A trip to Philly last weekend gave me a chance to hear—and talk to—some pretty prominent folks in the gospel world.
I was in town for the annual convention held by the National Association of Black Journalists, a group I have belonged to since my newspaper days. One of the convention traditions is the “Gospel Brunch,” where members eat breakfast while listening to gospel performers, many of them well-known.
Featured this year were Pastor Grammy-Award winning Gospel Artist Hezekiah Walker; Grammy-nominated group leader and keyboardist Richard Smallwood; and singer Karen Clark Sheard, known for both her solo work and that with the legendary group the Clark Sisters.
Though I think it is great music, I am not as knowledgeable of gospel as I am of other forms. But I had been hearing about Walker, Pastor and Bishop of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, for years. Rappers have reportedly called Walker “The Pastor of Hip-Hop” because of his work in gritty sections of Brooklyn turning young people from drugs and crime. Somewhere in the following interview, I asked him how he felt about Christian hip-hop, which a few months ago I had written an article about:
Like me, Smallwood has roots in D.C., where in the eighth grade he had singer Roberta Flack as a music teacher. A founding member of Howard University’s First Gospel Choir, he was also a featured member of a gospel group called the Celestial Singers, where he took the place of keyboardist Donnie Hathaway.
I met the artists on August 7, when Smallwood was about two weeks out from releasing, Promises, his latest CD. He spoke to me about the album—and Christian hip-hop—in this interview:
Sheard, who is said to have influenced Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, Fantasia and Missy Elliott, talked about playing one of her own role models—Aretha Franklin-- in an upcoming biopic:
I also visited Warmdaddy’s, the Philadelphia night club that specializes in blues acts, where I caught a performance by singer E.C. Scott. I had fond memories of going there once in a while for Tuesday night jams—as well as the shows--when I lived in Allentown. E.C. Scott reminded me of why I like that place, which, when no one is on stage, has the best collection of blues videos I have ever seen. Here she is with her band Smoke:
Later, I had a chance to talk to her: