The Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) —University of Southern Mississippi student Joey Wolfe, 34, has holiday wedding plans that should make most of his shivering classmates hot with envy.

For starters, an outdoor ceremony on a sun-soaked Jamaican beach where temperatures hover in the balmy 75-80 degree range.

He's also enlisted a 50-member choral group to sing a few ditties at the ceremony.

The kicker: Don't bother asking Wolfe for his wedding planner. All of it fell right into his lap.

The group is the Southern Miss Southern Chorale led by director Gregory Fuller and, truth be told, they're not in Jamaica purely on Wolfe's account.

They just happen to be touring the West Indian country Jan. 6-13 with 11 members of the men's a cappella group Spirit of Southern.

Meanwhile, the fact that Wolfe will touch down in Jamaica for his Jan. 8 wedding is neatly explained. His wife-to-be Karen Cooper is from Kingston, the country's capital.

Wolfe, a Vicksburg native and choral conducting doctoral student at Southern Miss, proposed to Cooper in July after tour plans had been arranged.

“I jokingly told Karen, ‘Oh, wouldn't it be great if the chorale could sing at the wedding?’ I never ever would dream to ask them,” he said. “But then the next time I talked to Dr. Fuller, he was like ‘Well let's sing at your wedding!’”

“Well, why not? We're there,” responded Fuller. “The dates were right. We just had to move a few things around.”

It's not the first surprise experienced by the wedding couple. Wolfe and Cooper met in August 2009 while both were attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Wolfe was finishing up his master's degree in church music while Cooper was embarking on a master's with an emphasis in women's studies.

They struck up an unlikely friendship. “We come from different worlds,” sums up Wolfe. “Jamaica is 80 percent African descent, so there she's just like everybody else. She moves to the U.S. and suddenly she is a minority.

“I grew up in Mississippi, of all places, with its history of race relations,'' he said. “But we found so much common ground.”

Wolfe was previously a stockbroker turned disenchanted law student. Cooper moved to Atlanta seven years ago to work as an auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global accountancy firm.

“We have similar backgrounds in that we both left the business world to come to seminary,” Wolfe said. “That was interesting.”

“Interesting” turned to romance. Not that it was planned that way.

Wolfe says that he's hardly dated since he was 18 and “wasn't looking.”

Cooper, 37, is more emphatic.

“I never really imagined that God would put me together with this guy from Mississippi,” said Cooper, who hopes one day to work in women's ministry either as a teacher or a writer.

“Not just a guy, but a really amazing guy,” she added.

Cooper said she can't wait to hear the chorale in action at the wedding site of Montego Bay.

“It was at first exciting because it's part of his life and something that he's passionate about,” said Cooper, before explaining that her opinion altered slightly when she heard the chorus rehearse in Hattiesburg.

“I was like, ‘Oh my, they are so good,’” she said.

Meanwhile, the Southern Chorale will be busy with more than just wedding music. They have afternoon and evening concert dates at various educational institutions and churches, including Kingston's historic University Chapel.

Fuller said the choral group has toured internationally about six times during his 11 years as director. It's the group's first trip to Jamaica.

“It's great for our students to see a bigger world out there than the one they currently live in,” Fuller said.