After 21 years in the industry as frontman for John P. Kee’s New Life Community Choir, it's not difficult to be happy for Isaac Carree. The Men of Standard co-founder and most recently, a lead vocalist for Kirk Franklin, shot to number one on Billboard’s Gospel Album Charts last month with the release of his debut solo project, Uncommon Me.
Don’t miss Carree and other great artist performances, LIVE on gmc, for the 2012 Stellar Awards Nominations & Concert, Saturday, October 29 at 8 pm et.
“We had no idea it would happen this fast,” an excited Carree says. “At the same time, I don’t let it go to my head because I understand there are different windows of opportunity God grants you. You take it, enjoy it and keep pushing. I had the opportunity to surround myself with people who understood my vision.”
People like star gospel producers like Warren Campbell, Eric Dawkins and James Fortune, who he says pushed him to his limit on tunes like the title track, “Uncommon Me” and “Chances." And while he says they are songs that speak to his journey, they are performed in a style sure to earn the singer – known for his searing tenor solos, melodic moving ballads and straight church riffs – a whole new audience of listeners.
“They speak to who I am and the chances God has given me,” Carree shares.
All of which ties into his vision, which simply put, is for people to not give up on their dreams, but to learn the role serving others can play in the process, as it has for him.
“Serving has been a key to my success. I’ve served at my local church and I’ve served with other artists for years. Even when I found out the first week that the album was number-one, I was singing background for Kirk. And I will continue to sing with Kirk.”
It is that kind of humility that has inspired a collective cheer for his recent success from peers, many of whom have considered him "one to watch" since he bowed on the gospel scene two decades ago.
The Durham native was just 16 years old in 1989 when his mom drove him to Charlotte to audition for John P. Kee, who was so impressed with Carree’s voice that a year later, sought permission to have him move to Charlotte to work with a vocal group he wanted to start.
The group included another young man, Lowell Pye, with whom Carree would eventually found Men of Standard.
“We went into the studio and did a couple of songs, but eventually we started traveling with him and his career really took off with 'It Will Be Alright' and the Jesus Is Real album,” Carree recounts.
With the vocal group on the back burner, Carree toured with Kee from 1990 to 1994, forming a lasting friendship with Pye in the process. In '94, the two left Kee’s choir to pursue other opportunities, with Carree taking a shot at musical theatre in a string of plays with Michael Matthews, before hooking up with Pye in 1996 for Men of Standard, which also included Michael Bacon and Bryan Pierce.
“We did four albums with Malaco and in 2005, we signed with Sony and did one album with them,” Carree recalls. “We had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, we learned so much and were able to keep that brotherhood together.”
After a poor chart performance from their fifth album, the group disbanded and for the first time, Carree was on his own. That is until he received a call from Kirk Franklin.
“He was doing some revamping and wanted me to be part of the Hero album he was recording,” says Carree. “It was challenging for me and my flesh kind of rolled up because it felt like I was going backwards. I had already done that with John and I’d had my own thing with Men of Standard. I couldn’t grasp singing background with Kirk.
“I began to pray about it. Then God said to me, ‘You’re a good leader and you have the potential to be a great leader, but first you must be a great server and follower.'
Looking back, Carree states, “It was the greatest business decision I made in my life because more than a singer, Kirk has helped to mold the man. He helped create a better Isaac, a better husband, a better father. Serving him opened the door for where I am now. I’ve learned so much. I really feel I prepared for now – for this moment.”
Ironically, Carree never desired to be a solo artist.
“I’d been approached about it, but I’d never been on stage alone. I loved working with other people. God literally forced my hand to do this solo album. That’s why it took me three years to finish it. I would like a few songs and then hate a few songs. I was just like, ‘I really don’t want to do this.’”
“I believe God designed it that way because he wanted me to see some things in me that needed to be tweaked as a singer, songwriter, producer and person, so that when I stood before people, my message and my lifestyle could be pure. I needed to be by myself or I wouldn’t have seen these things. I would have stayed in the background and leaned on other people.”
With that revelation came the goal to remain independent. Carree opted not to sign with a label and instead formed Door 6 Entertainment, inking a distribution deal with Universal. Putting things in perspective also brought him to the understanding that music was what he does and not all that he is – a key theme of his new CD.
“The overriding message of this album is 'find out who God made you [to be],” the happily married father of three says. “We have a huge identity crisis in the body of Christ. We lose who we are. We lose the things that make us special. It’s the battle of what is common and what is uncommon.”
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Lisa Collins, a Los Angeles native and resident, is a syndicated columnist, writer, publisher and former Billboard Magazine columnist. Her career in gospel began in 1988 with her creation of "Inside Gospel," a daily/weekly syndicated radio series that provided news, profiles and product updates relative to the gospel music community. For the next eight years, she would also serve as executive producer of the show that was broadcast in more than 100 markets nationwide. Collins has also served as a segment producer for BET and authored well over 300 articles on a variety of issues for a number of national publications from Essence to Upscale. Her background in the field of entertainment reporting is extensive, featuring cover stories and interviews with the likes of Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and Prince.
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