Desert Cove Elementary School sixth grader Ben Whitsett is not quite a teen, yet he is poised, intelligent and well spoken.
The 11-year-old student and his mother, Andrea, said those traits were refined thanks to his time in the Phoenix Boys Choir.
“PBC is just an amazing thing for me,” Ben said.
“It’s really changed my life — not in the sense that every day I go out there with a new thing. I have a new feeling. I have way more purpose and I feel happier. That’s really something that PBC has done for me.”
Ben and the rest of the Phoenix Boys Choir will bring their annual holiday concerts to venues around the Valley through Sunday, Dec. 19.
Led by Artistic Director Herbert Washington, this year’s concert, titled “Let All the World Sing,” visits Glendale, Paradise Valley and Phoenix.
“We have all kinds of Christmas carols,” Ben said. “It’s different kinds of music — Spanish, basic English carols and all different kinds of things, really. It’s so diverse and inclusive. A long time ago, it might have only focused on the Latin pieces, but this is different. They’re from all across the world.”
This is common among Phoenix Boys Choir performances, which offer a wide repertoire from classical to popular selections. The choir tours domestically and internationally, participate in music festivals, and sing with other professional groups.
The 74-year-old Phoenix Boys Choir has performed with the Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Opera, Phoenix Chorale, and Orpheus Male Chorus of Phoenix and for four U.S. presidents.
Through the Phoenix Boys Choir, Ben has performed in Latin, Spanish, English and Estonian. The languages pair with his favorite subjects — history, especially military history, classical piano music, “Hamilton,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and the Beatles.
It has participated in many iconic local and national events including Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It has won a Grammy Award, and its recording of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” was featured in the trailer for the 75th anniversary re-release of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Ben joined the Phoenix Boys Choir when he was 9, on the recommendation of his piano teacher. Armed with a love of music, Ben said it was a good fit.
“I was listening to ‘Classical Baby’ when I was a tiny infant,” he said.
“I was taking these piano lessons and they were fun, but they weren’t my favorite. I joined PBC because I really had a love for vocal music. I loved it ever since.”
In his first year in the choir, just before COVID-19 hit, Ben traveled with the choir to California “on a big bus.”
“We stayed in a hotel, and we went to Universal Studios,” he said. “It was really an experience for me. I had never been away from home alone like that. I had been along with my grandparents before, but never away from family. I learned a lot and bonded a lot.”
Last summer, Ben and his choirmates stayed at a camp near Prescott.
“That was even better,” he said. “I felt I was grown and ready to move up to more time away. Now I’m ready for even longer. They slowly progress the time away from home. It’s preparing me really well.”
Andrea is impressed with Ben’s maturity level. She said it’s hard to teach children to be independent and responsible at home. Traveling with the Phoenix Boys Choir taught Ben how to pack his own suitcase and manage his gear.
“With multiple age groupings, the choir director really expects the older kids to model good behavior and support the younger boys — especially the little ones who have never been away from home,” she said.
“They get to nurture and support the younger ones so they can pass on what they learned.”
The Phoenix Boys Choir is led by artistic director Herbert Washington, who is a choir alumnus. He is a frequent choral clinician, conductor, lecturer and adjudicator for regional festivals, workshops and conferences around the country.
Washington has collaborated with pop stars Tori Kelly, Jordin Sparks and Jason Derulo, along with rocker Bret Michaels.
Ben has had his fair share of choir stardom. He performed a solo at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and recently, he was chosen for a duet.
“It’s so much different to be the one person on the stage singing,” he said. “It’s really been a great experience.”
Andrea added, “What I have loved about it the most is the choir gave him this community, especially Mr. Washington, who I just think the world of.
“It’s not just about the music. It is this emphasis on brotherhood and coaching the boys grow into young men.”
Phoenix Boys Choir
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12
WHERE: Cactus High School Auditorium, 6330 W. Greenway Road, Glendale
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18
WHERE: Camelback Bible Church, 3900 E. Stanford Drive, Paradise Valley
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19
WHERE: Brophy Chapel, 4701 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix
COST: Tickets are $15 to $25; free for children 12 and younger
INFO: 602-469-0480, boyschoir.org