He has a debut single that’s burning up the radio airwaves, gospel music industry moguls like Marvin Sapp praise his musical talents and he’s toured with Kirk Franklin — arguably one of the greatest contemporary gospel icons in modern history. This incredibly talented gospel artist is Jason Nelson’s CD titled “Shifting the Atmosphere” drops May 22; it’s a must-have for lovers of gospel music.
“Shifting the Atmosphere” is Jason’s major label debut on Verity Records, the largest gospel music label in the U.S. Before this new CD release, Jason recorded several albums: Place of Worship (2008), Brand New Day (2006) and I Shall Live (2005).
Nelson, 38, was recently in Philadelphia at F.Y.E. music store (May 18) for a CD signing of his new release. Before his store signing, the Tribune caught up with Nelson for an exclusive one-on-one interview in the lobby of the very posh Hotel Palomar – Philadelphia on 16th Street. Commenting about the success of his single and the release of this new CD, Nelson shared, “It’s very humbling to know that God’s Hand is really on this song and that people are really embracing it … it’s helping people express themselves from a spiritual and worship perspective, so, that’s why it’s working.”
The New York Times hailed Nelson’s “Shifting the Atmosphere” as a “… religious quiet-storm ballad, with percussion chimes and rustles and traces of wah-wah guitar, about the effect of a powerful unseen force. For (Jason) the unseen force is prayer; for you it may be something else.”
“I think (“Shifting the Atmosphere”) is resonating because people are trying to find ways to express how they really feel about God … and this song really speaks to that,” shared Nelson. Nelson believes that his song, “Shifting the Atmosphere,” is one of those songs that can be recited to help usher people through their most difficult life moments.
Nelson recalls the epiphany he had to write this song, in 2010, “I was literally on a train, on my way to New York, and the words just dropped in my spirit … I stopped what I was doing, I picked up my phone, I didn’t have a pad with me at the time, I picked up my phone and I typed (the lyrics) into my phone … not knowing how significant those words were going to be … I’m very grateful.”
There’s no shortage of positive feedback from the gospel community regarding Nelson’s musical talents and performing skills: “Jason Nelson is an example of the new generation of incredible talent being birthed in gospel music. The voice, the character, the lifestyle speaks hope to those who are searching for authenticity,” shared Kirk Franklin.
“We’ve been fans since Jason’s first album. It was obvious then, as it is now, that he’s God’s man. This song is just another reminder. What a blessing,” shared the Grammy award-winning gospel duo of Mary Mary.
Before going solo, for several years, Nelson had sung and performed with Gospel great Donald Lawrence, and Donald had this to share about his protégé: “Jason Nelson is a former Donald Lawrence & Company member and is by far one of my favorite male singers. The ability, warmth and tone of his voice just (does) it for me! Get ready for Jason Nelson, a timeless gift and (an) amazing talent.”
Marvin Sapp offered this about his friend Nelson, “Jason Nelson is probably the most gifted and prolific singers of our time. I believe that everyone should have this CD as part of their collection. It will really minister to you in a powerful way.”
“These people don’t have to be nice, but for them to take the time to articulate how my ministry has impacted them, it’s amazing. Marvin (Sapp) is a really good friend of mine, we get compared a lot,” said Nelson. Nelson wrote “Thirsty” the title song of one of Sapp’s biggest chart topping CDs, in addition to other hit songs.
Nelson maintains a level head about receiving such praise from gospel music’s super elite, “It’s humbling, very humbling. Not only are they peers … they are people I look up to and some of them I have really good relationships with … you never know how artists view your music … and to know that they really appreciate what I do, it’s exciting and humbling at the same time,” said Nelson. Nelson is no stranger to the gospel community; he’s played bass guitar for some legendary gospel artists like Yolanda Adams, Karen Clark Sheard and BeBe Winans, to name a few.
Many artists have favorite songs that have greatly influenced them, for Nelson, there are many. But recently, he’s drawn inspiration from one song by the Gospel group Forever Jones that’s been a great encouragement to his spirit, “They have a song called, ‘Just The Way’ — it’s a song from God to us, it’s something about the way the lyrics play out … it’s something about how the lyrics speak to me and how that song is performed.”
Nelson and his wife Tonya are parents of a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. “My family is my first ministry,” declares Nelson. In addition to having a potential chart-topping CD, Nelson, a native of Maryland, is the senior pastor of the Tabernacle of Greater Bethlehem Temple Church in Baltimore.
Twenty-six years ago, the Philadelphia Tribune named Gordon Brown Jr. the youngest gospel music promoter in Philadelphia. As minister, label executive, producer and award-winning songwriter, G. Brown (his stage name), is rebranding himself for a new role in the music industry.
Brown will release the single “Love is Coming Back” on iTunes on August 1.This urban gospel song is remake of the classic McFadden and Whitehead song “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Described as a mixture of traditional gospel, a pitch of rhythm and blues and a tossing of what Brown said is God’s anointing, the track is geared to youth and urban communities.
“It’s kind of like Kirk Franklin, that’s the demographic that I’m looking to gravitate to, but my style is more like Hawkins, Smallwood with a little bit of Donny and Boys II Men blended all in together,” Brown said.
Along with the single, Brown has written 48 songs — about three CDs worth of music — that he plans to release as an artist until 2018.
Helping to produce the single with Brown are his nephew, Antonie McRae and producer and keyboardist Christopher Weatherbe. He has worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, Vivian Green, Floetry, Jaguar Wright and Kindred.
“Whatever his vision is, I just want to bring it to life. I don’t have any self-ambition. He wants to give an inspirational song out with a message about love,” Weatherbe said.
Learning through experience
The South Philadelphia native began his music career as a teenager deeply rooted in gospel music. As a student at Vare Edwin H. Middle School, Brown’s physical education teacher was Gabriel Hardeman — leader of Gabriel Hardeman Delegation whose record, “Feels Like Fire” gave them fame. Several weeks into the school year, Brown attended his aunt’s wedding. Hardeman was one of the ushers and the groom was the drummer for the Hardeman Delegation.
After this interaction, Brown persisted to get involve with the band. In 1982, Brown became the band’s stagehand. Through the mentorship of Hardeman and his wife Annette, Brown learned how to write songs that later won Brown five American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
At 16, Brown created a group, The Gordon Brown Singers, and was a music promoter for the Wynne Plaza. There, he was responsible for booking gospel acts at the Wynnefield venue. Brown then worked for Tony Beck, owner and president of MeeSiah Records — an independent gospel label. Also, Brown was an executive assistant for music producer, Nick Martinelli, and served as Martinelli’s manager for a brief period. In 1991, he received more industry experience under gospel legend, Dr. Edwin Hawkins.
Despite the mentorship and success he was receiving, Brown’s career was interrupted.
In 1998, Brown was imprisoned. While serving a 14-year sentence, he earned a doctorate in theology. Six months ago Brown was released, and he plans to continue to his career.
“Instead of being bitter, I feel blessed. I got great vision from God,” Brown said. “When you spend 14 years in prison you get a lot of ideas that God has time to give you great vision.”
Bringing a rebirth to Philadelphia
Using vision and revelation, Brown also works as the creative director for Philly Style Studio.
“It’s in the community. You don’t know it’s a studio, and you’re not abandoning the community. Every community has a local rapper or local singer and they can come right here and get a nice demo,” Brown said.
Located on 18th and Morris streets, Brown said he wants Philly Style Studios to create resurgence in Philadelphia.
“I just love Philly, but we have nothing going on musically in the city. In the beginning it was Motown, then Philadelphia International,” Brown said. “We have Jill, Musiq and Tye Tribbett, but I just want to bring that attention and that draw back to the city. Basically putting Philly back in its place.”
And with help of PSS owner, Henry “Bubby” Nicholas, Brown’s vision is beginning to come to fruition. Currently, Nicolas is gathering talent for The Entourage — a collective of musicians, dancers, R&B singers and rappers.
“He’s got so much energy. He’s my favorite,” Nicholas said.
“When I came on board here, his vision with the studio and the Entourage verse my vision on a creative level and an artist level was just a perfect fit,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like what Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff did in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s kind of what he and I are trying to do now.”
In mid-August, PSS and Zoah Music Group Worldwide (Brown’s music label) will have an Internet talent search of gospel, R&B and hip hop artists.
“It’s basically going to be American Idol online, but for those genres,” Brown said.
Fifty submissions will be chosen to participate. With the public’s help, 25 acts will be chosen. Of those, 15 will be eliminated and the remaining 10 will face off for the final phase of the competition judged by PSS and ZMGW.
First prize will be a recording contract with ZMGW, second prize will be a recording contract for a single with ZMGW and third prize will be a production video at PSS.
ATLANTA — Christian rapper Lecrae first came to Atlanta as a teenager for a youth conference in 1999, but what ultimately convinced him to lay down roots here was its thriving gospel music scene.
"Atlanta is just a musical hub," said the 32-year-old, who moved from Houston three years ago. "There are a slew of producers, engineers, artists and writers. There's a wealth of outlets here, and it's a community of artists who are here as well. That's a major reason why I came here."
Atlanta has become a key place of business for many of the heavyweights in gospel and Christian music, like Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Jason Crabb. They flock to the city known to some as "gospel's Hollywood" because of its flourishing R&B and hip-hop scene, an evolving television market, a variety of Christian and gospel record labels, and a plethora of mega churches. Some of the industry's best, such as Francesca Battistelli, the group Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin and Dottie Peoples, reside in the city or in the suburbs.
"Atlanta is becoming like the new Los Angeles," said Sapp, the chart-topping gospel singer.
"Everybody and their momma are shooting all types of films here," he added. "It's becoming a regular hotbed for the entertainment field. And because of that, gospel is coming here as well. People are connecting. It's becoming a very viable place for gospel artists to excel and be successful musically."
Recently, the 43rd annual Dove Awards took place at the popular Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the second straight year. The show, which celebrates Christian and gospel music, had all the glitz and glamour of a high-profile awards show, with more than 250 media outlets on the red carpet.
The rising support of the genre in Atlanta is what convinced Gospel Music Association organizers to move the Doves to the city in 2011. The ceremony started in Memphis and was held in Nashville, Tennessee, for more than four decades.
GMA board chairman Mitchell Solarek said organizers felt Atlanta has a larger media reach with more radio and television outlets to support the show. With GMC — formerly the Gospel Music Channel — based in Atlanta, Solarek called the move a "no brainer." The network aired the awards in April.
"Even though Nashville is touted as the music capital of the world, the media is not as broad there as it is in Atlanta," he said. "We wanted to take this (awards show) to a market that was broader than it was in Nashville, while still achieving our goal of musical diversity and still reach the bulk of our members. And Atlanta is just a drive away."
That sounds good to the ears of Georgia officials, who have worked hard to promote the state as an entertainment destination. They offer one of the highest tax credits in the United States — up to 30 percent to those looking to produce shows, music videos and commercials in the state.
"We are developing strategies to aggressively promote Georgia's strengths in the music industry including its wealth of talent, expanding digital media infrastructure, production facilities, live music scene and music education opportunities" said Lisa Love, the director of music marketing and development for the Georgia film, music and digital entertainment office.
"The gospel and contemporary Christian-oriented assets in all of those areas will continue to be invaluable in the positioning of Georgia as an entertainment industry destination," she continued.
Lecrae has made it his destination. Since he has lived in city, the rapper has become one of the most popular in Christian hip-hop. He also co-founded his own record label with Ben Washer, Reach Records, which is based in Atlanta. Other labels launched by artists based in Atlanta or in the state of Georgia include Christian rock group Third Day's Essential Records; singer/rapper Canton Jones' Cajo International; Dottie Peoples' DP Muzik Group; and televangelist Creflo Dollar's Arrow Records. Warner Music Group's Taseis Distribution is located in Atlanta as well.
"It's easy to come here because of all the industry people are already here," said Henry Panion III, whose record label, Audiostate 55 Entertainment is based out of Birmingham, Ala., and is distributed through Taseis. "Atlanta has become an entertainment draw, and gospel is following suit."
Atlanta is also host to BET television's "Sunday Best," a gospel talent competition that awards the winner with a recording contract. It's hosted by Franklin along with judges Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin.
Tyler Perry's sprawling TV and film studio has also become a player in Christian music. Perry's inspirational-based stage plays and movies have provided an avenue for gospel singers to gain exposure. Tamela Mann, known as Cora in Perry's plays, movies and TV show "Meet the Browns," is also a gospel singer and won a Dove Award last year.
"If you look at the underlying story of his movies, there's always something that talks about the goodness of the Lord," said Crabb, who won artist of the year at the Doves in April. "When you have a state like Georgia that's spiritually deep-rooted, more are going to want to be a part of what he's doing."
Georgia has the most mega churches in the country behind California, Texas and Florida, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research's recent database. The number of mega churches in Georgia gives artists a chance to perform in front of congregations ranging from 2,000 to 20,000. Several high-profile pastors such as Andy Stanley, Creflo Dollar and Paul Morton normally offer live music without a traditional setting of a choir before a preacher's sermon.
Lecrae feels he's in Atlanta at the perfect time.
"It's been really good here," he said. "Just seeing people within the music industry from mainstream and even what others call secular music come together to use their talents for the Lord, it's great." -- (AP)
Elder Goldwire McLendon has truly proven that age is just a number.
McLendon has accomplished something that many in the music biz have not; he has secured a record deal with a major label. But most notably, McLendon is believed to be the oldest American contemporary solo artist to sign with a major record label. On Tuesday April 24, McLendon, 81, released his first debut solo CD project, “The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon” on the Music World Gospel record label.
You may know McLendon from his smashing performances as a contestant on Season 3 of BET’s Sunday Best singing competition, hosted by Kirk Franklin (think American Idol but for Gospel singers exclusively). Of the hundreds of contestants vying to compete for the coveted title of Sunday Best, Mclendon placed first-runner-up to Season 3 winner Le’Andria Johnson. McLendon’s soulful performances made him an endearing Gospel celebrity and created great buzz within the music industry.
“When I received a call that Mathew Knowles wanted to sign me to Music World Gospel, my daughter and I were stomping on the floor, and holding our mouths because we wanted to scream. I carried on and she did too,” said McLendon. He humbly remarked that he always wanted to do a solo project.
Knowles, President and CEO Music World Entertainment, founded the record label Music World Gospel. Knowles is the father and former business manager of mega super-star and R&B singer, Beyonce Knowles. Under the Music World Gospel record label, McLendon joins an elite roster of top Gospel groups, soloists and special projects that include: Trin-i-tee 5:7, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Brian Courtney Wilson, Micah Stampley, Juanita Bynum, Le'Andria Johnson, Michael Pugh, and ESSENCE Gospel, to name a few.
Commenting about his debut solo CD, McLendon shared, “It’s an awesome project, it’s exciting, I’m excited about what the Lord is doing at this stage of my life.” McLendon has been singing all his life, so he’s no novice at performing his craft.† During his early beginnings, McLendon shared that his mother, father and aunt had a great influence on his singing. “I love singing…the Lord has given me this gift.”
When asked about what Gospel singers he greatly admires, McLendon responded, “James Cleveland was one of them. Then there’s Walter (and) Edwin Hawkins, Shirley Caesar, and Albertina Walker. My mother was a great inspiration, too. She could sing.”
“Elder Goldwire has an ageless appeal—with the heart and soul of a man who has done a lot of living. He has the energy and enthusiasm of a young man,” said Knowles. “As I watched him in Season 3, he competed with vigor and stamina. He proved that he can connect with people in a wide range of demographics as he won the hearts of over a million supporters—especially females.”
McLendon’s first single is a contemporary rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Jesus Be A Fence Around Me.” He also offers a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, in-the-pew dancing rendition of “He’s All Over Me.” And McLendon’s smooth, melodic, crooning virtuosity, is evident on his cover of “How Great Thou Art” – this was one of his best Sunday Best song performances that solidified him as an endearing and formidable Gospel performer. His performance of the song garnered over 60,000 views on YouTube.com!
In the 1960s, McLendon toured and performed locally around the Philadelphia area with a Gospel group called the Savettes Choral Group. McLendon was also a featured artist with two other Philadelphia Gospel groups: The Brockington Ensemble and the Victory Choral Union. When his children were old enough to travel, they performed as the McLendon Family for many years. And it was McLendon’s daughter who actually urged him to audition and compete in the Sunday Best Competition.
It hasn’t always been an easy musical career for McLendon, he admits, “I had to go through some trials and some tests.” McLendon confided that after many years of being persistently faithful as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Lord finally opened some doors for him in 2010. McLendon said, “The Lord said, ‘This is your season!’”
Before there was Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond and Mary Mary, there was the Rance Allen Group, which introduced the world to an irresistible brand of sacred soul with inspirational songs such as “Ain’t No Need of Crying” and “I’m Thankful.” Allen and his brothers Thomas and Steve will bring their uplifting musical message to Bridgeton, N.J., when Mount Hill Missionary Baptist Church presents “Thanksgiving Praise,” taking place at Bridgeton Senior High School, 111 N. West Ave., at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19.
The inspirational afternoon will also feature the Golden Spirit Singers, Simpson Men’s Choir, Inspiring Hank, the Mighty Spiritualaires, Bran Stratton, Diva Redemption, Gospel Soulettes and the Inspirational Praise Dancers of Wesley.
Now pastor of New Bethel Church in Toledo, Ohio,” Rance Allen is a gospel pioneer who paved the way for artists such as Kirk Franklin, Smokie Norful, Mary Mary and Fred Hammond, whose success is on par with many R&B and hip-hop artists. In the 70s, Allen’s bold vision and an inspiring single titled “Ain’t No Need of Crying,” began, in part, the evolution of gospel as we know it today.
“It goes all the way back to the late ’60s when I first started,” said Allen, whose soft speaking voice is in sharp contrast to his robust lead vocals. “I lived in a town called Monroe, Michigan. It was right next door to Detroit, and at that time in Detroit, Motown was the thing. I loved the music — I loved the way it was structured, the way the band played. So I wanted to do some of that music, but I didn’t want to do anything that would displease God, or my grandparents in particular, so I started putting lyrics to that well-structured kind of Motown-sounding music.
“All of a sudden, I saw how people outside of the church could be reached if you packaged it a certain way. I also found out that everybody is hurting for some reason or another, and what all of us need is a message that will heal us, pick us up, change our minds, touch our hearts — whatever. A lot of my music then turned toward a message – still Jesus — maybe not calling his name all the time, but the message of the Lord, and that’s kind of how that got started. All of a sudden you’ve got songs like ‘I Belong to You’ and ‘Ain’t No Need of Crying.’ That was the approach that we were taking at the time, and that’s still part of my music.”
The multi-talented Allen, who recently appeared in the feature film “Blessed & Cursed” starring gospel sensation Dietrick Haddon, is faced with the challenge of balancing his responsibilities as pastor of a thriving congregation with his recording and performance schedule.
“I have to go back to that favorite book of mine in Psalms 118:23 that says, ‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it’s marvelous in my eyes,’” he explained. “I honestly don’t think that I, if I tried to, could work a schedule like mine the way that I do if I did not have the Lord’s help.”
In recognizing the lucrative, radio-friendly business that gospel music has become, and acknowledging his place in its history, Allen said. “I’m happy about it because actually, when you talk about Fred (Hammond) and John P. Kee and Mary Mary and others like them, while I didn’t know it, they were the future that I saw in 1971. I saw gospel music doing what they are doing today, back then, and I’m just happy that I’m still around to see it and actually be part of it.
“Back when I came along, if you missed gospel music on Sunday morning from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., then you had to wait a whole week before you could hear it again! One guy asked me back in the day, where did I see gospel music going, and my prophecy to him was that gospel music was going to one day be heard everyday, 24 hours-a-day. He looked at me kind of strange too, but here we are! I even told him that there would be a gospel music that God’s people could dance to. We haven’t really gotten there yet, but it’s on the way!”
Still feeling the joy of sharing his music with others, the congenial and compassionate Allen is excited about the upcoming holiday concert in Bridgeton, New Jersey. “I love to be happy and be around happy people, so I’m coming with enough inspiration to spare,” he said. “We’re going to sing a few old songs and some new ones, and maybe one or two that they haven’t even heard yet. I love the element of excitement, and I am coming with the anticipation that we are going to find us some joy in the music and in the Lord, and hopefully when I leave, everybody’s going to be stronger for it.”
To me, that in itself seems worth a trip across the Delaware River, and in parting Allen had a message for those seeking the joy, solace and inspiration that gospel music provides.
“With my new elevation in the Church of God in Christ — I’m being elevated to the position of Bishop — I am in hopes that my name, my music, my influence will somehow or other touch the hearts and change the minds of people who may be confused or have no direction in their lives, and someway, some how turn them in the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Because if ever there were a time that people need a goal and something to work for — a plateau to try and reach, the time is now. I’m noticing too many young kids today, especially in the Black neighborhoods — we’re hurting and so confused until we’re doing things that were unheard of in our communities when you talk about decades ago. So I’m hoping and praying that my music and my influence will have a great deal to do with turning some lives around.”
Sanctified music in America has had no greater voice over the past two decades than that of Kirk Franklin, the native Texan who revolutionized the gospel choir. Franklin also almost single-handedly brought contemporary gospel music to forward-thinking R&B radio programmers. In the process, this visionary vocalist, musician, songwriter, arranger, producer — and, of course, choir director — has amassed 18 RIAA gold and platinum records, 10 of which went to #1 on the Billboard gospel charts. For his work, he has earned seven Grammy awards, 12 Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards and 35 Stellar Awards, the most won by any artist.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary in 2012 of Franklin’s founding of his first major choir recording group, The Family, the first full-length career retrospective, has been released. “The Essential Kirk Franklin” is a 28-song double CD overview with tracks with the Family on Franklin’s debut album (“Kirk Franklin and The Family”) all the way through his most current studio album of 2011 (“Hello Fear”). From the Sunday morning joy of tracks like his hits “Why We Sing” and “Now Behold The Lamb,” to the block party vibes of “Looking For You” and “Stomp,” this “Essential” set proves why Franklin has dominated and set the standard for contemporary Black gospel music.
Franklin’s humble beginnings are well known to his fans and followers, who can tell you how he was abandoned by his birth mother and raised in the church in Fort Worth by his great aunt, Gertrude. At age 11, he famously became music director of the Mt. Rose Baptist Church. His teen years were wild, but he eventually returned to the church and an early association with the Dallas-Fort Worth Mass Choir at age 20. Two years later, he founded The Family, whose debut album was recorded as a demo in 1992, and released with minimal production in 1993. “Kirk Franklin And The Family” was a phenomenon that set the gospel world on its ear. Recorded live in Ft. Worth, every track was written and arranged by Franklin, who features nearly all the 17 members of the choir on various tracks. The album spent nearly two years on the Billboard Gospel chart, including 42 weeks at #1 with “Why We Sing” being voted at the Dove Awards as the “Traditional Gospel Song of the Year.” Then, nearly two years after the albums release, “Why We Sing” was picked up for R&B radio airplay.
Because of his magnetic personality and immense talent, Franklin has collaborated with some of the greatest artists in pop, R&B and gospel fields, from Stevie Wonder, to Marvin L. Winans and Cheryl “Salt” James (of the rap group Salt-N-Pepa). “With his hip-hop threads and a low fade hair cut in an age of Jheri curls, [Franklin] has stood apart from any successful gospel artist at the time and epitomized the urban urchin fighting to overcome his circumstances,” writes Bil Carpenter in the liner notes. “His tunes have helped millions make the uneasy transition from puberty to adulthood while being in the world but not of it, as the Bible commands. His songs revolve around everyday issues that speak to the faithful in a frank manner they know first hand.”