Stevenson McCullough, an international phenomenon and a true living trailblazer among us.