7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

7 Artists Kirk Franklin Should Thank – Part 2

Last week reminded me how powerful and personal gospel music is. Musical artists we’ve never met can feel like family, because we’ve heard their voices as often as family. In short, these lists are personal and that’s what makes them so different and so revealing.

We’re looking at artists that paved the way for the Kirk Franklins of today. Many of you responded with your own lists and they were great. Names like Thomas Dorsey, Roberta Martin, Alex Bradford, the Fairfield Four, and the Blendwrights, to name a few.  All great names.  In the future we’ll look specifically at choirs, quartets, COGIC artists, and Adventist artists.

But although all of the pioneers were groundbreakers, some of them faced extra-ordinary criticism from the religious community for their music.  When I hear artists like Jonathan Nelson, Karen Clark, the Walls Group, and J.Moss sing at the Oakwood University church, I can almost hear the legendary pastor of that church, Elder Eric Ward, turning over in his grave.  At one point, they not only banned drums in that church, but they banned audio tracks that had drums on them! Times have changed.

It’s that element of Kirk Franklin’s genius that I see reflected in the people on this list of 7. Artists who were ahead of their time. Artists who endured until their ministry went from extreme to standard. Artists who were banned but who are now honored. We started with Thomas Whitfield, Mahalia Jackson, and Edwin Hawkins. 7 is not nearly a long enough list, but let’s go.

James Cleveland

A native of Chicago and pianist for the legendary Albertina Walker and Thomas Dorsey, most people don’t realize how monumental the ministry of James Cleveland actually was. He strained his voice at an early age, but it left him with that signature “voice of gravel” that was a gospel music staple.

Cleveland was the driving force behind the birth of “contemporary” gospel music. He traveled the country with the Cleveland Singers and the Southern California Community Choir performing to crowds of thousands. He won 4 Grammys and was the first gospel artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today his influence lives on through the Gospel Music Workshop of America that he founded with Albertina Walker. Today it has over 200 chapters with 30,000 plus members.

Andre Crouch

His songbook is broad and reads like a contemporary church hymnal:

  • The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power
  • Soon and Very Soon
  • Jesus Is The Answer
  • Take Me Back
  • Through It All
  • My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)
  • It Won’t Be Long
  • Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus
  • Let The Church Say Amen

His music not only brings back memories, but it brings back emotions, and musicals, and graduations, and funerals. Andre Crouch music was practically the sound track for black church life for years. But it was not without controversy. He was the principle figure in the Jesus music movement that brought contemporary music into the church in the 60s and 70s. He was also the first major black artist to cross over into the Anglo Christian music market. (CCM).

His music is heard in the films, Color Purple, The Lion King, and many more. He worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross and a long list of secular artists. But it’s nearly impossible to find a gospel artist that does not list him as an influence or trailblazer.

The Winans

I was helping a church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi one summer and went to a radio station to record a radio spot. They gave me some new albums to choose my music from and I picked up, “Introducing the Winans.” For the next hour I couldn’t get past the first track, The Question Is. It was amazing.

Over their career, those 4 brothers from Detroit won multiple Grammys, Doves, Stellars, and a host of other awards. They were known for their crossover appeal and often appeared on R&B charts, collaborating with Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and others. They are still impacting gospel music today as solo artists along with several of their siblings, including B.B. and C.C Winans.

It’s important to note that they were introduced to the music world by Andre Crouch. No Andre Crouch, no Winans. No Winans, no Commissioned or Witness. No Commissioned, no Fred Hammond or Marvin Sapp…and on it goes.

John P. Kee

“How did he get on the list?” I hear some of you. Here’s why:

  • First, I love him!
  • Second, I think he’s one of the best combinations of traditional, contemporary, quartet, and choir music ever.
  • Third, at his height-and I’ve heard them all- he was the best live performer in the business, and Franklin’s early concerts were a rip-off…I mean “homage” to Kee. (You didn’t realize gospel music fans could be so snarky….get over it!)

When Kirk Franklin first arrived with the Family, John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir were the hottest young act in gospel music. His energy, his grooves, his dancing, his jokes, his musicianship, his business genius…have all knocked down walls for the Kirk Franklins of this world.

A former drug dealer turned preacher, he is currently the Senior Pastor of New Life City of Praise. He continues to travel and perform across the country.

Ok, that’s it. I gotta stop. I could really double this list and still not be done. As I said, gospel music is powerful and personal. So, who’s on your list? Who would you take off of mine? Comments?

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