Thursday, September 29, 2005

Strong Tower

Jamel Strong is a tour de force. He captures a radiance of bold charisma, a splendid personality, and an anointing that will cut through the intense fibers of a person's strongholds. When hearing his vocals at work, images of a contemporary version of James Cleveland come to mind. His voice can be gritty at times and very churchy, but it is infectious and uniquely different. In just a short period of time, Strong has delicately served the gospel music community with his creation, Strength Ministries; which serves a handful of super-charged events throughout the year including his annual Triple M Conference. And while his resume' continues to enlarge with respected achievements (especially since American Idol winner Ruben Studdard served on his musical staff), he is becoming the voice for a lost generation of gospel newcomers seeking to be heard in the Deep South.

This weekend, Jamel Strong, along with his vocal aggregation simply called Message, will celebrate yet another anniversary together. The celebration will be intense, as some of Gospel's most esteemed vocalists gather to pay tribute to Strong's growing music ministry. Leon Lacy & LIV (known for creating "Ain't Nobody Like Jesus" on the Hezekiah Walker "Family Affair" project) will be present, along with Verity Recording artist Shea Norman, vocal extraordinaire Nikki Ross, Erik Matthews and Kenn Orr. We do expect Strong & Message to get up and deliver a few tunes as well.

If you are anywhere near the Huntsville, Alabama community, we urge you to make haste. Be present for this celebration.

Date and Location:
October 2, 2005 @ 6:00 p.m.
Pentecostal Lighthouse Church
6107 Blue Spring Road NW
Huntsville, AL

Jamel Strong & Message Anniversary Celebration Flyer

20/20 Vision

If you rushed to your music store this week, or toppled through your local Wal-Mart, you may be lucky to find "20/85 The Experience"; the new project from contemporary gopsel artist Hezekiah Walker & LFC (an acronym for the Love Fellowship Choir).

Why luck? Well, even though the album showcases brand new music, unlike the "Family Affair II" project which consisted mostly covers of their previous hits, this album contains only twelve tracks. Most of the songs are over-cooked, baked at major time limits ranging from six to eight minutes. Plus D. Lawrence produces the project, along with Tonex'. Nothing really's wrong with that, unless you dismantle the LFC sound we all have grown to love.

Well you be the judge of it. The lovely folks at PRAYZEHYMN have been drilling this project on the Message Board and are proving both sides of the issue on whether it's a keeper or a wasted reunion project. With hits like "Calling My Name", "99 1/2", "How Much We Can Bear", "Jesus Is My Help", "Clean Inside" and "Jesus Is The Light", Hezekiah Walker deserves a little more for a 20th year celebration than twelve long tracks. Plus. we wanna know where was:
Timiney Figueroa
Bishop Eric McDaniel
Lorraine Stancil
Melvin Crispell
Monique Walker
Jeff Lesley
Lawanda Campbell
Teddy (FX) Rollins
and the rest of the LFC alumni.

Family reunions should get bigger, not smaller.

Well, don't think I'm hating...the album is right now in stores. Experience 20/20 vision for yourself.


RE: Ol' Skool Continues To Rule

Just in case you didn't know, Ol' skool continue to dominate.

For the Billboard Magazine issue, hitting stands for October 8th, Luther Vandross takes the #1 spot on the R&B/Hip-Hop Music Charts with his fabulous tribute album ("So Amazing: A Tribute to Luther Vandross) created by some of R&B most celebrated crusaders (Patti Labelle, John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Fantasia, Celine Dion). Kanye West, whom claimed the spot for weeks, parks at #2. The posthumous tribute album also resides at #4 on the Billboard 100 (pop). Earth Wind And Fire's "Illumination", the major come-back project fueled by top producers including Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the Black Eyed Peas and Raphael Saadiq, claims the #8 R&B/32 pop positions; proving that they keep gettin' better and better in time.

We are definitely proud of these achievements. We can only wait to see what ol' skool will do next to the world. The takeover continues.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ol' Skool Continues To Rule

While watching Oprah the other day, I realized that Fall 2005 is always my favorite time for album releases. The music industry always saves the best for last and usually the bulk of the good stuff hits the shelves during the last quarter of the year.

Yes, we are catered to gospel music. This is where gospel music lives. But I have always been an admirer of the ol' skool R&B and soul genres. And if you are a true gospel fan, you have to render props where props are due. The bulk of today's gospel artists borrow consistently borrow melodies from ol' skool's finest.

Kirk Franklin
"Looking For You" + Ol' Skool sample = Patrice Rushen's "Haven't You Heard"
Mary Mary
"Heaven" + Ol' Skool sample = Honey Cone's "Want Ads"
Smokie Norful
"Power" + Ol' Skool sample = Earth Wind And Fire's "Serpentine Fire"
Karen Clark-Sheard
"We Acknowledge You" + Ol' Skool sample = The Emotions "Best Of My Love"

Ok. Think I proved my point. We owe a debt to ol' skool.

And that is why I am paying my attention towards two incredible projects which were released Tuesday, September 20, 2005. Oprah recently showcased the artistry of Usher and Patti Labelle as they both paid tribute to the late Luther Vandross; one of the world's greatest vocalists in R&B and pop music. Gone too soon, Luther impacted millions with his love songs and his incredible taste for quality music. And this week marked the release of the
all-star tribute album to such an incredible legend. Artists such as John Legend, Celine Dion, Beyonce Knowles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Elton John, Fantasia, Babyface, Mary J. Blige and Angie Stone laid down their remakes of Luther's timeless artistic compositions. Of course, don't even compare these renditions to Luther's, but the listen is quite enjoyable and proves expressions of emotion springing from their heart. To know that these artists whom are legends themselves opened up their schedules to pay tribute to such a mighty voice in American music is totally incredible. I think we all can learn a lesson or two from this kind of united celebration. Several cuts stick out such as Fantasia's upbeat/gospel-like take on "'Til My Baby Comes Home", Mary J. Blige's party-like formula for "Never Too Much" and John Legend's neo-soul remake of "Love Won't Let Me Wait". Heartfelt emotion and condolences from the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin overtake the crafty reworking of Bacharach/David's "A House Is Not A Home"; developing into a unique centerpiece for the project. But the heavy hitters here remains Patti and Usher. Patti Labelle launches into her timeless ability of "keeping it real" on "Here And Now" while Usher brings his bonafide sexy vocals to the mesmerizing "Superstar"; a song that is virtually impossible to conquer against Luther's 1983 version. Ruben Studdard attempted it, did a good job...but Usher brings a clean, slick feel to it - making it a pretty, modernized track appealing to both young and older generations alike.

Earth Wind And Fire returns to the charts (like they never went away) after dominating the world with Chicago on a very successful year-round tour with "Illumination". No, this is not a tribute album nor another "greatest hits" compilation. This is a new project. And a very good one at that. Of course, the rich formula created by founder Maurice White and the late Charles Stephney found on their earliest projects have stood the test of time to be pure magic and bliss, but staying current is the name of the game today for ol' skool artists. EWF successfully does that while preserving the vibrant juices of their marvelous classics. That would include the horn section, their knack to create funky grooves and the definite mix of gospel, funk, jazz, soul, calypso and pop music. Some of today's finest producers take their spin on EWF's sound and style including the Black Eyed Peas (, Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Big Boi (Outkast), while the legendary founder Maurice White, whom has been absent with EWF on tour due to his bout with Parkinson's disease, dominates in the production chamber as well as finishing things up with his gifts on the Kalimba, guitar and keyboard. He even sings a duet with Saadiq on the eight-minute jam "Show Me The Way". Of course, we are all fascinated with the amazing vocal powers of Phillip Bailey, which he showcases throughout the bulk of the project. "This Is How I Feel" is EWF merged with a youthful party atmosphere as guest vocalist Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child jumps in the heat of things. Jam & Lewis heats things up with the lead single ("Pure Gold") and "Love's Dance" while Kenny G. blazes the sax on Outkast's "The Way You Move" which closes out the project. "Pass You By" has a groovy, neo-soul style that fits well on EWF. Pretty much, this album doesn't overshadow the terrific talents EWF possesses. Hopefully, the world will arise to help celebrate this achievement and send it to the top of the charts; where it soulfully belongs.

Expect both of these albums to dominate my Disc Man, MP3 player and boom box for the next couple of months. Ol' Skool Rules!!! You best believe it.

[Earth Wind And Fire]

[Luther Vandross]

Holy (Crap)

Being a part of PRAYZEHYMN definitely has its priviledges and advantages.

One of those blessings happen to be laughter. And boy, was I ballin' when I visited a link passed on by our good friend Mysta2usa. We are still wondering who sang the lead on this song, the church choir and what church this was recorded at. If anyone knows for sure, please email me so we can do a spotlight on them. I just hope and pray they are alright and have retired from singing for good [giggling].

The Bible says that we should "make a joyful noise unto the Lord". Please tell me folkz if this noise constitutes as "joyful".

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Reformed Pearson

If one could look back almost six years ago, we could easily recall the super strength of Bishop Carlton Pearson, one of America's most celebrated bible teachers, pastors and spiritual leaders of all time. The Azusa movement, which became a modern revival of the early Pentecostal movement of the 20th century, intensified with time and featured prominent speakers and gospel artists such as Bishop T.D. Jakes, Bishop Noel Jones, Donnie McClurkin, Juanita Bynum, Daryl Coley and Dr. Myles Munroe. Their Stellar and Dove nominated live recordings helped revolutionize that moment and placed Pearson in a league of his own. Pastors across America even rushed to claim Pearson as their spiritual father.
The present reveals a different chapter. Bishop Carlton Pearson has been attacked by every right-wing conservative in all forms of communication and media. Ever since the Pearson decided to jump on the Republican circuit and lost a bid for mayor for the city of Tulsa, OK in 2002, Pearson has been under fire ever since. There was even a super praise-and-worship project under the arms of Integrity Music that never seen the light of day, but the reasons for that decision circulated around something even larger than an African-American pastor deciding to run for mayor as a Republican.

Bishop Pearson began teaching on the Gospel of Inclusion and began reforming his theological standpoints around this time and caused many renowned Christian leaders to depart their associations with Higher Dimensions Family Church and Bishop Carlton Pearson Ministries. The Azusa conference even changed venues from its Oral Roberts Mabee Center location on the ORU Campus to Pearson’s church home. The attendees and supporters dwindled down in numbers and a down-sized Azusa conference took place on May 23rd through May 28th, 2004. But Pearson never gave up. His persistence to take his "inclusive" theology, based on God’s unconditional love for all mankind and the Apostle Paul’s theological foundation about reconciliation, across the world created a campaign of generational changers that would bring a form of evolution to modern Christianity. Questions such as "Did Jesus Christ only die for Christians?" and "Do you think most people are going to hell?" remained taboos in the traditions of Christian fundamentalism but proved to be no problem for Pearson to deal with. Of course, his brand of teaching and analyzing has never failed to baffle most theologians and Bible historians, since he has been compared to geniuses of the faith such as Dr. Oral Roberts, Dr. Myles Munroe and Bishop Harold Ray. But Pearson wants to truly explain and make plain to all people that God’s love is all-inclusive, to put larger emphasis on God’s love for the whole world. Because of his press statement and position paper on the subject of inclusion, which was submitted to the National Council of Bishops and was declined thereafter with strong disagreements, many of Pearson’s respected colleagues have distanced themselves from him publicly. Maybe they desired to avoid Pearson so that the subject won’t interfere with their normal ministry engagements or won’t bring any eventual downfall to their reputation or ministry growth. Regardless of what anyone says, Pearson is not the public super giant that he once was. But in light of all of the changes and disarray, he remains fixed on preaching and teaching the fulness of this controversial subject.

It should be known that every preacher or teacher or student of God’s Word develops their own interpretation or personal theology about God. Sometimes we may be wrong and sometimes we may be right, or probably both, but as we search and seek to understand God more, a part of us die in the process; due to the revealed truth that God desires for us to be holy, even as He is holy.

Pearson makes a few observations in his study that may make you wonder. Just wonder.

"If, in fact, Jesus is the Savior of (not just for) all men, and especially those who believe, is it not quite reasonable to assume that He is, in fact, the Savior of those who don't believe, have never heard or perhaps didn't hear accurately?"

While studying theology in college, I, myself, ran across John Hick, one of the modern developers in the Christian universalism renaissance. I had problems trying to study such a complex subject on broadening the theological box I have for years grew comfortable living in. My church home provided me the foundation, my in-depth studying of God’s Word on my own helped revolutionized the basics and opened a new world of relevant truth to me. So when focusing on writing a term paper on Hick’s difficult precepts surely created thoughts of confusion for me. But I achieved in writing on the subject at matter and received an A in that class. Since then, I have learned that there is truth in all things revealed by God. But to go the extreme in calling Hick’s theology the absolute truth would be debatable. I even wondered if Hick really was saved, even though he claims to be Christian. Hick spoke on the subject of Christianity being the One and True religion to a Theological Society in England:

"If we think for a moment of the analogy of the solar system, with God as the sun at the centre and the religions as planets revolving around that centre, the inclusivist position says in effect that the life-giving light and warmth of the sun falls directly only on our earth, but is then reflected off it to the other religions, which thus receive it at second hand. Or in terms of economics this is a kind of trickle down theory of salvation. We Christians are the spiritually rich at the top but our riches trickle down in varying measure to the people of the other world religions below. And just how realistic this is will depend on what we mean by salvation."

Though Pearson isn’t as brash or as serious as Hick when detailing Christianity as just another religion, he does reveal a sensitivity to the growing differences in American culture today. The controversial aspects of abortion, women’s rights, acceptance of gay and lesbians, legalizing marijuana and the Big Dawg better known as gay marriage, people are growing into a new stream of ideas and concepts that storms over the one-sided teachings of our forefathers. It seems that a revolution, or a great awakening, to some degree must be made in modern Christianity in order to survive. One of the speakers at Pearson’s "Inclusion 2005" conference was Bishop John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop, has even written a book, with critical acclaim, stating that Christianity must change or it will die. To change Christianity or what Christ teaches, to many people, would prove to be a failure since God’s Word shall not change. So if the religion itself should change, what is it that must be changed. Is it how we think or is it how we act about what we think?

Definitely a controversial subject and one that many are afraid to battle. But if it nos dealt with, we may be missing the greatest revival the Body of Christ will ever witness. Our ways of worship have changed. Our music has changed. Our way of evangelizing has changed. Our church telecasts have changed. Even our church protocol has changed. What’s next? Maybe Carlton Pearson knows.

Not trying to be too controversialm, but I began to wonder why Pearson uses quotation marks around the terms "born again" and "call to preach" in his biograhpy; as if the quotes are also under fire for future investigation.

More to come.


Bishop Patterson In Rumor Control?

Not one to celebrate or indulge in rumors or to maximize the chat sessions at the local barbershop/beauty salon, but here's a few topics that's circulating in my mailbox and around my ears this week.

The Big One happens to deal with the Presiding Bishop of the Churches of God In Christ (COGIC) denomination, Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson. The word is out that local radio stations in Memphis, where his church rests, that he is battling with cancer and was actually diagnosed with it two years ago. The conversation is so heavy that it is becoming a mighty conversation piece on the PRAYZEHYMN Message Board. Gospel sources have yet to confirm this. We will be investigating this one, folkz.

Other tid bits are leaking out about more potential mergers in the next few weeks. Verity/Zomba, don't you have enough!

A Caravans Reunion album is said to be in the works, which will feature Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood and Casetta George. Haven't this been in rumor control for a number of years? We will see if this is evidently the truth as time rolls on.

The Thompson Community Singers, also known as the Tommies, are getting back together? We will have to see about that. Rumor has it that they have even rehearsed a few times. Now the big question is if Jo Ann Brunson still runs things. Hmmm.

And another one. PRAYZEHYMN closes its doors for good? Well, I thought about it. I really, really did. But I love God too much to give this up. But I was just that close to giving it all up. Gosh, I guess the testing of my faith really does give birth to patience and then experience and then perservance and then hope (Rom.5:3-5).

Well that's enough of the rumors. If you want more, I advise you to tune into EXTRA. Check your local stations for listings and air time (lol).

P.S. This entry has been edited on September 15, 2005.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Journey Concludes

The recording is history.
Now we await the project to officially drop in our music stores, Wallyworld that is.

You may wonder what happened at the historic Richard Smallwood concert, which featured Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Kelly Price, the Clark Sisters and the Hawkins Family. Oh yeah, Kathleen Battle didn't make it, she was sick and under the weather, according to reports (dang!). Well, the crew at Black Voices covered it well. Check it out.

No word on what label will be releasing the colossal project.

Kudos to Jawn Murray for the BV' post.