Charles Jenkins celebrates Christmas on Bounce TV’s “Holiday Praise”

Charles Jenkins

Soul Train Award nominated and Stellar Gospel Music Award winning recording artist Charles Jenkins’ “Holiday Praise” yuletide musical program will air at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Dec. 25 and a repeat broadcast at 9 a.m. on Bounce TV. Check your local TV listings for this program.

The hour-long holiday celebration was filmed at the historic Fellowship Chicago church, featuring an all-star musical lineup. The exhilarating concert features performances by Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell singing “Come Let Us Adore Him” and Grammy Award nominated singer Brian Courtney Wilson reinventing Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas.” Deitrick Haddon delivers a passionate take on Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” Jonathan McReynolds does a resplendent acoustic cover of “Mary Don’t You Weep” while gospel legend Dorinda Clark Cole sings “Away in a Manger” to a circle of children. The show also features appearances by Tasha Page Lockhart, Isaac Carree, Donishia Ballard, and Dexter Walker & Zion Movement.

Jenkins, who is the pastor of the 8,000-member Fellowship Chicago, initially appeared on the national stage when the world-renowned song “Awesome” topped Billboard Magazine’s Hot Gospel Songs chart for 22 weeks in 2012.  The unforgettable “War” spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart and was cited by the magazine as the most played gospel song of 2015. Jenkins currently has a Top 10 hit with “Winning,” and his tune “Christmas Music” just made its Hot Gospel Songs chart debut at No. 21.

Rance Allen Group returns with 25th project on Oct. 28

allenThe Rance Allen Group will release its 25th album and third live project “Live From San Francisco Bay” (Tyscot Records) on October 28. The group pioneered the fusion of R&B-styled rhythms with spiritual and message music themes in the 1970s. It’s a winning style that has won them fans as varied as American Idol’s Randy Jackson and ’80s rockers Huey Lewis & the News. The 11-song set “Live from San Francisco Bay” was recorded live at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

“The theme really is to be encouraged in a very kind of depressed time,” says Rance Allen, who sees parallels between today’s social climate and that of when his group was formed during the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras.  “It’s a time of unusual stress with all of the killings going on, the political mess that’s going on and there’s just so many people who have just moved away from trusting God and believing in Jesus Christ. Our job of encouraging and uplifting will never be done. We’ll have to keep working on this until the Lord comes to take us home.”

The project features new songs such as the first radio single “All Day Long,” the ballad “My Delight” (led by Steve Allen), the quartet-styled stomper ‘Hold On” and the soulful tune “Vessel” (led by Paul Porter).

The group also brings back B-sides from past albums and gives them new arrangements such as the old school soul of “Like a Good Neighbor” and the funk of  “I’m Not Givin’ Up Givin’ Out Givin’ Givin’ In” that is lead by Tom Allen. The group provides some dance-floor rhythms with songs such as “Got Me Dancin’,” “Can’t Give Up (The Groove)” and “Victory Dance.” The collection is rounded out with fan favorites such as the group’s signature songs  “Miracle Worker” and “Something About the Name of Jesus.”

The Rance Allen Group was formed in 1965 in Monroe, Mich., as a self-contained band. In 1972, they signed to Stax Records’ Gospel Truth subsidiary, where they recorded a series of gritty gospel songs that won them main-stage tours with R&B headliners such as Isaac Hayes and Barry White. The group has been recording ever since and was honored with the BMI Trailblazer Award in 2008.

Earnest Pugh’s “The W.I.N. Experience” debuts at top of gospel chart

Earnest Pugh. Photo provided.

Earnest Pugh. Photo provided.

Stellar Award nominated balladeer Earnest Pugh  has returned to the top of the music chart with his new, highly anticipated The W.I.N. (Worship In Nassau) Experience.  The CD debuts at No. 1 on next week’s Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart, and the radio single “More of You” climbs to #14 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart.

“It’s impossible to articulate in words what I am feeling right now,” says Pugh in a news release. “Though it’s my sixth CD release, my heart leaps with joy and appreciation today just as it did 15 years ago when I released my very first CD. I am blown away by the response, love, and support of the W.I.N. Project. I cannot take all the credit. I have been blessed with an amazing team of people to create and push this project. There are so many people to thank such as my personal staff, radio promoter Damon Stewart, TKO Marketing, Central South Distribution, plus, all of the great guest artists and singers. They all put their hands to the plow and we never looked back.”

Recorded live in Nassau, Bahamas, in the Grand Ballroom of the Atlantis Hotel, the album commemorates Pugh’s 20-15 Celebration -20 years in ministry and 15 years in the music industry. The full-length concert boasted cameos by gospel icon Shirley Caesar, Bishop Rance Allen, LeJuene Thompson and the energetic choir, Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis. The companion DVD video will soon hit retail shelves as well. For more information, visit www.earnestpugh.com.

 

Cancer survivor Tracy Randall understands “It Feels Good” to be alive

Tracy Randall

Tracy Randall

Lavish Records artist Tracy Randall isn’t supposed to be here. In 2006, he was diagnosed with acute blastic leukemia and after aggressive rounds of chemo and radiation therapy, his doctors gave up and in February 2007 told him to go home and prepare to die.

“The doctor told me to get my affairs in order because he didn’t know if I had 3 months or 6 months to live,” Randall  said in a news release. He left the office that cold, rainy afternoon and started walking.

“I began to pray and talk to God not about me but about my family and their survival because I’m the breadwinner,” as he walked past the 42nd Street subway where he usually caught the train and kept walking, talking. “By the time I got to 96th Street, this voice said, `You’re going to be okay.’”

Randall fought his illness back with his renewed faith and improved his diet. He also began an expensive medical therapy that isn’t covered by insurance.

“I don’t want people to think that I no longer have the illness,” Randall says. “I have pain and depression. There are times that I don’t sleep for days because I am afraid to sleep. However, my faith has grown tremendously. I am still growing, and I still get mad and ask God, ‘Why me?’ Yet, He touched my soul, and I am still here.”

It’s against this backdrop that Randall wrote his new radio single, “It Feels Good,” a bouncy track guaranteed to make the stiffest body move.

“I opened up my eyes and thanked God for a new day,” he sings on the up-tempo beat. “I’ve been blessed in so many ways if I wanted to write ’em down there wouldn’t be enough pages.”

The song is the latest single from Randall’s sophomore CD “Troubled Times” that features 14 tracks of what he calls rhythm & gospel.

“It’s gospel music,” Randall said. “But it has that urban R&B beat.”

He  just wrapped a new concept video on the track and has now incorporated pop radio with his inspiring tune “I Am All You Need” debuting at No. 36 on the Top 40 Main chart this week with almost a 50 percent increase in spins.

The Lake Charles, La., native grew up on a musical diet of Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. After completing his undergraduate degree from LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Randall was signed to the Isley Brothers’ T-Neck/Island Records label. After Universal/Polygram took over the company in 1999, he left to start Lavish Records. He released his first gospel CD “Sinners Have Souls, too” in 2007 and has done a lot of behind the scenes work in the music industry.

Randall co-wrote four songs on Shaggy’s Grammy Award nominated “Summer in Kingston” CD that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums chart in 2012.

Funeral details confirmed for founding member Cleotha Staples in Chicago

Cleotha Staples

Cleotha Staples

Funeral services have been confirmed for Cleotha ‘Cleedi’ Staples (a founding member of the pioneering folk-gospel group, The Staple Singers), who died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, on Feb. 21, 2013.

“We will keep on,” Mavis Staples says of her sisters’ death in a news release. “Yvonne and I will continue singing to keep our father’s legacy and our sister’s legacy alive.  I just finished my second record with Jeff Tweedy, and it will be dedicated to my dear Cleedi’s memory.”

The viewing takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday Feb. 28 at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 7838 South Cottage Grove, Chicago. The funeral service takes place at 10 a.m. Friday March 1 at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W 95th Street, Chicago. The burial will follow at Oakwood Cemetery. Ms. Staples will be buried in the Staples family plot alongside her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples; her mother, Oceola Staples; and her sister, Cynthia Staples.

The Staple Singers burst on the national scene in 1956 with the Vee Jay Records hit “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again.” With Pops’ blues-influenced guitar, Cleotha’s bright high notes, Pervis’ falsetto and Mavis rich contralto, they were on their way to stardom. They became one of the biggest gospel outfits of the era and turned out best-selling gospel classics such as “On My Way to Heaven,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Don’t Knock,” “Pray On” and their signature hit, “Uncloudy Day,” generally accepted to be the first gospel record to sell one million copies.

In the ’60s, the group began to record inspirational mainstream music such as “For What It’s Worth” and “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad).”  By 1968, they had moved on to Stax records where they enjoyed a steady run of Top 40 hits like “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom Yeah)” and “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” (1974).  The iconic million-seller “I’ll Take You There” spent a week at No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart and four weeks at that spot on the R&B singles chart. The group also earned other million-sellers such as “Respect Yourself” (1971), “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” (1973) and “Let’s Do It Again” (1975). The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and they also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Cleotha is survived by her siblings Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis; her dedicated caretakers Penny and Sushi; and a loving and wonderful extended family of nieces, nephews and treasured friends.

Cleotha Staples of the legendary Staple Singers dies at 78

Left to right:  Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis Staples. Roebuck “Pops” Staples is seated. Photo Provided - 1984 .

Left to right: Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis Staples. Roebuck “Pops” Staples is seated. Photo Provided – 1984.

According to a recent news release, Cleotha ‘Cleedi’ Staples, a founding member of the pioneering folk-gospel group, The Staple Singers, has died at age 78. She had battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last decade and passed away peacefully at her Chicago home on Feb. 21, 2013.

Staples was born April 11, 1934 in Drew, Mississippi.  She was the first-born child of Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his wife, Oceola.  The family moved to Chicago in 1936 for better job opportunities. In the Windy City, siblings Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia were born. Pops worked a variety of manual labor jobs during the day, and Oceola worked at the Morrison Hotel at night. To entertain the children in the evening, Pops began to teach them gospel songs while he strummed along on his $10 guitar. His sister Katie enjoyed the sing-a-longs so much that she arranged for the family to sing at her church one Sunday morning in 1948.  The family was called out for three encores and more than $7 was raised in the offering basket.  Pops realized the family group had a future, and The Staple Singers were born.

The group began to sing on WTAQ 1360 AM radio and made its first recording with “These Are They” for Pops’ own Royal Records in 1953. They then recorded for United Records before striking gold with Vee Jay Records where they recorded “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” in 1956. With Pops’ blues-influenced guitar, Cleotha’s bright high notes, Pervis’ falsetto and Mavis rich contralto, they were on their way to stardom. They became one of the biggest gospel outfits of the era and turned out best-selling gospel classics such as “On My Way to Heaven,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Don’t Knock,” “Pray On” and their signature hit, “Uncloudy Day,” generally accepted to be the first gospel record to sell one million copies.

The family became active in the Civil Rights movement after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL in 1962 while on tour, and they often performed at events at the request of Dr. King.  As they became immersed in the Movement, their music broadened from gospel music to more mainstream material.  In 1963 they became the first black recording artists to cover a Bob Dylan song (“Blowin’ in the Wind”), and they also recorded songs of protest such as “For What It’s Worth,” “Freedom Highway” and “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad).”  By 1968, when Pervis had left the group for the Army, and Yvonne Staples took his place, they began to record for Stax Records, home of southern soul stars such as Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MGs and Sam & Dave.

At Stax, the Staples enjoyed a run of Top 40 hits, becoming known as “God’s greatest hitmakers” with such songs as “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom Yeah)” (1971), “This World” (1972), “Oh La De Da” (1973), “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” (1974) and “City in the Sky” (1974).  The iconic million-seller “I’ll Take You There” spent a week at No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart and four weeks at that spot on the R&B singles chart. The group also earned two other million-sellers at Stax with “Respect Yourself” (1971) and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” (1973).

Although Pops and Mavis usually handled vocal leads on Staple Singers songs, Cleotha was featured with Eddie Floyd (of “Knock on Wood” fame) on “It’s Too Late” from the 1969 Stax Records duets LP Boy Meets Girl.  Her velvety soprano was powerful and dynamic on the bluesy ballad about a lost love.  She also appeared with her family’s group in Ghana in 1971 at the Soul To Soul concert, appearing along with Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner and Santana; at the historic 1972 Wattstax festival in Los Angeles and in Martin Scorsese’s landmark 1978 concert film “The Last Waltz,” in which Ms. Staples and her family sang “The Weight” with The Band.  The Soul To Soul concert and the Wattstax Festival, known as “the Black Woodstock,” have both been the subject of recent documentaries.

The Staple Singers moved to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in the mid-1970’s, where they scored another No. 1 smash, “Let’s Do It Again,” in December 1975 before signing with Warner Bros. Records.

Cleotha’s last recordings were with the Staple Singers for backing sessions on Abbey Lincoln’s Devil Got Your Tongue CD (1993) and Pops Staples’ two solo albums, Peace to the Neighborhood (1992) and the GRAMMY Award-winning Father Father (1994).  After Pops died in 2000, the Staple Singers ceased to perform as a group.

Ms. Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Cleotha is survived by her siblings Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis, her dedicated caretakers Penny and Sushi, and a loving and wonderful extended family of nieces, nephews and treasured friends.

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to perform at Obama swearing-in ceremony

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Long before the recent presidential election was decided, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (Democrat-NY and chairman of the 2013 Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies) selected The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to perform its new rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the official swearing-in ceremony of the 57th Presidential Inauguration scheduled to take place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21, 2013, before an expected crowd of a half million people on the National Mall. Attendees will include former presidents, senators, representatives, and cabinet officials.  The event will be broadcast live around the world.

“I’m pleased to invite The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to perform at the 57th Inauguration in January,” Schumer said in a news release this past June when he announced the choir’s addition to the program. “As a frequent visitor to their wonderful congregation, I know from first-ear experience how amazing this choir is, and I know they will wow the whole nation, too.”

The novel rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was arranged by the choir’s founder, Carol Cymbala, and its music director, Jason Michael Webb, with majestic orchestral accompaniment that’s punctuated with innovative new harmonies while maintaining the classic feel of one of America’s most beloved anthems. Alicia Olatuja, a mezzo-soprano who has performed at Carnegie Hall, leads the song.  It will be bundled with the rousing new anthem, “Let Your Kingdom Come,” as an iTunes (and other online music retailers) digital download and made available to the public on Jan. 15. Both tunes are featured on the choir’s forthcoming spring CD release, “Love Lead The Way” – it’s 28th recorded album. Preview: https://soundcloud.com/brooklyntabernaclechoir.

The 300-voice choir is a blend of ethnic and economic backgrounds, with members ranging from lawyers and doctors to former drug addicts.  Over the years, the choir has performed at major venues such as Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. Their amazing legacy includes six Grammy Awards, seven Dove Awards, two No. 1 Billboard charting CDs and over four million albums sold. For more information, call http://www.brooklyntabernacle.org.

Saxophonist/Composer Tim Green to release “Songs from this Season” on Feb.12

Whether your source is the Bible or the Byrds, the notion is the same: “To everything there is a season.” On his debut as a leader, Songs From This Season, alto saxophonist and composer Tim Green recounts the many seasons of his own life on a stylistically diverse set featuring a host of established and rising jazz stars.

Released via Green’s own True Melody Music label, Songs From This Season surveys a broad swath of the jazz landscape, from deftly swinging hard bop to fluid modernity to soulful gospel. The impressive list of sidemen on the session includes pianist Orrin Evans, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, drummers Rodney Green and Obed Calvaire, and several of Green’s collaborators in the thriving Baltimore/Washington D.C. jazz scene.

The disc marks not only the emergence of a strong new voice on the saxophone, already established by Green’s second-place showing in the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, but of a confident and versatile composer. Each piece on the album, Green says, reflects a certain period in his life and the emotion attached to it.

“I can never force a piece of music,” he explains via a news release. “It has to be inspired by a mood or emotion I’m feeling at that moment.”

While his compositions display the influence of many different genres, the common thread among them is a direct emotionality, a vivid communication with the listener. This quality was inspired by some of Green’s mentors, most prominently Dick Oatts, with whom he studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and Terence Blanchard, one of the guiding lights of the Monk Institute.

“Dick Oatts really introduced me to writing,” Green says, “and Terence Blanchard encouraged me to not just write music but to write an actual song. So many jazz records are just about the solos, but I wanted mine to be more about the songs and the melodies.”

While Green was raised in the church, gospel was not a significant aspect of his musical upbringing. He grew up in Baltimore surrounded by music; his father and uncle are singers and his older brother was a trumpet player who Green emulated. “My brother was one of my first influences because I just wanted to be around him and do whatever he was doing.”

Still, a song like “Shift” shows a distinct gospel influence, albeit one that entered Green’s vocabulary later in his career. Upon moving to New York to study at the Manhattan School, he was enlisted by fellow Baltimorean Marvin Thompson for his Mo’Horns brass section, which backed gospel stars like Fred Hammond and Richard Smallwood.

“I never planned on playing gospel music,” Green admits. “But all of a sudden, I was playing with all of these gospel artists and it started having an influence on my music.”

“Shift” takes the most traditional approach to that influence, with New York gospel organist Loren Dawson, Baltimore electric bassist Adam Jonson and vocalists Micah Smith and Iyana Wakefield joining in.

On “Dedication,” Green pays homage to two more of his influences, pianists Mulgrew Miller (one of Green’s mentors) and Kenny Kirkland. Miller has called Green “a talented, committed, and accomplished young artist. And most importantly to me, he has a song in his heart.” The endorsement of such elders spotlights Green’s role as a torchbearer for the modern jazz tradition.

Chrystal Rucker to perform at “Sharing the Harvest” benefit concert on Nov. 23

Chrystal Rucker

Chrystal Rucker has been giving back to Kansas City for years with her annual “Sharing the Harvest” benefit concert. This year will be no different as she’s giving Kansas City some great gospel music while raising funds for The Brookside Charter School, Ronald McDonald House and Sarita Lynne Ministries (which manages two homeless shelters). Appearing on the program will be gospel megastar Vashawn Mitchell of “Nobody Greater” fame, Top 20 newcomer Anita Wilson, Sheri Jones Moffett, smooth jazz bass player Julian Vaughn, sister act Tobbi and Tommi and Kansas City worship leader, Na’Ron Hamilton.

Although, she’s been singing professionally for two decades, Rucker just released her first CD this year. The new project, “You Deserve” (EPM Music Group), debuted at No. 10 on Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart this summer and the dynamic radio single, “You Deserve” is a Top 30 smash.

“To say that Chrystal Rucker is a power vocalist is an understatement,” GospelFlava.com reviewer Gregory Gay writes in a recent commentary. “To her credit, she can preach in the middle of the song and close with a run that will leave the listener in awe, asking, `Now, how did she do that?’”

The event takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23 at Trinity Temple Church of God in Christ, 11922 Food Lane, Grandview, Mo., with host pastors Ben Stephens III and First Lady LaTanya Stephens. Tickets are $10 and available by calling (816) 665-0506. For more information on Rucker and other EPM Music Group artists, go to www.epmmusicgroup.com or www.chrystalrucker.net.

 

Renowned saxophonist Jackiem Joyner presents his latest album “Church Boy”

Jackiem Joyner has traveled all over the world with his signature saxophone sound, yet he returns home—figuratively—on his fourth release, Church Boy. Reaching back to his roots and reigniting his faith, Joyner brings together his beloved jazz and his foundational gospel music.

The album is a transparent and honest testament of Joyner’s faith. After graduating from high school, Joyner moved from upstate New York to Virginia and found himself with no money, no job and homeless. For almost six months Joyner lived from shelter to shelter, sometimes staying with a friend, until his life turned around.

“I found myself praying a lot because these were very difficult times,” says Joyner in a news release. “I learned that if I didn’t experience those hard times, I believe my character would have been different.”

With his masterful talent of instrumental jazz, Joyner tells a story without words. Church Boy offers familiar covers as well as songs penned, produced and arranged by Joyner, and features guest artists Kirk Whalum and Jonathan Butler. The fusion of the two distinct genres of jazz and gospel flow seamlessly as the popular saxophonist endearingly nicknamed ‘Lil Man Soul’ makes clear his connection to Gospel music.