OAKLAND (CBS SF) — An Oakland boys’ choir jetted off to Washington, D.C., Tuesday as invited performers at a national memorial event for former South African President Nelson Mandela on Wednesday.

Mandela, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 95, was the first black South African president. He served as the country’s democratically elected leader from 1995 to 1999.

The 11 a.m. event on Wednesday with as many as 20 global dignitaries expected to speak, including Vice President Joe Biden, will be hosted at the Washington National Cathedral.

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The U.S. gave widespread political, economic, and social support for Mandela’s campaign to overthrow the apartheid regime after his prison release in 1990.

The memorial service hosted the Washington National Cathedral will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Jonathon Hampton, the associate music director at Oakland’s Pacific Boychoir Academy, a small independent school for boys in grades fourth through eighth, said 26 choir members “are off and running.”

The group, comprised of 11- to 18-year-old boys who attend the school and the after school choir program, was asked to perform by the South African Embassy as the sole Bay Area-based student group.

The boys will be singing several songs, including some South African pieces with lyrics in Xhosa and English and an American spiritual, Hampton said.

The performers headed from San Francisco International Airport early Tuesday morning and will only be in Washington, D.C., until Wednesday afternoon to get back to Oakland in time for two holiday performances on Thursday.

“We’re very honored,” Hampton said about the sudden invitation to participate in the memorial.

The boys will be wearing black turtlenecks with green blazers at the ceremony that will be broadcast on national TV, he said.

The choir went on a tour in South Africa in 2009, which inspired some of their music and gave many of the choir members a connection to Mandela and his country, he said.

“They are totally ready for it and they are very thrilled,” he said the singers.

Hampton said some of the older high school singers went on the South Africa trip and sang with the Soweto Gospel Choir.

“They got all over the country and the culture there,” he said. “They feel a nice connection to it.”

The school is located at 215 Ridgeway Ave. in Oakland.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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