CHURCH: SONGS OF SOUL & INSPIRATION Review:
According to the Press Release, "Church: Songs of Soul
& Inspiration is the first in a series of CDs that embrace the musical
roots and role of Church in the lives of today's leading artists. It
is a joint venture between UTV Records (a division of Universal Music
Enterprises), Tena Clark's DMI Records and Denyce Grave's Carmen Productions."
Considering how well-done and inspiring this 2 CD project
has turned out, this reviewer can't wait to see the rest of the series!
Tena Clark shares that this CD "will be for the Gospel audience and
the masses who would never normally buy, or listen to Gospel music.
It is not what you would expect from a Gospel record; but the meaning
is there, and the love is there, and the grace is there. We made a record
about God, about praise, about message, about meaning, about love, which
reflects what comes out of your soul. I think this is one God is going
to be proud of."
The listener is blessed with 15 entries on Compact Disc
1, performed by accomplished Christian Afro-American women artists,
who love the Lord and sing the songs that have spiritual meaning to
them as Christians, which include classic soul & R&B, in Spirit-inspired,
Gospel arrangements, complete with a Gospel ensemble, known as the Fire
Choir, which also makes a stunning contribution to the entries. An added
plus which gives more layers to the songs is that the listener also
receives a Disc 2 CD ROM that complements Compact Disc 1, giving an
inspirational look at what Gospel music means to the 14 Afro-American
female performers, which interconnects with the songs they sing. The
combined result is a unique, spiritually uplifting, inspiring project.
"Each performer recalls the seeds of her musical identity, nurturing
family, exacting congregations and the mysterious gift of voice that
can only be called devine."- Toni Morrison
The nicely done CD ROM organizes the performers and their
songs into three categories; 'That's What Music is Supposed to Do',
'Singing is My Form of Prayer' and 'You Hear God in This Music'. There
is a video to see in each category, with the artists grouped according
to what they have to say, which ties in nicely to the song each artist
performed, or in the case of Dr. Maya Angelou, her wonderful beginning
essay, which sets the mood and attitude of the CD right at the beginning,
and the ending reprise, where she leads the Fire Choir in an accapella,
old time, Gospel church song, summing up a basic truth about the Lord,
and how we need to step out in His Word.
Section One: THAT'S WHAT MUSIC IS SUPPOSED TO DO
1). Dr. Maya Angelou is a Christian lady of many
talents, being a well-known, very gifted author, poet, college professor
in North Carolina, who is quite capable of expressing her faith in song
In her interview, found on the CD ROM that comes with
the music CD, She explains the importance and purpose of Gospel music.
She says that the Lord gives us art to help us to lift up our hearts,
to stand up, by putting starch in our backbone, lifting us to a place
where we are able to forgive somebody and make us a little kinder to
the next human being we see; that is what Gospel music is supposed to
do. Gospel music not only illuminates the beauty of the Afro-American
church, but can inspire other people of not only the Christian faith,
but other faiths to look at their own values and understand that human
beings are more a like than different, as we are all part of the human
family, loved by our Creator.
A) The opening selection of this fine CD, begins fittingly
with Dr. Angelou's lovely, expressive reading of her essay, IT'S SACRED:
CHURCH, where she eloquently explains her understanding of the connection
between God, Church, personal spirituality and Gospel music, which is
a great introduction to the songs which follow. There is something special
about an author reading his /her writings, especially such a gifted,
spiritual person as Dr. Maya Angelou.
Excerpts of the Main points in her essay: IT'S SACRED;
"Everything in God's world is sacred. Trees and toads
and little girls' eyes. Grandfather's hands and the murmuring voices
of lovers. All Sacred.............................
Everything can be church, and anything can be church.
Church was the first public place where I came child to Spirit to Christ.
"Suffer little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of
heaven."- (Matt. 19:14)
Literally, Church introduced me to my very first friend,
Louise and I ...........................
Every time I feel the Spirit, I know I am immersed in
the essence of church. That knowledge changes my voice, I speak more
softly, and choose my words more carefully, there are more Yes Ma'ams
and No Ma'ams, ...................................................
Out of my heart, out of my brain, more thank you's slide
across my tongue. I'm blessed; I'm in Church.(Matt: 12:34-B. Galations
....................The breadth and depth and width and
height of church cannot be defined. But church can define me always;
it slides the skin over my muscles and allows my lungs to inspirate
and fill...so that Hallelujah like rain comes from my mouth...................................
Church is where I want to go when I want a certain fulfillment
and church is where I don't have to go, because it is always with me,
holding me up, propelling me forward, sustaining me. ..................I
am reminded that everything in God's world is sacred.
(She sings): Every time I feel the Spirit, moving in my
heart, I will pray.....
B) * * The ending song of the CD, entitled REPRISE, fittingly
sums up the conclusion, with Dr. Angelou singing a short, traditional,
rhythmic Gospel song, affirming the importance of trusting the Lord
in our lives, and step out in Christian faith on the Lord's promises
and love. She sings all by herself with no accompaniment the first verse,
and the Fire Choir joins her for a repeat, clapping and stomping the
beat, singing accapella.
This is a rousing way to celebrate the good news of Jesus,
through the wonderful Gospel music genre, as the song builds in harmonies,
enthusiasm, spirit and sound level, catching the faith, spirit -filled
group performance of the Fire Choir.
You said call on My name, and I'm calling, You said trust
on my Word, and I'm trusting, You said lean on your arm and I'm leaning,
steppin' out on your word. You said You would be my protection, Honor
and glory, my Savior, Beautiful Rose of Sharon, steppin' out on your
2) Jennifer Holiday - Though blessed with many
successes in her career as a modern R&B singer, being a two-time Grammy
Award-winner and Broadway star in Dreamgirls, which earned her a Tony,
Jennifer shares that she has had greater downs than ups in her life.
She has found that through Gospel music and God's love for her, which
is greater than her love for herself, she has been able to move forward
through the storms to the other side. She explains that singing with
Gospel choirs is like having angels behind her, always for her the most
powerful moment she can experience.
* * * THE WONDER OF YOU - By Baker Knight; 1958 - Originally
an Elvis hit.
Speaks of a special, supportive, caring love between two
people. On another level, it can also relate God's unconditional, always
faithful love for us. (Ephesians 4:17-19 and Romans 8:38)
When no one else can understand me. When everything I
do is wrong. You give me hope and consolation. You give me strength
to carry on. And you're always there to lend a hand in everything I
That's the wonder, The wonder of you
And when you smile the world is brighter. You touch my
hand and I'm a queen. Your kiss to me is worth a fortune. Your love
for me is everything. I'll guess I'll never know the reason, why You
love me like you do.
That's the wonder, the wonder of You.
3) Patti Labelle - Shares what Gospel music does
for her. She first started singing in church at age nine. At first,
she was terrified to sing in front of the congregation, but when doing
so she felt lifted by God, and felt special, as her singing brought
her out of her shyness to a different level of being. She is always
feeling church music, as she has a big voice. Church never left her
being, and came out in her music, staying with her as she went on to
much success in secular music, R&B pop, winning quite a few awards.
"Through more than 30 years in show business, Patti has won just about
every honor and award than can be bestowed upon an entertainer:"
Most Importantly, it was this special connection to Church
and music to her inner being that helped sustain Patti through the most
difficult times of her life, including the deaths of all three of her
sisters to cancer before their 44th birthday. Her music led her to "a
newfound sense of peace and purpose and a deep personal understanding
of what's important in life and how it's always there for all of us
-- if we don't block the blessings." - www.pattilabelle.com
* * WAY UP THERE - By song writer / producer Tena Rix
Clark - 2002
A song that reflects the hope we have in a better place,
in our eternal home, Heaven. Christians believe that through Jesus Christ,
we can look forward to eternal life with Him. Christian Reference scriptures
(John 14:1, John 3:16, Rev. 21:4)
Way Up There," was the NASA theme song written originally
to celebrate the Wright Brothers centennial, which also served as a
memorial to space flight and the shuttle Columbia's astronauts. Patti
Labelle first performed this song during a Feb. 6 memorial service at
Washington National Cathedral for the fallen astronauts, who died in
the Columbia shuttle disaster.
Her Gospel version of this song on this CD is an uplifting
experience, as her spirit, soul and energy dynamically pour into her
beautiful, hymn-like rendition, backed up and complemented by the full-voiced
soulful Fire Choir. Patti puts her rather impressive vocal range to
The piano, organ, drums choir and Patti all meld together
in one Spirit to breathe life into this song in true Gospel music style.
Dynamics build effectively through the performance which adds to the
dramatic effect on one's emotions and involvement with the song, especially
during 2nd Chorus. A favorite of this reviewer.
Chorus 1: (Patti Labelle and piano accompaniment, with
organ accents) Way up there, Where peace remains, Where silence thunders
And angels sing. Imagination and amazing grace. Bring us closer to that
Verse 1: (Light drums join the piano) The stars all gather,
and illuminate, To lead us safely, Through heaven's gate. We look behind
us, At the wonder of the earth, Only to remind us, Where God gave birth....And
we would know...
* Chorus 2: (Patti and the Fire Choir) That way up there
Peace remains, Silence thunders, And angels sing, Imagination and amazing
grace. Bring us closer to that perfect place.
Verse 2: We say a prayer, For all mankind, if we could
only see Through the window of our soul, We would be reborn, And we
* * *(Also, on cut 14 on the CD, the Fire Choir does a
beautiful, full harmony, reverent rendition of this same song, which
is a treat to listen to and absorb)
4) Nnema Freelon - Shares that she had a wonderful,
warm church experience, where she learned to love to sing Gospel music.
"There is such strength from coming together on Sunday morning,
pooling collective energies to blend voices in praise and worship of
the Lord, which lifts you up out of the hard realities of every day
lives" in a secular society.
Nnema goes to church with the expectation of being lifted
up, transformed. She came hungry for that, and is / was "always fed,
being moved where I was to some other place." It is important to come
together with the faith and expectation that spiritual needs will be
fed, and they will be. "You have not, because you ask not."
OOH CHILD - Written by Stan Vincent. - Originally sung
by The Five Stairsteps. A song about having faith that hard times will
pass. Though released in the secular music market in 1970, it can reflect
a personal faith that the Lord will see a person through any trial,
trouble or painful circumstance.
Scriptural References(Hebrews 13:6, Phil. 4:13 & 4:6-7,
Chorus: Ooh -oo child, things are gonna get easier. Ooh
child, things will be brighter.(Repeat)
Someday, yeah We'll put it together and we'll get it all
done. Someday, When your head is much lighter. Some day, yeah We'll
walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Someday When the world is much
Right now You just wait and see how things are gonna be
5) Dionne Warwick - The daughter of a Christian
minister, Dionne grew up singing Gospel music, and has a strong belief
in the Bible, God and the healing powers of prayer. She defines Gospel
music as "praising God and singing the written Word in the form of song,
which carries the message of what God wants us to hear." Gospel music
has healing power, if you believe in prayer.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE - By Hal David and Burt
Bacharach- Dionne Warrick's original hit.
Lovely rendition done Gospel style, Dionne and the Gospel
Fire Choir. Strong melody, in 3/4 meter.
Related Scripture References: (Romans 13:9, John 13:35,
1 Co. 13, 1 John 2:5)
Chorus: What the world needs now, Is love, sweet love.
It's the only thing that there's just too little of. What the world
needs now, Is love, sweet love. No, not just for some But for everyone.
Lord, we don't need another mountain. There are mountains
and hillsides enough to climb. There are oceans and rivers enough to
last, 'til the end of time. Chorus.
Lord, we don't know another meadow. There are cornfields
and wheat fields enough to grow. There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough
to shine. Oh, listen Lord, if you want to know.
Section Two: SINGING IS MY FORM OF PRAYER
1) Stephanie Mills - "Growing up in the church
and doing things for the church has always been a first for me. I'm
the best I can be when I'm singing."
Stephanie Mills feels very strongly about the healing
power of Gospel music, having observed this healing in others and in
her own life. She observes that Gospel music, especially for black people
can be the only thing that can heal. She shares that it was Gospel music
and her faith in God that sustained her and gave her the power to endure
some very painful storms in her life, and offers this advice. "If you
know you have the faith to go on, and listen to music, like Gospel music,
it has healing qualities that slowly heals you every day, enabling you
to get through it."
Her '94 Gospel Album was her musical thank you to God
for helping her to endure the trials in her life.
* * * REACH OUT AND TOUCH (SOMEBODY'S HAND) - By Nickolas
Ashford and Valerie Simpson; 1970
A nice melody, set in 3/4 time, sung with feeling and
soul by Stephanie, backed up with Gospel harmonies, sweetly sung by
the Fire Choir.
"When you believe that you cannot stitch your own heart
back together, go to work on the hearts of other people; there is no
surer way to repair yourself than to repair them." ~Andrew Solomon~author
of 'The Noonday Demon' a study of depression~
Scripture References that relate to the lyrics and spirit
of the song: (1 John 3:18, 23 & Matt. 22:39)
Chorus: Reach out and touch, Somebody's hand, Make this
world a better place, if you can. (Repeat) (Just try)
A) Or would I be talking to a stone, if I asked you To
share a problem that's not your own. We can change things if we start
giving, Why don't you (Chorus) (Just try)
B) Try a little kindness, you'll see It's something that
comes very naturally. We can change things if we start giving.
2) En Vogue; Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron.
Terry Ellis shares her first experience in singing the
main vocal and leading her church choir in a song, "I'm Goin' Up Yonder."
As a young person, she joined the choir, and always sat in the back,
terrified that the director would ask her to lead the choir in a song.
Sure enough, one day the director asked her to come down to the front,
and was drafted to sing and lead. During the church service, she started
out ok, but got stage fright, forgot the words and began to cry.
She must of had a loving, supportive church family, who
picked her up out of her embarrassment, who comforted her, encouraged
her, bolstered her confidence, because she stayed in choir, continued
in her singing for God, which influenced the kind of music she and Cindy
Herron sing for their audiences. They choose songs that they can relate
to, and write songs from their own experiences, to be positive influences
with positive messages, making singing their form of prayer.
HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE - By the Gibb Brothers; (Barry,
Maurice and Robin)
A song about enduring love between two people, though
one person wants to know if the other person is as committed to the
relationship. On a spiritual level, one can interpret it as a picture
of a personal relationship between a person and the Lord; a conversation
prayer between a human being and the Lord. While the human being feels
the Lord's presence, comfort, love and support, the human being is wondering
if the Lord's love is unconditional, despite human failings and weaknesses.
A common worry among people is: Am I good enough for God? (Romans 8:2,
38 and Romans 7:14-25)
Chorus: How deep is your love, how deep is your love,
I really mean to learn. "Cause we're living in a world of fools. Breaking
us down when they all should let us be. We belong to you and me.
2) I believe in you. You know the door to my very soul.
You're the light in my deepest, darkest hour. You're my (S)savior when
I fall. And you may not think I care for you. When you know down inside
that I really do. And it's me you need to show Chorus.
3) Denyce Graves - She was the executive producer
of this important project, as well as adding a wonderful vocal contribution
to this unique CD. She is known worldwide as a mezzo soprano, singing
in Opera Houses and Concert Halls all over the world. Her well- known,
signatures roles are Carmen and Samson et Dalila. "The combination of
her expressive, rich vocalism, elegant stage presence and exciting theatrical
abilities allows her to pursue a wide breadth of operatic portrayals
as well as delight audiences in concert and recital appearances."
She is known for her classical renditions in Opera, and
other forms of traditional music:Spirituals, American, and Christmas
carols. Her musical career however began in her church, where the love
of Gospel music was imbedded in her being. She shares that she grew
up in a deeply religious Christian family. She was strongly encouraged
by her mother to sing in church at an early age, being told that "because
God kissed your throat, you should use your voice to the glory of God."
Denyce feels that performing is one pure most beautiful
thing that she has been blessed with in her life, and to her, is a form
of praying. "I'm the best I can be; the most loving, most compassionate,
and the closest to God when I'm sing."
With this special project, she feels that she has come
full circle. She started her journey in music by praising the Lord through
Gospel music in church, then branched out to Opera and other classical
music, but returned once again to her Gospel roots by producing this
CD, with Tena Clark.
* * * AVA MARIA - This composition was written by Giulio
Caccini, and was published in a collection of songs called Le Nuove
Musiche (The New Music), in 1601, and was quite different from the later
and more popular Schubert and Bach / Gounod versions.
For this CD entry, Tim Heinz, David Perry, Denyce Graves
and Carmen Twillie collaborated together, taking the beautiful melody
and modern harmonies of Caccini's piece, blending them into a Gospel
style rendition, creating a new version of Caccini's music.
The result is simply heavenly, guaranteed to float you
off the ground and around the room. Denyce flawlessly, reverently sings
this prayer hymn, doing justice to the lovely melody with such feeling,
as her voice "kissed by God" takes you into the spirit of worship and
reflection - definitely a highlight for this reviewer.
Chaka Khan - Rose to success in the secular music
world in the early 1970's, when she was the lead singer for the group
Rufus, which earned one platinum album, five gold albums, five gold
singles, five No. 1 hits and two Grammy awards. Also, Chaka has recorded
nine albums and been honored with five Grammy Awards
. As you can see, she is another great, accomplished singer
who got her musical start in church on the south side of Chicago. She
shares that singing is her form of prayer, as the Spirit of God come
through and moves through her as she sings. Singing is how she prays
Chaka Khan also steps out in her faith by supporting
women and children in crisis as her way of giving back a portion of
what she has been blessed with; musical talent, a love of children,
a big heart and a love for the Lord. Chaka simply says, "It's time to
build up and time to give back."
Chaka Khan performs for charity benefits that aid women
and children in crisis. In 1999, she established the Chaka Khan Foundation
to offer drug and alcohol treatment and services, programs to help women
and children transition out of a life of poverty and support programs
that assist battered women, including the treatment and preventative
education of HIV and Hepatitis
. * *LOVE ME STILL - The song takes place between two
people, who have a close relationship, perhaps a parent and young person,
or a mentor and his /her student, or a couple. One has strayed away,
but found out the hard way how valuable the love of the other person
is in their life. On the spiritual level, it could also be a person
who has strayed away from the Lord, but returned, and asking Him if
He can forgive and if He still loves this person.
Chaka Khan and the Fire Choir bring the song to life,
creating a most enjoyable rendition of this sparkling arrangement.
Verse 1: Here is my hand for you to hold. Here's the part
of me they not sold. I've wandered far, I've had my fill. I need you
now, do you love me still. Only you have seen the hidden part of me.
Call me fool-hearted, if you will. I loved you, and do you love me still?
Only you have seen the hidden part of me. Call me fool-hearted, if you
will. I loved you, and do you love me still?
So many smiles and lies surround me. Empty expectations,
faceless fears. Sometimes this life is a bitter pill. I love you now
do you love me still? I have been yours since time untold. Our love
is immortal, don't you know Others will come, and they will go . but
I loved you young, I love old. Only you have seen the other side of
me. Call me naive, I think you will. Here are the eyes that only see
you. Here is the mouth that only calls your name, yeah....................................
Patti Austin - She shares that she grew up in
the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where she fell in love with
Gospel music, after hearing it for the first time, being impressed with
the Clara Ward Singers and the Blind boys of Alabama. She looked forward
to coming on Sunday. Her talent emerged early. Not only did she sing
in church, she also sang at the Apollo Theater at the age of 4! She
has had a distinguished career in jazz, pop, and rhythm and blues.
Singing is also a form of prayer for her. Patti finds
music to be a catharsis that can unlock bottled up emotions and parts
of our selves that we must "bridle" in our society at large. She says,
"Music unlocks all that, so you can feel whatever is coming at you,
and you respond to it."
She looks for songs that reflect positive growth and
learning, that bolster the strengths of people, rather than their weaknesses.
The song, You Gotta Be is a great example, as it gives great advice
on developing a positive attitude toward life; to step out in faith,
courage and not be defeated by fear, self-doubt, negativity, bad relationships.
* * * YOU GOTTA BE - By Des'ree Weekes and Ashley Ingram
(1994) - This upbeat version is one of this reviewer's favorite songs.
Effective use of dynamics in both the vocals and instrumentation. Great
vocal accents by the choir throughout. Patti's strong voice and ability
to catch the mood of the song in its various dynamic stages makes this
song both enjoyable and interesting to listen to, as its positive message
will put one into a positive frame of mind.
Verse 1: Listen as your days unfold. Challenge what the
future holds. Try and keep your head up to the sky. Lovers, they may
cause you tears. Go ahead, release your fears. Stand up and be counted.
Don't be ashamed to cry.
Chorus: You gotta be, you gotta be bad, you gotta be bold,
you gotta be wiser, You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta
be stronger. You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together.
All I know, all I know, love will save the day.
Herald what your mother said. Readin' the books your father
read. Tryin' to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time. Some may have
more cash than you. Others take a different view. My, oh my, hey ay.
Chorus Section Three: YOU HEAR GOD IN THIS MUSIC
Pastor Shirley Caesar - Started singing for the
Lord at the tender age of 10 in her hometown church located in Durham,
North Carolina. During her many years of service of providing music,
ministry and message, she has earned many Grammys for Best Traditional
Soul Gospel Album , Best Soul Gospel Performance, as well as many Stellar
Awards and Hand Dove awards.
Besides bringing the Gospel to the world through her music,
Shirley Caesar also pastors her own congregation, Mount Calvary Word
Of Faith Holy Church Raleigh, North Carolina. She shares on the CD ROM
that "singin' and preachin' go together like ham & eggs."
Throughout her years of music ministry, she found that
while singing, she had to preach a little. Thus it was difficult to
sing, and not preach a little. It was a natural transition, from singing
evangelist to pastor.
In her music, she likes to blend contemporary Gospel
music with traditional Gospel music, in order to reach a wide audience
of people. Her goal is "to reach back, take contemporary and add it
to traditional, in order to reach mothers, young people and everybody."
* * HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW - By Civilla D Martin &
Charles H. Gabriel (2003) -
A lovely, 3/4 meter, well-sung gospel hymn, with great,
heart-felt vocals, which offers comfort to those of us with the tendency
to worry and or feeling discouraged or lonely due to unpleasant circumstances
or trials in our lives. A Related Scripture Reference: (Matt. 6:25-31)
Verse 1: Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the
shadows come? Why should my heart feel lonely, And long for heaven and
home. When Jesus is my portion. A constant friend is He, His eye is
on the sparrow, And I know he watches over me. His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches over me.
Chorus: I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm
free. His eye is on the sparrow, And I know he watches over me.
Anne Nesby - Ann Nesby grew up in Joliet, Illinois,
the daughter of two musical parents. Her father sang in a quartet, and
her mother sang in a Gospel group. She was surrounded by music at an
early age, as both musical groups rehearsed in their home. Her musical
talent emerged early. She sang at the age of 3 at the Mount Zion Baptist
Church. At the age of 5, she was the youngest member of a church singing
group which performed at a Baptist Convention in Chicago. Her mother
helped her develop her vocal skills as she matured.
She made a musical splash as the lead vocalist for the
30 member Gospel choir, The Sounds of Blackness, under the direction
of Gregory Hines. She started her solo career in 1996, and started her
own label, It's Time Child Records.
* * A SONG FOR YOU - By Leon Russell
A beautiful song, written in a minor key, starts off with
an expressive, soft piano introduction. Ann Nesby sings the beautiful
melody and words expressively, supported by chords in piano and organ.
Nice soulful, soft electrical guitar solo, with organ. Fire Choir offers
accent support in for the third verse.
Verse 1: I've been so many places in my life and time.
I've sung a lot of songs, I've made some bad rhyme, I've acted out my
life in stages, with ten thousand people watching. But we're alone now
and I'm singing this song for you. I know your image of me is what I
hope to be...
I love you in a place where there's no space or time.
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine...
Reviewed by: Julie Carr for ChristianMusic.com
Check out their website: churchcd.com