The history of the James River Singers is the story of two choirs merging to becoming one ensemble. The James River Singers was originally founded by Thomas Colohan and a few friends in 1995. In the beginning, JRS was a summer chorus, rehearsing in the choir room at St. Paul's downtown with concerts being performed in September. The group's first concert was in September 1995; a concert entitled "The Poet Sings". The James River Singers became an incorporated group in 1998 and continued under the direction of Thomas Colohan for several years.
Around the same time, Dr. Jeffrey Riehl started a very small chamber ensemble called "Voci".
In 2001, Thomas Colohan decided to step down as the director of the James River Singers and Dr. Jeffrey Riehl was appointed the new director. In becoming the new director, he brought with him many of his singers from Voci. After a re-auditioning of the group, the James River Singers consisted of the best voices from both organizations. However, for the first concert, the group was billed as "Voci and James River Singers". The double name was dropped soon after and the group has since been known as The James River Singers.
During Dr. Riehl's time as director, he took a year long sabbatical, during which Christopher Lindbloom (a singer in JRS) took over as director.
Dr. Riehl stepped down as director of the group in the Fall of 2010 and in the winter of 2011, David Pedersen was named the new director of the James River Singers. David Pedersen has grown the group from around 18-20 members to 28-32 members and has worked hard to retain the group's amazing talent, build audience through engaging repertoire selection, and make sure that the James River Singers continues to be one of the premier choral ensembles in the Virginia Commonwealth.
Some highlights of the group's history are:
- In 2004, The James River Singers joined the Tallis Scholars from England and the University of Richmond's Schola Cantorum to perform Thomas Tallis' remarkable forty-voice motet "Spem in Alium" as part of the Tallis Scholars' concert at the University of Richmond.
- In 2004, the James River Singers premiered the new work "Abraham's Eyes Were Darkened". The piece was commisioned by JRS and composed by University of Richmond faculty member Benjamin Broening.
- In 2007, the James River Singers participated in an exciting choral project in Norfolk, Virginia, sponsored by the Virginia Chorale titled American Legacies. This National Endowment for the Arts-funded concert brought together four community-based choirs from the region to perform North American Choral music as a way of introducing and reacquainting American audiences with their country's own choral repertory.
- In the fall of 2007, the James River Singers was honored to premiere "I Am in Need of Music", by William Bradley Roberts. JRS dedicated this work to the memory of Sharon Peebles Manson, who lost her battle with cancer in March. Sharon was unfailingly dedicated to JRS as a singer, board member, and long-time president.
- In the spring of 2014, the James River Singers premiered the new work "The Seasons" by Dr. Benjamin Broening; a piece commissioned by JRS.