march 2011


Gospel News & Notes

balck academy

Keeping The Programs Going. Amen!

Hard hitting new Gospel CD brings Ruben Studdard and other stars together to raise funds for Black Academy of Arts and Letters

In October 2010, several renowned stars came to celebrate and help raise operating revenue for the Black Academy of Arts and Letters that was founded by Curtis King 34 years ago.

"In a bad economy the first thing that gets cut is arts funding," says King, whose 250,000 square foot complex is adjacent to the Dallas City Hall, in a news release. "However, it's the plays, concerts, poetry readings and other inspiring programming we offer that helps people get through rough times like these. So, we're thrilled that these artists came together to make a CD that will raise money to help keep these programs going."

ruben studdardThe majority of the songs on the 13-track Medicine--Live At The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (MCG Records) were written or co-written by Sam "Shake" Anderson, a veteran bassist who has toured with the likes of Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield and Bruce Hornsby. It was recorded live at The Black Academy. Backed by the 80-voice Black Academy Choir, American Idol champion Ruben Studdard performed two of the album's highlights. "Medicine For Someone Else" has a bluesy feel and shows off a raspier tone for Studdard, while the ballad "Teach Me to Love" boasts an unplugged groove.

The album is not a typical gospel set. On it, the songs range from a brash critique of parasite preachers on "PTYHOMP (Please Take Your Hands Out My Pocket)" to the bloody waters of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Jasmine Guy's spoken-word recitation of Curtis King's "My Language" poem. Ann Nesby (former lead singer for The Sounds of Blackness) wraps her big voice around the poignant anthem, "What Would You Have Me Do?" Yarbrough & Peoples, best known for their 1981 #1 R&B smash "Don't Stop the Music," deliver the funk on the percolating street jam, "Jump Til' You Feel Something." Tommie Young West, who recorded classic R&B sides for Louisiana's Soul Power label in the early '70s, rocks the house on the pulsating "Won't Have to Worry" while Brenda Ellis' full alto pulverizes the paean, "Bask (In the Presence of the Lord)."

"I look back on my days of the handling of such mega superstars as Phillip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire, Leon Patillo of Santana, Helen Baylor, Shirley Caesar, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Denise Williams, and the incredible Al Green," says James Bullard, president and CEO of Majestic Communications Group (MCG). "This project, in my opinion, is comparable to those superstars. My blood is pumping like never before. This is going to be a big project and is destined to go all the way to the top. I am excited beyond words about this project."

Although The Black Academy has been a fixture on Dallas' local arts scene for over three decades, the organization also has a national standing. Its 1987 fundraising CD by Eartha Kitt entitled, My Way: Musical Tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Caravan of Dreams) sold over 250,000 copies. The Academy later funded national touring productions of Black Music and the Civil Rights Movement, Symphony with the Divas and the musical, Blues Bar. For more information, go to

From Natasha Mitchell at Mitch's Muse

See Gospel editor Bob Marovich's review of Medicine-Live At The Black Academy Of Arts And Letters in this issue.


Mike Jennings Joins Dixie Echoes

jenningsBass vocalist Mike Jennings has joined the Dixie Echoes. He made his debut with the group on July 29 in Dillsburg, PA.
The Echoes’ Stewart Varnado  says a tip from a Gold City tenor Dan Keeton that led the group to Jennings.  "At the beginning of our search for a bass singer, we were in concert with Gold City,” Varnado recalls. “Dan Keeton told me of a bass singer from Maryland that we just had to hear. Exactly one week later, Mike came to one of our concerts. Dan was right. Mike immediately impressed all of us. He possesses one of the most pleasant bass voices that I've ever heard."

Says Jennings:  "My family and I are thrilled to be a part of this distinctive ministry. We have enjoyed the Dixie Echoes for many years now and look forward to what the Lord has in store for us!"


kingsmen graceGRACE SAYS
The Kingsmen
Horizon Records
Available at

The Kingsmen have opened up an interesting chapter in their history during the past few years. After several lineup changes that ended up dissolving the Kingsmen Band and left the group with a new tenor (Harold Reed), and baritone (Bryan Hutson), the group released When God Ran, a project that was arguably the best that they had released in years, according to several critics. Not long after, the group hired young pianist Cody McVey, and the next mainline release, Missing People, was a good project, but in this blogger’s humble opinion, didn’t quite reach the same level as its predecessor.

Since that time, another lineup change has happened with the departure of lead singer Phillip Hughes, which moved Bryan Hutson to the lead position and brought in former Kingsmen/Carolina Boys lead Randy Crawford in to fill the baritone spot. The obvious question is this: what can this version of The Kingsmen bring to the table?

The group wastes no time in welcoming Crawford back into the lineup, as the first track of the project features him. An upbeat Joseph Habedank/Matthew Holt collaboration first heard on Statement of Faith’s debut project, “Back To Grace” sounds made for Crawford’s voice. Likewise, the other Statement of Faith cover, “I Knew It Was Him” (written by the same team, coincidentally), fits Harold Reid like a glove. The other covers include an Oak Ridge Boys/Triumphant Quartet tune (“If Not For The Love Of Christ”) and a convention song (“After The Sunrise”). The nice thing about the majority of these covers is that they don’t sound like they were taken from another group. Rather, the group does a fine job of making them their own, particularly the Habedank/Holt tunes.

Other highlights of the project include the title track, which once again features Crawford and could easily become a career song for both he and the Kingsmen, and “Ordinary Man,” a progressive tune that puts Bryan Hutson out front. The final track, “Loving Shepherd Gracious God,” has received a lot of attention from several bloggers, and features the smoothest sound collectively from the group in quite a while.

To sum it all up, the rehiring of Randy Crawford has created a sound for The Kingsmen that is thick, powerful and smooth, all rolled into one, and this project does exactly what it’s supposed to do in the way of taking hold of that sound and showcasing it. While some of the other reviews I’ve read have criticized the project for being “musically schizophrenic,” it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The styles on the CD do tend to jump around from track to track, but I’m of the school of thought that, as long as it doesn’t go out in left field at every turn, it makes for a fun listening experience; the listener can be continually surprised.

With a group dynamic and song selection that is arguably one of the best the group has had to date, there’s not one thing I would throw out of this project if given the chance. Grace Says receives 5 stars. --Aaron Swain, writing at Swain’s Musings, July 8, 2011

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