Jalyssa James ’14 performs for Congressional Black Caucus and keynote speaker Michelle Obama.
Meaghan Haugh

A talented vocalist, Jalyssa James ’14 is also a Rider Bonner Community Scholar. (Credit: Congressional Black Caucus Foundation)

Rider University student Jalyssa James ’14 took her vocal talents to the national political stage in September when she was chosen to sing at the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference.

A talented performer and an active student leader, James is a recognizable face at Rider, as co-founder and president of the Unashamed Gospel Choir, a team leader for the Rider Bonner Community Scholars and a social media coordinator for the Bonner Advisory Board.

As a recipient of the Caucus’s Spouses Heineken USA Performing Arts Scholarship, James was selected to perform at the Annual Legislative Conference based on her scholarship application, which included a video of her singing. James opened the awards dinner with The Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice.  Later, she performed At Last, All of Me and Girl from Ipanema. The audience, which neared 5,000, included keynote speaker Michelle Obama, U.S. Attorney General Erich Holder, filmmaker George Lucas, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries.

“The experience overall just inspired me to perform more,” said James, a student in Rider’s new Popular Music Culture program. “Just to be in the midst of such leaders … I felt honored … I felt really honored.”

James began singing in choirs in elementary school and became more involved with gospel choir in high school. During her senior year, she won gold in the state of New Jersey and silver nationally as part of the NAACP’s Afro-Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics. James was raised in Somerset, N.J., in the shadow of Rutgers University, but she chose Rider because she felt it was her calling. At Rider, she has been able to receive formal musical training from Claudia Catania, adjunct assistant professor of Voice and Trineice Robinson-Martin, adjunct assistant professor of Fine Arts. Through Catania, she learned how to manipulate her voice according to the song selection. This prepared James especially when she performed All of Me at the conference.

“I never performed jazz before, but when I performed that song — a jazz musician came out of me,” she explained.

As a freshman, James became involved with the Rider Bonner Community Scholars program. Through the program, she mentors and tutors students in Homefront's Joy, Hopes, and Dreams Program, and she is an active member of the Bonner Advisory Board. James and the rest of the Unashamed Gospel Choir perform at various venues across the state. They are planning to expand the group by incorporating a prison ministry.

“It pushes you into the forefront and pushes you to become a better leader,” said James about her leadership on the Bonner Advisory Board. “I have learned to take command as a speaker. With 5,000 people in attendance at the awards dinner, I had to command their attention — and I really got their attention.”