Message Tab

Sons of Jubal take top prize at historic North Korea festival

Historic goodwill trip to North Korea, China



Sons of Jubal members approach the Children’s Art Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea. The group was treated to performances of children’s music, dance, and acrobatics.

The Sons of Jubal returned April 23 after an historic goodwill trip to North Korea that saw the group capturing the top award for best ensemble.

The 150-member vocal group performed twice in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and three times in the Chinese capital of Beijing. The two-week trip was part of an effort to foster positive relationships and goodwill with residents of both nations.

But the North Korea concerts were the focal point of the trip as the SOJ was the largest group of United States citizens ever to enter the country. The performances were part of an “advocacy for the arts” coordinated through Global Resource Services (GRS), a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Atlanta.

“We are excited that this opportunity came after a decade and a half of experience in DPRK-United States musical exchanges,” said Robert Springs, GRS chief executive officer and president. While in the country, the group performed twice at the Morang Hill Symphony Hall, home of the National Symphony Orchestra.

The visit was three years in the making and SOJ members helped raise a significant portion of their travel expenses themselves. Remaining funds were provided through love offerings at concerts and GRS. The North Koreans provided hotels, ground transportation, stage crews, and the venues.

Of the groups from 24 countries attending the Spring Friendship Arts Festival in the capital city of Pyongyang, the SOJ was the second largest delegation and its performances were so popular that its concerts were sold out. Along with the performances, the group toured the demilitarized zone on the border with South Korea, visited the Children’s Art Palace, the Pyongyang Music Conservatory, attended several festivities, and recorded an English version of a favorite Korean song for Voice of Korea, North Korea’s international radio service.

“When we sang some of their songs … we were told that it spoke in a significant way to the hearts of the people,” according to SOJ conductor Jon Duncan, who leads the Georgia Baptist Convention’s music and worship ministry. “That helped to link us to them,” he added.

The SOJ was allowed to include songs of faith as well. When the group sang “Amazing Grace,” Duncan said he could hear some audience members humming along.

“We sensed a great deal of freedom that I wasn’t sure we would have. I think it was earned through trust,” Duncan said, adding that the group was asked to perform one more concert, but were unable because of the return flight schedule.

Following the two concerts, a presentation was made to Duncan from the chairman of the Arts Festival Organizing Committee. The Gold Prize for best ensemble performance was given to the SOJ for their performance of “Reddened Sky of Steel Refined,” one of the Korean songs the group sang from memory.

SOJ members said they were impressed by the hospitality and warmth they received in North Korea and China.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

Terry Hooper, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Blairsville, sings “Amazing Grace” during a concert in Pyongyang. Some members of the audience were heard humming the tune as the group sang.

“I am thankful the Sons of Jubal were able to build upon relationships that have been established by GRS,” commented J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Convention has worked with GRS in the past to provide food and clothing to the most vulnerable people in North Korea. Although he was unable to participate in the trip, White is an active member of the SOJ.

The group also performed two concerts with the Beijing Conservatory Chorus and one at the Haidian Christian Church, with over 2,500 Chinese in attendance. Most concerts included the 25-piece Jubal Brass group and the SOJ vocal ensemble. At the Christian church, Darwin Caldwell, pastor of Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church in East Point and an SOJ member, preached a sermon at their request.

Duncan summed up the trip by saying “Working with my musical colleagues in DPRK and China to organize and prepare for the performances could not have been more effective. It showed me again that music can transcend all barriers and that music speaks to the soul,” he said.

“Our prayer was to bring salt and light to DPRK and China and those prayers were answered. Many seeds were planted in both countries, building on GRS’s three main principles of relationships, respect, and reconciliation,” he added.


Sons of Jubal is a worship and proclamation ministry of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Along with its sister group, the Jubalheirs, the choral organizations are involved in music ministries in their local churches. In addition to performing throughout Georgia, both groups have done missions and ministry in other states and around the world. Visit to see more about the Sons of Jubal trip as well as links to a video of the group singing in DPRK, an interview on CNN, and other stories. For more information about GRS visit or contact them at For a list of all participants on the trip and their churches, visit


Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

A concert at the Morang Hill Symphony Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea included the 145-member Sons of Jubal chorus and brass. The group received standing ovations and was asked to return for a second sold-out performance.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

A representative from the Arts Festival Organizing Committee presents Sons of Jubal conductor Jon Duncan, left, with the Gold Prize for best ensemble performance at the DPRK Spring Friendship Arts Festival. The choral organization was one of 150 groups who participated in the Festival from 24 countries.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

Mike Sarratt, minister of worship at Mars Hill Baptist Church in Watkinsville, studies his music before a rehearsal at the Morang Hill Symphony Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

The group observes children rehearsing on the 12-string kayagum, a traditional Korean instrument with silk strings, at the Children’s Art Palace.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

Sons of Jubal conductor Jon Duncan receives a traditional floral gift following a concert in Pyongyang. The group performed an extensive repertoire of classics, Broadway show tunes, spirituals, and several well-known songs of faith. The group also sang several songs in Korean and Chinese. In both North Korea and China, no restrictions were placed on the program.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

As part of the Sons of Jubal trip, the group visited several sites in China and North Korea. A large crowd enters the Forbidden City in Beijing each day.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

Two young girls pose during a recreational field day at Mt. Taesong, east of the capital city of Pyongyang. Many of the Sons of Jubal participated in the various activities during the outdoor event which was part of the Spring Friendship Arts Festival.

Eddy Oliver, Lee Chitwood, and Jim Ailor

Two reporters from a local radio station in Pyongyang interview Gene Blankenship of White Oak Hills Baptist Church in Stone Mountain. He was the oldest Sons of Jubal member on the trip. The station also interviewed Jonathan Peacock, the youngest member, who serves at Bethabra Baptist Church in Hoschton.