News & Politics

NBC4’s Jummy Olabanji on How Her Days in High-School Performance Choirs Prepared Her for the Anchor Desk

"It’s almost like varsity sports."

Olabanji (right) with a friend after a choir performance her senior year. “I have never had a problem being onstage,” the newscaster says. Photograph courtesy of Jummy Olabanji.

“I grew up dancing—ballet, tap, jazz—and was in choir. Back in the ’90s, Chantilly High School had a senior performance choir called Touch of Class—they were the elite group that would go to national competitions—and every year they put on this performance called ‘Jazz & Pizzazz.’ In the ’90s in Chantilly, ‘Jazz & Pizzazz’ was the thing. In sixth grade, I went to my first ‘Jazz & Pizzazz’ and was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—Touch of Class is amazing. When I get to high school, I’m going to try out!’

“It’s almost like varsity sports: Touch of Class is varsity, so it was mostly juniors and seniors and maybe some sophomores, unless you were just amazing as a freshman. There was Light Touch, which was the all-girls choir, then Magic Touch, which was like the JV coed choir, and Touch of Class was the premier choir. So I tried out and made Light Touch for freshman year. Then Magic Touch sophomore year, and then they built a new high school in Chantilly, so I moved to the new school, Westfield, and was in the performance choir there.

“There’d be a winter show and a spring show, and you would also do state competitions, then you would also go to competitions where band and choir would sell candy bars to raise money to go on a trip. One year we went to Atlanta, one year New Jersey.

“I was an alto. My favorite songs were anything Motown. Two that stick out were ‘Heat Wave’ and ‘Last Dance.’

“My favorite classes were choir and photo­journalism. I loved history and English, too, but was a much more creative student. In seventh grade, my dance theater took a trip to New York for workshops at Broadway Dance Center, and we saw The Lion King. It was my first Broadway show—I was enthralled. I had dreams of going to NYU or Columbia, but my parents—immigrants, me being first-generation—there was no way they were paying for out-of-state private school, but if I had my way, I was going to go to NYU and go to all the shows. Since then, I’ve seen—I can’t even tell you how many.

“I have never had a problem speaking in front of people, being onstage. That was because at a young age, the extracurriculars I was a part of made it a natural progression. All of that combined [adopts serious anchor voice] to make me who I am.”

This article appears in the October 2022 issue of Washingtonian.
Follow Jummy Olabanji on Twitter at @JummyNBC.

Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.