CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A 200-member choir from Lee University will perform at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 21 — no matter who wins the election.
"We may not know who the next president will be, but we do know one thing: The Lee University Choir will be singing at the inauguration of the president," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told a packed assembly of 1,800 students Thursday at the university's Conn Center.
Members of the performing choir, known as the Lee Festival Choir, will be selected from the university's seven existing choirs, said Paul Conn, the university's president.
Bill Green, dean of the university's music department, will lead the choir.
No songs have been selected yet, but they will be performed a cappella, Conn said.
"We're going to be hard at work," he said. "We're going to make the senator happy that he's from Tennessee and [that] he chose us from among all the schools in the state he might have chosen."
Alexander said the selection of Lee University for a choral group was "a wise decision" made by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The event will be "a wonderful platform" for millions to enjoy the students' vocal talents, he said.
At a news conference after the announcement, Alexander addressed Tennessee's infrastructure and economic development, specifically mentioning the ongoing repair work on the crumbling Chickamauga lock, whose funding is in question.
"If we want good jobs in East Tennessee, we need a new Chickamauga lock," he said. "If we don't want 150,000 new big trucks on I-75, we need a new Chickamauga lock."
To that end, Alexander said, he convinced the congressional committee in charge of a major lock project on the Ohio River to reduce funding for that project, which will free up available money that could be applied to Chickamauga, he said.
The senator said he also is pushing the American Waterworks Act, legislation intended to be "a long-term solution" and make the U.S. more competitive by installing and updating river locks, ports and dams.
The legislation, which calls for increased barge operator fees, has met with some criticism from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who said the core issue is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Fleischmann, who is facing Democrat Mary Headrick in Tuesday's elections, represents Tennessee's 3rd District, which includes the Chickamauga lock.
Alexander said that federal money may be limited for construction of Corridor K, a route on the Appalachian Highway Development System that stretches from Cleveland, Tenn., to Dillsboro, N.C., Alexander said. The project, which may provide an alternate route to U.S. Highway 64 -- which passes through the Ocoee River Gorge in the Cherokee National Forest -- likely will be state funded, he said.
"I think if we want good roads, we need to build them ourselves," said Alexander.