Sunday, November 27, 2011
Finding Her Way Back: Gospel singer Leszia Renee
At 24, gospel singer Leszia Renee turned herself—and her voice—away from the Lord she had been serving since the age of seven.
“Selfish? Self-centered? Are you kidding? Shopaholic?” said Renee, who is based out of Moreno Valley area of Southern California. “Okay. Buying whatever I want. Not caring if my brother was okay. I didn’t care that you had a bill that was due. My bills were paid but yet I’m sitting up here and I’m going to Nordstrom and I’m getting ready to spend $500 on some shoes. You know? But yet you’re ready to get evicted, but I’d rather have those shoes than help you out with your bills.”
But feeling empty about the decisions she was making—and driven almost to the point of suicide--Renee returned to the Lord at age 33.
Now, ten years later—instead of shopping at Nordstrom—she occupies her time with San Bernardino’s “Crossing Over Ministries,” where she teaches Sunday School, directs the choir and runs “Everyone Eats,” the ministry's food pantry.
And instead of pursuing American Idol-style dreams with her singing, she is now using her voice for the Lord. To that end, she recorded “What About Me?” her 16-song debut album as a professional gospel singer. The album’s release last June was designed to coincide with a San Diego performance in which Renee opened for gospel star Kirk Franklin.
Renee says the songs reflect what God wants her to sing, including the title song, the name of which refers not to a self-centered question from her, but a query from God asking her about His place in her life.
She released the CD with GVR Records & Entertainment, a company founded by Larry Martin Kimpel, a Christian recording artist and a bassist (if you want to know more about him check out our interview posted July 26 and July 30 of 2011) who has worked with George Duke and Anita Baker and who now plays with Frankie Beverly and Maze.
“He’s the perfect shepherd that God has placed me under. God placed him in my life so that I would not be taken advantage of,” she said of Kimpel, adding jokingly that the bassist “..has to give an account to God on how he treats me.”
A phlebotomist by trade, Renee has music in her roots. Her mother, Rosie Lee, sang in church and was a member of a couple of gospel groups. A vacuum repair and sales company owner, her father Carl was less involved in music but had a good voice when he sang Sam Cooke songs during weekend trips taken by the family, Renee recalls.
Our interview of Renee will be presented over the next three days. In the first part, she talks about what she learned about singing from her mother and about life from her father. She also talks about some of her favorite gospel singers:
BBP: Let me ask you about singing. I know that some of your influences were at least—you like Yolanda Adams and B.B. and C.C. Winans? You listed Karen Clark. I thought that was very interesting because I spoke to her about three or four days ago and you also listen to Aretha Franklin and I found that interesting because Karen Clark is apparently playing Aretha Franklin in a movie. But that’s just stuff I’ve heard. Tell me a little bit how each of these singers have influenced you.
Renee: Well, with regards to Yolanda Adams, the way that God just uses her and how you can feel the spirit move as she’s exalting God, that is just something to behold and the ability that the Holy Spirit has to touch you so that you bear witness to what she’s saying, you know…it’s just as you hear the spirit of God in someone as they sing, it’s like you are sitting at the feet of God and you’re in awe of what he can do. So again, the first voice that I heard happened to be my mom…Yes I love all of those other great vocalists, but that first voice I heard from my crib, that first voice that I heard singing in the choir, the voice that God has placed inside of me, it comes from the voice that he put inside of her. So I take nothing away from all of the Aretha Franklins, and I love Yolanda Adams…but I just break down and I cry at the glory of God when I hear my mother sing because again, it’s just an awesome thing to behold.
BBP: Tell me your mother’s name?
Renee: My mother’s name is Rosie Lee.
BBP: Okay. And was she a professional singer? Was she singing at a church?
Renee: She always sang at her church. She sang with a couple of groups. ..
BBP: Gospel style?
Renee: Gospel. (laughs) She’s always exalted God for the gift he’s given her.
BBP: And did she record?
Renee: She sang with the Heavenly Voices, yeah. They recorded. The Sounds of Grace, they also recorded. Several different groups that I can’t remember off the top of my head….
BBP: Has she helped you with your singing? Has she helped you with your career?
Renee: (laughing) I have tried to get my mother to sing with me and I just cannot get her in the studio with me…but will we in the future do something together? Definitely. I’ve written several songs specifically in mind that she and I can do a duet. But right now, as of today: not at all! I can’t get the woman to commit!
BBP: Okay. Has she though given you advice? I’m sure she pays attention to what you do…
BBP: She has. What has she told you? What has she said to you?
Renee: To sing for Him and Him alone. My testimony is I sing for an audience of one, it really doesn’t matter who’s standing before me. That comes from my mom. That comes because you’re offering up, again, praises to the Father! You’re offering up the sacrifice of praise to God and so the biggest influence that she has placed upon my life is when I stand up and I sing, I’m not trying to impress men. You know, I’m not trying to impress the critics of what I’m doing because I’m singing my heart out to the one who loves me first—that I love more than anybody—and that’s the Father.
BBP: Tell me a bit about your father.
Renee: My dad (laughs) My dad, very strong-willed. I would say that my persistence, I definitely got from him as far as being determined to not let anything get in my way or stop me. My dad is stubborn as all get-out. I love the man. He has his own walk with God, as does everyone. But his influence in my life was the introduction to our Heavenly Father as a father who provides for you. Because my father is very much a provider himself. This is the foundation that I learned about my spiritual, my Heavenly Father that God always takes care of us, because my father always takes care of us…You know so I would say by him just being a diligent provider, an excellent provider that he in his acts showed me the love of God.
BBP: Let me ask you something else about your father. Outside of music, you said he’s a self-made man, that he owned a vacuum company and everything, what lessons did he impart to you…well, musical and otherwise?
Renee: Hard work. Hard work pays off. Never second guess yourself. Trust in the God-given ability that He has placed inside of you..
(Tomorrow: Leszia talks about what took her from God, and what brought her back.)