Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A New Era: Part 6
You been waitin' and debatin' for oh so log,
just starvin' like Marvin for a Funkyman blog
If you cried or thought I died you definitely was wrog,
it took a thought plus I brought David Coleman alog.
Yes, those words are misspelled, but they do rhyme with "blog!"
Wazzup, Funkinians! I know it's been a couple of weeks. A month you say? Dag. Sorry. By the intro, you can see that this week's focus is: Gospel Music! (Thought it was rap, didn't you?) No, L.L. Cooj J's immortal rhymes are not the lead in for gospel music, but since I promised you gospel, you get gospel. We can do rap next time.
You now know that I have studied classical music my entire young life, I have degrees in Performance and Composition from two universities, and that I direct choruses and teach music at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley. What I don't talk a lot about on this blog is my affinity for gospel music. So here's to making up for lost time.
MY GOSPEL RESUMÉ
I grew up in an African American Catholic church. This is significant because during the 70's, a number of black composers/songwriters began writing songs for the Catholic mass in the style of gospel music. I grew up during an experimental era of Black Catholicism where we sang contemporary gospel music for the Benedictus, the Gloria, the Kyrie, the Agnus Dei, etc. As a child, I just thought this was church, but as I grew older and branched out away from my home, I realized what a special experience I had. By the time I graduated from high school, I was playing for my church gospel choir.
When I came to college, my first paying job was as the pianist for the MIT Gospel Choir. Their former musician was the Minister of Music at St. Paul's A.M.E. Church in Cambridge, and there I stayed 14 years as a choir director and musician. During those years, after graduating from college, I became the director of the Boston University (my alma mater) Inner Strength Gospel Choir, where I stayed for 10 years. I have directed numerous gospel choirs all over the Greater Boston area for every age group, and I have led workshops on gospel music, the history of African American music, and the history of the spirituality in African American music at schools, universities, seminaries, and for professional associations. I have my own gospel ensemble called Confirmation, and we have been together for 9 years, recording 3 CD's in the process. I currently direct the Tufts University Third Day Gospel Choir, which is 200 members strong. I also was recently awarded the Thomas A. Dorsey Award from the New England Conservatory. Enough said, on to the tunes!
I told you all of that to tell you I only know about gospel music what feels good to me. My experience has taught me that music is felt as well as heard, but what people truly are changed and moved by is what it FEELS like. So to me, sincerity is everything. There are a lot of insincere artists out there trying to create music they THINK people want to hear. But often, gospel doesn't deal in that because it's almost impossible to be a gospel artist and not be emotionally and spiritually attached to everything you do.
Also, the word "gospel" gets thrown around a lot. There are many kinds of gospel music - traditional, contemporary, urban/hip-hop, Christian rock, Christian rap. This blog focuses on contemporary gospel music, which mostly is by African-American artists wrting in the vein of R&B/Funk/Soul music.
Lots of people ask me, "Rev. Dr. Funkyman, I want to buy some gospel CD's, but I don't know where to start." So, here's your guide to the top ten artists/albums I think will get you on your way. This is a free service of the Adventures of Funkyman, sponsored by . . . well, no one. Like every other list, this one is hard to compile, but these are the albums I've probably listened to and received from the most.
Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers - Bible Stories
A lot of the songs on this album are inspired by stories from the Bible, but the real success is the songwriting. Donald Lawrence is one of our greatest living gospel song artists, and it's on full display here. Suggestions for download are "Stranger" and "Come Lay Your Head On Me."
Donnie McClurkin - Live in London
Donnie McClurkin has a string of popular gospel hits, but this album knocked it out of the park. He is a seemingly effortless soloist with a powerful tenor voice, and the songs here are perfect for him. Suggestions for download are "We Fall Down" and "Great is Your Mercy." You will cry. You will.
Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ- Pages of Life, Vol 1. & Vol. 2
Fred Hammond's Thriller. Fred Hammond is probably my favorite gospel all around artist. He can sing, he can write, and he can play like ridiculous. Every song on this double CD is amazing. Highest recommendation. Download "Let the Praise Begin" or "He's God" or "You Are My Song."
Kirk Franklin - The Nu Nation Project
Kirk Franklin is the best selling gospel artist of all time. This CD has such standout songs like "Revolution" and "My Desire." Of course, Kirk has so many hit songs, that his whole discography is a walk through time with gospel music, but if I were to pick one album, it's this one. It has a little bit of everything - hip hop, worship songs, traditional gospel. It's a tour de force.
Richard Smallwood and Vision- Adoration
Richard Smallwood is gospel's answer to classical music. Many artists are classically trained, but few have used that training on display in the music as Richard Smallwood has. However, this CD is about the songs, and they are amazing. I've probably listened to this CD 1,000 times. Standout songs are "Total Praise" (in my opinion, one of the 10 best gospel songs EVER written) and "Thank You."
John P. Kee & the New Life Community Choir- Show Up
My favorite male gospel singer, John P. Kee is also a songsmith. His songs are very well known and like Kirk Franklin's, there are so many. This album has standout songs like "Made Up Mind" and the title song "Show Up." His style is power-pop with a soul edge - very catchy, very powerful, very good.
Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir - 20/85
Any one of their albums is amazing - Live in Atlanta, New York, Toronto, London, and even the oldies, but this most recent one is ridiculously good. The production, the songwriting, and the musical gifts are exceptional. It's just an amazing album to listen to. If you're looking for a great choir album, this is it. Download "More Than That" or "Lift Him Up."
Israel and New Breed - New Season
Probably the most important CD in gospel music in the last 10 years. This brought Israel to the forefront of the Praise & Worship movement and made it mainstream. Download "You Are Good."
James Hall & Worship & Praise - God is In Control
Like Richard Smallwood is gospel's ambassador to classical music, James Hall is gospel's ambassador to Broadway. Amazing choir and such difficult arrangements that they are rarely recreated by amateur, local churches. Truly a genius, and truly amazing to behold. "God is in Control" was his biggest hit, and if you hear it, you'll know why.
Confirmation - Give Us This Day
O.K. I'm cheating. This is my group and my songs. But I have to say, it's different, and if you're looking for different, we're it. We use almost every form of music - jazz, classical, hip-hop, as well as traditional and contemporary gospel. Songs to download are . . . all of them. Click here to purchase!
That's it for now. As usual, there are so many artists and albums I'm not mentioning - O'landa Draper, Ricky Dillard, Milton Brunson, Thomas Whitfield, Tye Tribbett to name a few. Go check it out for yourself!