7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget: Part 2

7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget: Part 2

Last week was fun. We took a stroll down memory lane and re-visited some classic concerts by the Blendwrights, Dannibelle Hall and the Midnight Musicals at the annual COGIC Convocations. Let’s close with these four.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers at the WEUP Radio Station

If you’re an Oakwoodite, WEUP needs no introduction. For years it has been the top gospel radio station in Huntsville. Back in the day they would have live concerts at the station featuring some of the nation’s top gospel artists.

Now this was literally music to our ears because the Oakwood Church wasn’t exactly fond of gospel music. As far as they were concerned, if you looked up the word “Devil”, you’d probably see a picture of a drum! These days when I hear folk like Travis Greene and J.J. Hairston, and Kierra Sheard in the sanctuary, I’m still looking around for Elder Ward to cut the mics off.

The night the Hawkins family was at WEUP, I was there early, but I was already late. Why? Because the auditorium was the size of your living room….and I don’t even have to know how large your living room is! The place was packed but the music was wonderful. Tramaine, Daniel, Lynette, Walter, Edwin….” Oh Happy Day”, “Come and Go with Me”, “Early in the Morning”, “Here’s the Reason” and on and on and on. Enough said. That one I won’t forget.

James Cleveland in Columbus, Georgia

Pastoring in Phoenix City, Alabama and living in Columbus, Georgia was an experience. The people were great, but the area was isolated. Nobody was “coming through” Columbus on the way to someplace else. So, I literally could not believe the radio announcer when he said that James Cleveland would be in concert in Columbus. The city was a decent size, but Cleveland was by far the biggest thing in gospel music at that time.

I got an even greater shock when they announced the location, a church just about a mile from our home. I squeezed into a pew and I wasn’t disappointed. No praise and worship back then, they prayed and gave him the mike. For 2 solid hours he took the Cleveland Singers through his hits and classic hymn arrangements. He was a master. To this day, his Gospel Music Workshop of America is the largest annual gospel music convention in the world.

Thomas Whitfield in Orange County

Thomas Whitfield was a musician’s musician. Michael O. Jackson, one of my former Ministers of Music, traveled with him for a period and had amazing stories. Frankly, early on I didn’t particularly care for him. Some of his music reminded me of the progressive jazz albums my father loved, but that I couldn’t quite get with. Too dissonant for my taste. Strange chord structures. But the more I listened the more I understood.

In 1977 he formed the Thomas Whitfield Singers in Detroit and they changed a generation. Over the years, groundbreaking gospel artists like: Kirk Franklin, Donald Lawrence, Fred Hammond, Richard Smallwood, Yolanda Adams, Ricky Dillard, Kim Burrill and others have been asked about their musical influences. There was at least one name that appeared on everyone’s list. Thomas Whitfield.

I heard him in concert in Orange County California in 88 or 89. They opened with a strong praise and worship set by the host church and house band. Whitfield came on with some of his Detroit based background singers-Michael Fletcher, Gwen Morton, Larry Whitfield-but they added some local singers. It was seamless. They moved through all of his classics and more. Songs like:

“We Need A Word From The Lord”
“Hallelujah Anyhow”
“Oh, How I Love Jesus”
“Nothing But The Blood”
“Precious Jesus”

Two words kept coming to mind as I listened. Excellence and genius. I won’t forget that concert.

John P. Kee at Academy Cathedral in Inglewood

Some people collect rocks and coins. I’ve always collected concerts. There’s nothing like the energy and creativity of a live concert, and for years the king of live concerts was John P. Kee. Kirk Franklin and others patterned their concerts after his. The energy, the excellence, the humor, the dancing, the give-a-ways. All of these were John P. Kee standards. He was dubbed the Prince of Gospel Music for good reason.

Now, if you’re going to be a collector of concerts, you must master the fine art of sneaking in. Money is not the issue, it’s the space. That’s how I heard John P. Kee in back to back concerts at the Academy Cathedral in the early 90s. The 5pm concert was crazy, and I was determined to stay for the 7pm concert. My only problem is that security cleared the building between concerts. Somehow, they thought I was a part of the band and let me stay in…probably because that’s what I told them. Pray for me. It was a great concert.

So, those are my 7. What about concerts or artists that you remember? Who are the artists you enjoy today?

7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget- Part I

7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget- Part I

Atlanta has been the Disneyland of the gospel music world this week. The Gospel Music Workshop of America is holding its annual convention in Atlanta and the city is buzzing. GMWA, founded by the late James Cleveland, is the largest music convention of its kind in the world. Everyone in the industry is in Atlanta.

Tuesday night, J. J. Hairston and Youthful Praise were in the middle of an incredible set. I began to reflect over the countless gospel concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime; some good, some bad, some unforgettable. I began to think about the concerts that, for different reasons, I remember clearly to this day. These are some of the gospel concerts that have stuck with me over the years,

The BlendWrights Concerts- Memphis, Tennessee

Every contemporary Adventist artist owes a debt of gratitude to those amazing ladies from Ohio. They fought the music battle in the heat of the day. They were singing passionate and creative gospel music in Adventist churches when you could get thrown out for singing, “ Elijah Rock!”

As a youngster, Pastor Robert Willis would bring the BlendWrights to Memphis, Tennessee each year and every concert was an event. Their instruments alone were banned in many Adventist churches. I enjoyed so many of those concerts, it’s impossible to pick a favorite.

As impressive as the singing and instrumentation, their lyrics were what changed lives. Songs like, “ Let Down the Ladder”, “All the World Is Mine”, “ How Many Steps to Heaven”, “ Courage”, “ Heaven Came Down”, and Eleanor Wright’s classic, “ Naaman the Lepar” could turn a concert into a full out revival. Unforgettable.

The Midnight Musicals- COGIC Convocations

It was understood that for a solid week each November, you could always find me and my buddies at the annual COGIC Convocation. Memphis is the headquarters for the Church of God in Christ International, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. It’s fair to say that no organization has had a greater influence on gospel music than them.

Groundbreaking artists such as Andrae Crouch, the Clark Sisters, the Winans family, the Hawkins family, and others all have their roots in the Church of God in Christ. Each year at the convocation, midnight musicals were held at Mason Temple. Many of the artists never became household names, but they are legends to gospel music fans. There would never have been a Hezekiah Walker or Ricky Dillard without an Institutional Church of God in Christ Choir. There never would have been a Kim Burrell without a Betty Nelson. I remember those concerts.

Danniebelle Hall – Memphis State University

I came to hear Danniebelle that night in 1978, because she was a popular lead singer for Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. But what I heard that night at the University was different from what I’d experienced before. She wasn’t just singing her hits, but she was leading the congregation in familiar gospel choruses. Some of them I was familiar with, others I wasn’t. But all of them were easy to sing and even easier to remember.

I was amazed at how the atmosphere changed as she wove her testimony through a series of simple, singable songs. I realized later that she and others were pioneering a worship form that’s familiar to everyone now-praise and worship. Before then it was either the deacons droning through a devotional service on Sunday, or “Father Abraham” and song service on Saturday. This was different and it caught on like wildfire.

Next week: James Cleveland, Thomas Whitfield and more. But enough about me. What are some of your favorite gospel concerts and concert memories?

It’s the KIDS…Dummy!

“It’s the Kids…Dummy!

Intro: Don’t take it personally, I’m talking to myself too. Church Growth and Discipleship is my thing. From Oakwood College to Andrews University to Fuller Seminary-ground zero for the church growth movement-it has been my passion. So I still shake my head when I think of how long it took me to fully appreciate how invaluable children’s ministry is to the growth and development of the local church.

It’s common sense, but common sense ain’t as common as it used to be. If you want to start a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to grow a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to resurrect a church, prioritize the kids.

Church growth books are like death, taxes, and diet books- they are always with us. Experts abound. Everyone has the special steps, the secret sauce. Everyone has the secret to doubling your membership, even if that secret has escaped their own church. But here’s a tried and true method for growing your church numerically and spiritually. Prioritize the kids.

Let me give you some reasons why, if we’re concerned about the present and future of the church, we’ll prioritize the kids,

If You Get The Kids, You Get The Parents

Now this isn’t the most important reason for reaching out to kids, but since our theme is growth, I’ll start here. “Parents who can be approached in no other way, are frequently reached through their kids.” Testimonies Volume 4 pg. 70.

Ellen White was on point. Seems like before my kids made it home from the hospital, I was already scheduling their baby blessing and baptism. I was literally more concerned about my kids than myself, and especially their salvation. I’m not claiming that I was right, but I am claiming that I was not alone!

The best way to get to most parents is through their kids. When you attract the kid, you attract the parent. And when the parents are made to understand how important their role is to the salvation of that kid, you will usually get both.

If You Get The Kids, You Get the Grandparents…and Aunts…and Uncles…

I was visiting a church one Sabbath that had seen a tremendous drop in membership. I was bracing myself for another disappointing look at a church that literally died over the last 30 years. But to my surprise, rather than having any pew to myself, as was usually the case, the place was pretty full. It didn’t take me long to see why.

It was Children’s Sabbath. The kids were front and center. They taught, they sang, they preached. And it seemed like every kid brought a cheering squad. Proud relatives were everywhere. Many of them probably had only been in a church for weddings and funerals. But they were there in numbers that day. And my church growth imagination was thinking of a hundred ways to get them back.

Get Them Early, Or You Might Not Get Them At All

Most of the research that I’ve seen over the years seems pretty consistent. Easily 75% of Christians come to Christ before they reach the age of 18. And the longer it takes, the longer it takes! Experts identify a 4-14 age window when kids are most open to the gospel. And we need to make it our business to cultivate that spiritual seed and then be prepared to harvest it.

“When Jesus told the disciples not to forbid the children to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers in all ages, –to officers of the church, to ministers, helpers, and all Christians. Jesus is drawing the children, and He bids us, Suffer them to come; as if He would say, They will come if you do not hinder them..” Desire of Ages, p. 517

And I Could Go On!

Here are some other reasons that local churches should put a greater investment in Children’s ministry.

    • It Passes On Our Faith.
    • It Begins To Train Future Leaders.
    • It Gets Men Involved.
    • It Makes The Church More Mission Minded
    • They Bring Joy!!

So, there you have it. Over the years I’ve hired more church employees than I can remember: custodians, drivers, teachers, day care workers, youth pastors, associate pastors, secretaries, administrators, musicians…musicians…. musicians…. more musicians! If I had it to do over again, at the top of that list would probably be children’s pastor.

That’s me. What about you? How is your church doing with the children and youth? Any suggestions?