Summer of Gospel: Who's Got the Number-One Slot?
It’s been a long time coming, but the time is apparently now for Earnest Pugh. On the heels of the success of 2009's Rain On Us – which earned the title of Billboard’s #4 gospel radio airplay artist of 2010 – Pugh’s fourth CD, Earnestly Yours, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart July 18.
And it couldn’t have been more official than with a call from none other than Kirk Franklin – who'd held down the #1 slot since the release of Hello Fear in April, to inform Pugh that he had knocked him out of the number-one slot.
“I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ And he said that’s probably a good indication that when the Billboard charts come out, you’ll be number one,’” Pugh recounts. “But [Black Smoke Records CEO] Kerry Douglas was saying 'don’t get excited, you may not be number one.'
“I was on the beach when the record debuted after having done 14 listening parties in 14 different cities. When I finally did get the call and they said it was number one, all I could do was cry. I ended up outselling Kirk by 1,000 units on the day of the release, and it wasn’t just the single 'I Need Your Glory.' People were downloading the entire album.”
For Pugh, it was the realization of a dream.
“I’m still dreaming. It’s so surreal because you do something you think God told you to do and you don’t know when it’s going to blow up, so this is an affirmation of what God told me to do.”
It’s also the first #1 debut in Houston-based Black Smoke Music’s 16-year history. “I am truly humbled by this milestone,” says Douglas.
The CD, named more for “how we should enter into God’s presence” than for Pugh’s first name, also features Beverly Crawford on the track “For My Good."
“This album is very near and dear to my heart. I did more writing on it, but what makes it so special,” says the Memphis native with a five-octave vocal range, “is that it is all things I went through that caused me pain. In the process I realized that these songs are other people’s testimonies as well. That’s why it’s resonating so much with other people.”
GRAMMY-nominated singer, songwriter and pianist Richard Smallwood's Promises debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Gospel/Christian Chart this week. It is Smallwood’s second highest debut since the 2001 release of Persuaded, and it is the first time he has debuted #1 on the combined Christian/Gospel chart.
A lot of success for someone who thought his writing days were behind him. After penning such classic tunes such as “Total Praise,” “Center of My Joy,” and “I Love the Lord,” he seemed to be out of gas.
“I had no desire. No inspiration,” says Smallwood, who’d been taking time off following the death of his mom. “Even three years later when I tried to see what I could come up with, nothing was there. It was like a dry well.”
Then in 2009, the self-professed CNN addict got sick of the negativity that dominated the media news.
“The war. The economy. People were losing their homes and jobs,” Smallwood recounts. “My heart went out to everybody and God spoke to me and said, ‘I know what’s going on in the world, but remember I’ve given you certain promises. Promises that I’ll never leave nor forsake you, that I’ll provide for you – shelter, food, whatever it is you need. Remind my people that if I promised you, that settles it.’”
Just like that, the music began to flow again, even in his dreams.
“I would wake up to all these melodies, two or three at the same time in my head – all to do with God’s promises and encouraging people to really embrace the word the way they’d embraced the media.”
Highlights of the CD, appropriately titled Promises, include a song by Donald Lawrence and a tune featuring Lalah Hathaway on lead vocals.
“I went to school with the great Donnie Hathaway,” Smallwood says. “I never had the chance to work with him after I graduated from Howard, and it’s sort of full circle that I would work with his daughter. The song is called 'Praying For Peace' and she’s an incredible vocalist.”
Another highlight is the remake of his dear friend Walter Hawkins’ “Is There Any Way,” which was all the more challenging because his death was so fresh and the song so emotional at the time he recorded it.
And while one can ask Smallwood which of the 11 tunes is most likely to become his next classic, don’t expect a definitive answer.
“That’s the thing about this album: it’s just not one. 'Trust Me' is the lead single and after I taught that song to my singers, we had to basically say the benediction and let rehearsal go. It was that kind of spirit in there," he shares. "'Sowing Tears' was another tune with the same reaction. Then I did a song called 'Mending a Broken Heart' and although it’s an uptempo song, it still had that kind of effect on the singers.
"I’m writing from a place I’ve never written from before. I think the music is fresh. Although it’s Smallwood, it’s still current and exciting. I think it will probably even capture a whole new audience.”
All About Love for Kim Burrell
To be sure, love is in the air this summer what with the release of Kim Burrell’s The Love Album. An online commercial features Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, Richard Smallwood and Kirk Franklin raving about the CD. The lead single, “Sweeter” is a favorite of Stevie Wonder’s – who reportedly made his L.A.-based radio station, KJLH, play the entire album straight through three times. What’s more, the buzz surrounding the record has Burrell not only enjoying her best success yet, but mainstream airplay from R&B stations around the country.
And that’s exactly how she wants it.
“That’s really where I want them to hear the love of God," says the GRAMMY-nominated singer, "but with a sound that’s similar to what they’re used to.”
It's her unique brand of gospel jazz fusion and that has earned her the respect and admiration of such artists as Whitney Houston, Harry Connick, Jr. and Prince. Aside from the lead single “Sweeter” and tunes like “Let’s Make It to Love” and “Love So Pure,” Burrell is winning rave reviews for her twist on remakes of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Love’s Holliday,” the Clark Sisters’ “Jesus Is a Love Song” and El DeBarge’s “Love Me In A Special Way.”
“Hopefully I’m not offending anybody but I was offending the spirit of God by not allowing God to be all that He could be through me,” she says of the stylistic approach and song selection for the album. “I’d rather offend people than offend God.
"Chaka Khan called me about a year or two ago and it was really late. She said, ‘Hey Kim, I’m at the beauty shop getting my hair done and I’m listening to your song 'Holy Ghost.’ She said, ‘I think I need that!’ it was amazing,” Burrell continued. “They hear the spirit of God in this music and they say, ‘Hey, we want what we hear.’ And it is so the anointing because every single time that they’ve ever invited me to their arenas, they’ve not requested I do anything opposite of what I do.”
This is album number five for the singer who delivered her first sermon at the age of 14 and who today serves as pastor of the Houston-based Love & Liberty Fellowship Church.
"I've always been compelled to lead people to God,” states Burrell, who is quick to add that she loves preaching as much as she does singing. “The motto of our church is ‘Where we’re building each other to build God’s kingdom.’ I think that’s one of the most significant things about the temperament of our church is that you can feel the love and the freedom at the church.”
Juggling the roles can be challenging, but Burrell is making the best of it.
“I may miss two Sundays out of the month at the most, and I know sometimes it’s half of the month, but we’ve got capable people there. We’re almost a year old and I can say I’ve been there 85 to 90 percent of the time that we’ve been in existence.”
Judging by the growing success of the CD, that’s not going to get easier as demand for Burrell is increasing on both fronts. Future projects may include collaborations with Prince and Stevie Wonder.
Also this summer, in his first CD in two years, Donald Lawrence teams with Israel Houghton and Dorinda Clark Cole, offering a moving tribute to Walter Hawkins, a sermonette by Zimbabwe’s charismatic Bishop Tudor Bismark, and a rousing remake of Chaka Khan’s classic 1984 hit, "Through the Fire."
“This project really doesn't differ from my past ones,” says the GRAMMY Award-winning producer, composer and recording artist of the new CD, entitled Your Righteous Mind. “I want to continue to teach, through song, spiritual principles and laws based on scripture.”
Stellar, GRAMMY and Dove-nominated artist Norman Hutchins releases If You Didn’t Know, Now You Know, confirming what most in the gospel industry already knew: Hutchins packs a powerful vocal punch with his musical delivery, be it traditional, contemporary or praise & worship. The Dover, Delaware-based pastor is known for such hits as “Battlefield,” “God’s Gotta Blessing (With My Name On It!)” and “Jesus I Love You,” and has labeled his music as a back-door approach to presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Also this month, Dawkins & Dawkins is set to return to the Gospel music scene after a 10-year hiatus with the release of From Now On. The new CD continues their contemporary flow and signature heart felt vocal style with a 21st century twist. Key tracks include “Pray For Me” and “Best Man” featuring Warryn Campbell.
“We’re raising the bar with elements that our fans are expecting to hear but also stepping into some areas that we haven’t ventured into before, i.e. pop and rock that will no doubt place us in other arenas,” says Eric.
Copyright 2011, www.watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
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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