Time Out With Charles Butler

Charles Butler & Trinity is one of the area's most popular Gospel singing aggregations. Known for impeccable vocals and a powerful single, "Better", Butler's group is rising to the top of the Gospel music industry. He took time out to share more about his ministry with DCGospelNewsUpdate.com.

DCGospelNewsUpdate.com: Tell me about Charles Butler & Trinity.

Charles Butler: Charles Butler and Trinity was initially formed when I attended Central High School in Capitol Heights, MD. I taught the gospel choir at Central and we started to receive many requests for the gospel choir.  Because the choir was so large, we weren't able to take many of the engagements. One day I had the idea to form a smaller group within the choir so we could accept more engagements. So I gathered 6 of the best singers from the choir. When I graduated I was going to end the group but one of the singers convinced me to keep it going. I still have one original member (Amelia Hall) that has been with me for 17 years.

My singers are comprised of ministers, ministers of music, worship leaders, and people who just love God. Some of my singers sing with Byron Cage, James Fortune, Kirk Franklin, and do BGV's for various artists, but still remain faithful to my ministry. It's a blessing to see God take them around the world and open doors for them.

God allowed us to go on a 15-city tour in Italy with Earnest Pugh, we sang the National Anthem at a Washington Wizards game, and have sung background for various artists on Bobby Jones Gospel for the last 4 years. Recently we had the honor of performing at the historic Howard Theater. This past August we had the pleasure of becoming a part of history when we sang for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I honestly never could have dreamed of going from Central High School's choir room to sing before President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and so many other celebrities and dignitaries. God never ceases to amaze me!

DCGospelNewsUpdate.com: For people who haven’t heard your music, how would you describe it?

Charles Butler: I would describe it as a musical gumbo. Our music is comprised of multiple elements, different styles, and colors. We really try to be diverse in our approach in trying to minister to everyone. I think singing background for so many different artists has influenced our style.

DCGospelNewsUpdate.com: What’s the goal of your ministry?

Charles Butler: Our goal is to simply minister to the lost and to make people feel Better. I want people to see us and feel like you can be saved and enjoy life, too. People who know me and follow me on social networks know that I love to laugh. With so much going on in the world today I believe laughter is necessary. I want to encourage people to dream and never let anyone discourage you from chasing your dreams. I used to be associated with negative people and people who told me that I could never do certain things and I'm grateful to God that I followed His will. Giving up in this season isn't an option because there are so many people depending on our Yes!

DCGospelNewsUpdate.com: Tell me about your latest CD.

Charles Butler: Our debut album is entitled "Better". The title track is a feel good song. We wanted people to hear the single and be encouraged! The CD has something for everybody; praise and worship teams, church choirs, even praise dancers. The goal of the album is to be able to go to just about any church setting and be able to sing a song from the project.

DCGospelNewsUpdate.com: Where can people see you minister?

Charles Butler: For dates people can follow me on twitter @charlesbutlerjr or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CharlesButlerAndTrinity

Five Questions For Javon Inman

Gospel artist Javon Inman has been getting the attention of the industry recently with his unapologetic brand of worship. A D.C. area resident, Inman has been gaining popularity with his new project, “Heart of a Worshipper”. Read what this new artist has to say about the CD and his ministry.

1) What should gospel music fans expect from your brand new release?

Gospel music fans can expect a powerful worship experience that will take their relationship with the Lord to a whole new level! Additionally, they will be able to see an honest and uncloudy depiction of Who God is, the beauty of His love, and what really happens inside His presence.

2) What’s your favorite song on “Heart of a Worshiper”?

Now THAT is a hard question! If I could only choose one song it would be "Redeemer." When I think about how God had a plan in eternity to save us through His Son, Jesus, even though He knew we would fall short at times, it leaves me speechless! Furthermore, what's even more astounding is He gifted us with eternal life where we will live forever with Him. "Redeemer" reminds us just how merciful God is and the benefits we reaped from Calvary's cross.

3) Why do you think worship is important?

Worship is extremely significant in the daily walk with Christ. It (worship) is the life-source that strengthens our relationship with God. As we adore Him, exalt Him, and bless Him, in spirit and in truth, He responds by manifesting His presence in our lives, in our character and in revelations. At the center of worship, the great exchange happens -our will for His.

4) What do you do to keep your worship to God pure?

To keep my worship pure to God, I stay in His Word. I feast on the prophets' songs, as well as the books of Psalms, The Gospels and Revelation. Remaining in constant prayer keeps my focus right. For me, the more of God and less of me that I see in my intimate time with Him is a proper indicator that I'm on the right track.

5) What’s next on the horizon for Javon Inman?

Next on the horizon for me is a nation-wide release of the single, "Redeemer," followed up with promo Video for the song. I'll be ministering on the "FOR HIM" Unity Tour hitting Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas City. I will also be taking part in the 3rd Annual Independent Gospel Artists Alliance Conference in July 2012 -so excited about gaining a wealth of knowledge to further the music ministry that God has entrusted me with! Other than that, I am going to continue to be obedient, focus on the Lord, and let Him guide my every step.

For more information on Javon Inman, please visit www.javoninman.com

Five Questions For Marjane'

Marjane' has a passion and desire for the things of God and she is fulfilling a call on her life through her Music Ministry. Marjane' is gifted and anointed, sharing messages of deliverance, healing, praise, worship and her love of God through her music.

1) Can you tell me what's happening with your ministry now?

Since the release of my current album "Won't Let Go", my singles "This Joy" and "Get Your Breakthrough" are taking the industry by storm. God has continued to set a platform for me as an artist. I am currently traveling and promoting the album and finished my first video for "Get Your Breakthrough" which is now in rotation on BET's Video Gospel and GMC's Midnight Gospel and Soulful Voices!

2) How is your latest project being received?

"Won't Let Go" is a favorite to all who hear it. The responses have been magnificent! The album has received a nomination for London's MP3 Music Awards, a 2010 (1st round) Stellar Award Nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year, and 5 Ensound Music Award Nominations for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Female and Female Vocalist of the Year! I am currently the winner for Best Urban Gospel Female.

3) What is it that you want people to take from your CD after listening to it?

When you listen to my album I want you to experience being "free to worship and praise God". There are so many things we struggle with from day to day but we have to be reminded at times that God is still in control and he is positioning things in our favor. It's through our obedience when God moves at full capacity. My music expresses that very thing.

4) What's the ultimate goal of your ministry?

My ultimate goal as a minister of music is to capture the hearts and minds of those across the world and singing songs that move hearts and mountains. God is always speaking and as we stay connected to him and are led by his spirit we are able to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

5) Where can we see you minister soon?

I have traveled to the Atlanta area, Houston area, and Abroad. The year is coming to an end so we are now gearing up for 2011. We have received bookings for the upcoming year already and I would like to personally thank those ministries for their love & support!

For more information please visit www.marjanemusic.com

Walter Hawkins Interview

Originally published 12/29/04

When most of today’s gospel artists talk about artists they were influenced by, you’ll almost certainly see one name near the top of that list. That name is Walter Hawkins. The Hawkins name has been synonymous with perfectly crafted gospel music. Tramaine, Edwin and Walter Hawkins are a significant part of gospel music history and have paved the way for many of today’s most popular artists.

At the pen of Walter, he created hits like I’m Going Away, Goin’ Up Yonder, He’s That Kind Of Friend, Is There Any Way, Holy One, Changed, Dear, Jesus, I Love You, Be Grateful, I Love You, Lord, Highway, Special Gift, Marvelous, Thank You and the list goes On & On (recorded by Jennifer Holliday).

His beginnings in the gospel music industry started in 1968 when he attempted to raise money for a church youth choir by recording an album. The recording was Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord. Initially, the album was to be sold locally, but it soon became an international hit when the song, Oh, Happy Day hit the radio. The project sold more than a million copies.

Hawkins has come a long way since then. Almost 40 years later from those humble beginnings, his career has touched the lives of millions. His emotive vocals and uplifting songs have carried many a Christian through rough times. During that time he’s received Grammys, Dove Awards and many other accolades. In addition to being a recording artist, producer and songwriter, he’s also Bishop Walter Hawkins and is Pastor of Love Center in Oakland, California.

Read my interview with this trailblazer as he talks about his new project A Song In My Heart, his songwriting, his son’s musical career and how he feels about today’s gospel music.

Andrea R. Williams: I’ve interviewed Byron Cage and Richard Smallwood who both have said that they were singing songs in the cradle. Do you think you were born a musician?

Walter Hawkins: All of my family is musicians. And I’m the 7th child so…yeah. I guess you could say that. It’s an innate gift.

ARW: Was it something that you always had?

WH: For as far back as I can remember….yes.

ARW: Did your family nurture that gift?

WH: Oh, yes. Absolutely. They were already singing when I came into the world.

ARW: Was there a point in your life when you knew this was what God had called you to do?

WH: At a young age, I knew that’s what I was meant to do. From a child I was a church musician – from a very young age. That’s all I’ve known.

ARW: You’ve written so many songs that have become classics. Did you have any idea when you were writing them that they would touch people as they have?

WH: You don’t really know. I don’t know from one project to the next what songs people will be drawn to. I’m amazed at what pieces are timeless. It just amazes me.

ARW: Why do you think people connect so strongly with your songs?

WH: I think it has to do with people being able to relate to the message in the song. I don’t think it’s so much the style of the music. When I hear people’s responses to various songs, I hear things like “This song carried me through a very difficult period in my life”…things like that. I think it’s more the message.

ARW: Do you have a method in songwriting?

WH: I don’t have a hard-core, set method of writing. Usually whatever I’m dealing with in my personal life, I try to find out what the principal is and put it to music. Because I figure that whatever I’m dealing with, someone else can relate to that or will be dealing with or has dealt with it. That’s pretty much what I do. I don’t usually just sit down and write. At this point in my career, I usually write because I know I have a project due. At that point, the creative mindset comes into play. Otherwise, I just don’t sit down randomly and write. I used to do that a lot when I was younger, but not so much anymore….

ARW: How long have you been pastor of the Love Center?

WH: This month will be 32 years.

ARW: How do you balance pastoring and being an artist? Is it hard?

WH: It’s difficult at times. Both of my responsibilities are growing tremendously and they’re both vying for more time. But at this point, the assistants of the church afford me a little bit more flexibility to get away and do things (musical things). I know that things will run smoothly without my presence.

ARW: How are your roles as recording artist and pastor different?

WH: They are completely different. As a pastor…our ministry, in particular, deals with a lot of crisis situations. You’re walking people through situations on a one-on-one basis. The music situation – you don’t get to touch people on a personal level as much. Other than people writing you and telling you how much you’ve blessed their lives, you can’t put a face to it. I think being a pastor keeps me a lot more grounded. It keeps me feeling like a normal person. You see people in various stages of their growth. It’s extremely rewarding.

ARW: I know you just released a new independent project called A Song In My Heart. Is it similar to your Love Alive projects?

WH: Not at all. Normally, I’m working with the church choir or the family unit. This time around it’s a solo venture which was really different for me. Out of all the things I do, I’m accustomed to producing other people. Not myself. For me, this project was a chance to stretch out and do some things that I wouldn’t normally do. When I’m singing with the family or the choir, I do a particular type of song. On this project I got a chance to do an array of styles, if you will. It was a good project to let me see what’s really in me.

ARW: I’ve listened to the project and I thought it was phenomenal…not that I would expect anything less from you.

WH: Thank you.

ARW: I know your son took part on the CD. What was it like working with him?

WH: It’s hard to describe. You have a child that grows up and is influenced by what you do. And to see that gift develop in him and to have really solid input that differs from mine….it was an incredible experience. I don’t know really how to describe that. I had a real sense of pride and awe from what he was actually able to contribute.

ARW: Is he going to start working on his own project?

WH: He actually did his own project, but it never came out. He did a secular project. He then decided that that wasn’t the direction he wanted to go. He married my first godchild. He and his wife have done a project. We haven’t gotten a deal for them, as of yet. But I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from him.

ARW: And you? Will you be touring?

WH: Well, that’s the plan. I’ve been doing some sporadic promotional dates for this project. The concentration at this point is finding a distribution deal for our label. Then, from there, we’ll see what things we’ll do promotionally. I’m not sure at this point.

ARW: How do you feel about the direction that gospel music is going now?

WH: I think it’s real interesting. I’m glad to see that a lot of the young people are able to come out of the box and do some things creatively that we would have gotten shot down for doing years ago….[laughs]…I think that’s good. I don’t feel that I have to like what they’re doing. But I think it’s good that they can do things that young people outside of the church can relate to that will reach them – instead of being stuck in a particular vein. It may not be as effective as it could be. I think it’s good that the church is being a little bit more receptive or accepting of the different styles and creativity. I think it’s going to blow up.

ARW: How important do you think anointing is in gospel music?

WH: Great question! Oh, it’s real important. I don’t think you can relay the message of Jesus Christ with any authority if, first of all, you don’t have an understanding of what you’re singing about. Secondly, I think anointing has everything to do with intimacy with the Lord. It must be on an experiential level; there must be some walking with the Lord. There is a price for ministry. If you’re not willing to pay the price, I don’t think your ministry will ever be really effective. Growth and progression in God are absolute necessities. That means there has got to be some hard knocks and things that God does to adjust you in order for you to be effective.

Up Close & Personal with Gerald T. Smith

The Washington, D.C. area boasts many noted and gifted gospel musicians. One of those immensely talented musicians is Gerald T. Smith. Currently serving as the Director of Worship and Arts at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church located in Clinton, MD, under the pastorship of Rev. Dr. Delman L. Coates, Smith has performed with artists such as Shirley Caesar, V. Michael McKay, Lamar Campbell, Richard Smallwood, Albertina Walker, the late Thomas Whitfield, the late Rev. Donald Vails, and the late Rev. James Cleveland. His songs have been recorded by groups like the Jubilee Majestic Concert Choir, the University of Maryland Gospel Choir, The Ministers of Music and the Gospel Music Workshop of America. He’s performed at the Kennedy Center numerous times and all over the world including in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, France, Poland, Italy and West Africa. He is also the director of the internationally-recognized Youth-N-Praise Choir.

Andrea R. Williams: What’s on tap for the Worship & Arts Ministry at Mt. Ennon this year?

Gerald T. Smith: Our vision at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church is to be a Caring, Christ-Centered, Community Church, with a Kingdom Agenda. Under the guidance of our Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Delman Coates, I have taken that proclamation to heart. The Worship and Arts Ministry just completed it’s first Christmas Cantata under my leadership entitled, “He Was Born to Set Us Free”, that was so majestic and anointed, it had been touched by God himself. We are already planning an even larger Christmas Production this year, which will include all the ministries under the umbrella of Worship and Arts. Each Wednesday in April, we are having another awesome spring revival, with various leading recording gospel artists. Just like this past year, Mt. Ennon will again be hosting a phenomenal gospel choir from Europe. We’re celebrating African-American Heritage on Sunday, February 28th, with the Howard University Concert Band joining our 100-voice choir consisting of senior saints. I’m sure our new Rodgers five manual pipe organ will bring the sanctuary down in praise and worship for this one. Come on by and check us out.

ARW: What’s happening with the ministry of Gerald Smith this year?

GS: I am super excited at what God is doing in my life. He has blessed me beyond measure. I am thrilled that this year my youth group, Gerald T. Smith & Youth-N-Praise will release its first recording, “I Believe”. This CD is awesome. It really shows that even our young can have a heart for Christ. I am also embarking on another journey, starting a traditional community choir. I believe that we are commissioned by our Savior to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” Mark 16:15. I want to witness effectively locally and in all parts of the world. To that end, I will be conducting gospel music workshops in Denmark, Poland, Sweden, and Burkino Faso, West Africa this year.

ARW: What advice do you have for up-and-coming gospel artists here in the D.C. area?

GS: Keep God first in everything you do. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Matthew 6:33. Link up with a bible-based assembly of God. One thing that I have always had is the support and guidance of a sound Christian leader. Stay in God’s word. He has outlined every one of your steps. Remember, if God gave you the gifts, talents and the vision, it is yours. Don’t give up!

ARW: Do you have anything specific you would like to share with the DCGospelNewsUpdate.com readers?

GS: Be on the lookout for “I Believe” by Gerald T. Smith & Youth-N-Praise to drop this spring. It is a Praise and Worship experience that will touch your spirit.

Kirk Whalum Speaks On Gospel Jazz, New Release

Kirk Whalum is probably one of the most inspiring figures in the world of contemporary Jazz and Gospel Jazz alike. He is on a devoted mission to live out the "Good News" around his fellow performers and before the world at-large, while accomplishing milestone after milestone within the Jazz industry. Whalum's appeal as a saxophonist, writer, arranger, producer and performing artist without question serves as a testimony of his unshakable heart--transcending the walls of the church and impacting a multitude of lives with a sense of transparency and unlimited spiritual power.

Kirk doesn't mince words, but tells it like it is, keeping it real, so that it isn't religion or even "the church" people experience, but rather the reality of a true-life relationship with the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. As clearly as expressed and conveyed in his latest musical offering, The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter III , let's now hear from Kirk Whalum in his own words in an interview JGC recently conducted with him and find out more about his life-changing music and convictions:

JGC: Obviously you've converged Jazz and Gospel together. Was that intentional? Was that something that you set out to do?

KW: It's not so much a merging of two things. In the truest sense of the word, it's more about using one thing as a means to another. You can say one thing is the end and the other is the means. The end is the Gospel - that people will encounter the Savior through this good news of reconciliation. The other thing is Jazz, and that's just the means. You can use art, you can use music, you can use preaching, whatever it is, the point is that people encounter Him. In our case, I believe Jazz is a truly undervalued means because of the fact that it's instrumental music. It's uniquely able to go beyond a person's mental faculties; the processing center. Lyrics of Christian music and Gospel music have to pass that gauntlet to get to people's souls. But, Jazz, on the other hand, can go straight to do its work and then people are left saying "Wow, what is this? I feel like I need to make this connection."

JGC: What has your experience been like witnessing to non-Christians? I'm sure there are so many people in the Jazz world.

KW: I'll say this, there are a lot of non-Christians in church. That's not a judgment. I just encounter so many precious people out here in the "world" where I work, in clubs and Jazz venues and theatres, so many precious people who have so much to offer and from whom we can learn so much. But, I am to share this unique relationship I have with the Lord Jesus and through Him with the Father. That is priceless, and I'm constantly humbled by that because you never really feel like you do it justice. Most of the time we don't, but at least in our case as musicians we are able to offer ourselves as doorkeepers - not keep people out, but to invite people in like the doorman at the hotel. That's how I see it. We're out there where the people are, and we're able to invite them in.

JGC: How do you feel about Gospel Jazz as a ministry, both within and outside the church?

I'm very excited about it. From two points of view. One, I like seeing young musicians in the church striving for a higher level of excellence, of techniques, of creativity. That is exciting to me. I think that's an obscure ministry we have. You see this in artists like Paul Jackson, Jr., Jonathan Butler, and on and on. They are Jazz musicians who love Jesus. So, we're able to minister, as it were, to the choir. Just because you say you're a Gospel musician, that doesn't exclude you, that doesn't excuse you from striving for excellence. I think what happens in a lot of Black churches, in particular, they say "just play for the Lord, honey." That's like code for don't bother with private lessons, and sweating it out trying to get a Masters and getting out there in competition with the best of the best. Forget that; you play for the Lord. So, you get a hall pass. I say, "no." My Bible reads - talking about David - play skillfully. When I recorded "The Gospel According To Jazz" here in D.C. and George Duke played his rendition of "Because You Loved Me," it was in the spirit and people got blessed. But, guess what? The technique that the man exhibited, he didn't just get that playing in church. He got that studying, he got that in the school of hard knocks, he got that in the practice room, he got that out there on the road, he got that in college. He got that working it out, and I think that in itself is a ministry. That in itself is a worship. I tell young musicians if you really want to worship God, get in the practice room. To me that's pure worship. It's not saying hallelujah. It's like you're working scales. You're working exercises. You're practicing intervals. To me that's pure worship because you can't mess it up. You don't have to worry about theology. You don't have to worry about any of that. God accepts that, I believe, because it's your reasonable sacrifice. But a lot of these young musicians have not made that sacrifice. David said I will bring no offering that costs me nothing. But, they do it every day. They say "I'll just get up here and play". They get to rehearsal late, they miss rehearsal. You can't do that out in the world; you will not work.

Click here to read the rest of the interview conducted by Andrea R. Williams and JazzGospelCentral's Terrence Richburg.

Trin-i-tee 5:7 Drops New Release, T57

Trin-i-tee 5:7 knows about facing the storms of life. The group, comprised of Chanelle Haynes, Angel Taylor and Adrian Anderson, recognized for their slick urban sounds and inspiring musical messages, had to hold on to their faith as two of the girls' native New Orleans was submerged in 2005 due to the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina. Now that gospel's best-selling female trio has weathered the storm, they're back with a brand new project, T57, and the challenge not only has made them stronger, but the maturity of the songbirds is reflected in their new musical collection.

With brighter days ahead, Trin-i-tee 5:7 releases T57, the platinum-selling group's first CD in 4 years, and their debut project on Music World Entertainment, headed by music industry icon Mathew Knowles, father of singing sensation Beyonce. Under the Zomba Gospel Group umbrella now, the label's project flaunts the style and musical edginess that made Trin-i-tee 5:7 a hit in the late 90s. T57 finds Chanelle, Angel and Adrian providing ten memorable tracks dealing with everyday situations wrapped in musical elements of R&B, soul, hip hop and gospel.

Chanelle says that fans of the new project will be pleased with the album due to the development of the group. "What you're going to hear on this album is an evolution," she says. "You'll hear how we've grown. Not only do we sing about our relationship with God, but about actual life experiences as young women. This album is us. What you'll find on T57 is the core of Trin-i-tee 5:7. This project is the DNA of Trin-i-tee 5:7."

The three women take more than half the songwriting credits on the project, a definite sign that this is a personal reflection of the group. They've called upon up-and-coming phenomenon Bama Boyz, a twenty-something trio who have written and produced for labelmates Beyonce and Destiny's Child, to sit in the production chairs for T57.

Not afraid to hit the listener hard from beat one, I Still Love You is sung from the perspective of a brokenhearted woman who just can't get over her man. Merging a spiritual message over a classic soul sound, the song is cleverly penned and will find many women nodding heads in agreement.

Trin-i-tee 5:7 has no fear in tackling songs about the romantic relationship between a man and a woman. One of the strongest tracks comes from the pen of Solange Knowles entitled Like You, a catchy urban track about how an earthly relationship can't compare to a spiritual one. The R&B-tinged song samples church maestro Richard Smallwood's classic I Love The Lord over a bed of slick beats.

"In this CD, we've touched on topics that you don't typically hear mentioned in songs - as in our song, Like You. There's nothing wrong with having a relationship," says Adrian. "As Christian women, we have them and we learn from them. This song is a reminder that we as women need to keep the big picture in mind; we can't make permanent decisions based on temporary situations."

Another scorcher is the urban, beat-banging God's Triangle. The James Brown-influenced track will find the listener "stuck in the middle" of a fabulous song. U Saved Me, the mega-hit from noted producer and songwriter R. Kelly, is tastefully redone by the group as well. Retro music lovers will love the laid-back grooves of Back In The Day, a song that reminiscences about the way things used to be. Echoing that thought, Grandma's theme surrounds the wisdom coming from an older relative.

A beautiful worship song, I Will Lift, is a solemn and moving cut. Written from the heart of Angel, the song gives us a glimpse into a discussion she had with the Lord. "When I wrote the song," says Angel, "I was having a conversation with God telling Him what I thought about Him and how I feel about Him. When I wrote it, I was truly expressing my heart to my Heavenly Father". The transparency of the song is quite touching.

After coming through the recent tempest in New Orleans, the trio thought it would be fitting to record Doug Miller's popular church tune, My Soul Is Anchored. Following their trial, the song seems more than appropriate. With the addition of female voices, this soaring ballad is taken to unbelievable heights. Perhaps it's the deeply personal nature of the lyrics that's the cause of such a powerful performance. Two of the group's members were personally touched by Hurricane Katrina.

Angel was deeply moved by the disaster. "Our families lost their homes, everything. We lost all of our photo albums growing up and memories. But we were so glad that our families all survived," says Angel. "Although I wasn't there at the time, I did have to go through that experience with them. It was hard not being able to get there to be with them. Because of the hurricane, our family has definitely gotten closer and stronger."

Chanelle was present during the hurricane and felt the devastation firsthand. It's a unique situation to be in when you've been stripped of all your worldly possessions; at that point, you realize what really matters," she recounts. "When I was young, I would play with my brothers and we would tease each other, but when I didn't hear from them for 3 days, my whole world stopped. Here I am, just left my fancy apartment in L.A. by the sea a few days earlier, and then only a few days later, I'm lying on a stranger's floor," she states. "Just that fast, everything was gone. I'm grateful to God for bringing me through. And I'm so grateful for the support of my two friends."

Outside of the group's relationship with God, it's been the friendship these three women share that has been the true strength of Trin-i-tee 5:7. Original members Angel and Chanelle met in New Orleans while in high school. After the departure of a group member, they tapped Adrian, who had been their makeup artist, as the replacement. With the changes and the tests behind them, now they're ready to take the industry by storm.

Simply put, Trin-i-tee 5:7 is the best-selling gospel female trio. Having released their first project in 1998, they've already sold more than 2 million units with their first three projects - their eponymous debut, Spiritual Love and The Kiss. But the group isn't awestruck by their material successes. Their goal is to inspire and spread God's love.

"We're trying to reach people around the world for Christ," says Adrian. "No matter where we live on the planet, we deal with the same issues; everybody goes through something. When you reach inside yourself, there are so many others that feel the same way you do. It's just that God has given us an opportunity to speak for millions of other people. We don't take that lightly."

To learn more about Trin-i-tee 5:7, please visit www.trinitee57.com.

Time Out With Marvin Sapp

Thirsty is the title of the upcoming project from the GRAMMY, Dove and Stellar Award nominated artist Marvin Sapp. His seventh solo project, Thirsty encompasses what fans have loved about the artist since his days as lead singer with Commissioned - unmatched vocal delivery, and spirited, inspiring performances.

Known as one of gospel music's most recognizable voices, Marvin Sapp, Pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, returns to a live setting on the new project. "The night of the live recording was unbelievable," says Sapp. "It was a mind-blowing, life-changing experience. I really had the opportunity to minister songs that ministered to me," recollects Sapp. Although the evening was filled with amazing new music, for the pastor, the night was bittersweet. "A lot of people don't know, but during that period, within a 90-day span, I lost my father, my musical mentor, L. Craig Tyson, who co-founded Tyscot Records and my spiritual father - who passed . the day before my live recording," recalls Sapp.

It was out of his pain and grief over his father's death that the lead single, "Never Would Have Made It" was born. A song that many find relevant, "Never Would Have Made It" was written the Sunday after Dr. Sapp buried his father. He says, "We had already eulogized him. I had to throw the blanket in with him and close the casket. I had to stand up and say 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes'. I had to preach the message and drop him off at the cemetery to be buried. But the Sunday after that, I went into the church; and it seemed that everybody was functioning normally. And I was standing there thinking, 'What's going on?' Don't these people see that I'm in pain?'", he says. It was at that moment he decided he wasn't going to preach the Sunday morning message. Then he says he heard the voice of God. "The Lord said to me, 'Marvin, there's something you need to understand. Although your father isn't with you physically, I will never leave you nor will I forsake you. I will be with you always even until the end of the earth'. Then I walked into the pulpit with my Bible. When God began to assure me that He was there for me, I stood up. I grabbed the microphone and started singing, 'Never Would Have Made It'"," says Sapp. The song happened prophetically, right on the spot and is destined to be one of the album's favorites.

Look for Thirsty to drop on July 3rd.

Interview with the "Church Girl" Onitsha about Debut CD

By Tisha Y. Lewis, Assistant Editor, DC Gospel News Update

You may not have noticed this pristine voice behind hit gospel sister duo, Mary Mary, but Onitsha has stepped forward into her own, with debut CD, Church Girl, launching this April 2007. This native Beverly Hills, Californian is destined to shine, with pulsating, contemporary dance rhythms with a twist of traditional classy beats.

Having recently experienced the devastating loss of her father earlier this year, Onitsha remains committed, faithful and focused knowing that her true purpose in life is to restore joy to hurting people, ultimately pursuing God's plan for her life.

Follow along and read my interview with Onitsha, a humble woman with a lot to offer to the gospel music industry, as well as to the world.

Tisha: Congratulations on your recent successes thus far. Church Girl drops nationwide on April 17, which we are excited about. Tell us about this project.

Onitsha: The project is entitled, Church Girl. Shep Crawford and I composed the CD together. Some years back, he asked me if I wanted to do a project and I told him only if it was gospel. We worked on it and I'm so proud of this CD. I think it's a fun and joyful record. We had guest appearances with Mary Mary, Coko and Deborah Cox on a song called, "My Life," which is a very encouraging song. I know that it's something on it for everybody and I just hope that people's lives are just touched and changed.

Tisha: You have songs such as, "Don't Give Up" and "Lay Your Troubles Down," that have a classy beat. Aside from that, what's the message that you want to leave with your listeners?

Onitsha: Well, I have "Don't Give Up" and "Lay Your Troubles Down," "You'll Get Through this One" and "God is On Your Side." I just want people to know that no matter what you're going through in life, no matter what situation you're facing.if you're feeling down and out or lost like nothing is going to get right again, God is the answer and things will get better and change. So, that's my message.Don't give up. Don't give up on God, cause He won't give up on us.

Tisha: Just with that song alone, "Don't Give Up," gives such encouragement. Just recently, I had some issues that I had to keep that song on repeat.

Onitsha: I think because you want to keep the songs real. People will face those situations like (singing) I'll get through this one. Though it seems to be impossible, I've been here before and I'll get through once more.

Tisha: You are one of Mary Mary's background singers and they accompany you, as you mentioned, on your single, "My Life." Tell us about this relationship with this hit gospel sister duo?

Onitsha: Well, Shep and I wanted to do a song that could be an anthem, just some friends getting together talking about life and how they are not going to let things get them down. So we were kinda thinking who could we do the song with and I already had the relationship with the girls (Mary Mary) and Shep has worked with many great singers and he worked with Coko and Deborah Cox. So he asked them for a favor and they were all down to do it. They all loved the song and we got together and just laid it down and it became like.I guess the anthem (laughs).

Tisha: Track 14 on your CD entitled, "Search Me Lord," is rather unique because you sing a duet with one of the late great gospel singers of our time, Mahalia Jackson. You turn this gospel classic to a contemporary gospel with an infectious beat. How did this collaboration and interest come about?

Onitsha: Shep and I had really been trying to figure out who to do a duet with because there is so much great talent and so many people I wanted to sing with. I mentioned Mahalia and Shep called me in to hear the idea he had come up with. When I heard the track with Mahalia, I knew that "Search Me Lord" was it and I couldn't wait to get in the booth and put my part down.

Tisha: Aside from being Mary Mary's background singer, you were on tour opening with Patti LaBelle. You've worked with artists such as, Stevie Wonder and Destiny's Child. You have sung on Christina Aguilera's CD. What else can we expect from you this year?

Onitsha: You know, I don't know. I know God has a plan for me and I know He has something great for my future and I just want to walk down the right path and do the right things and make the right choices and decisions and just stay in line with what His plans are for me. So, I just hope to change lives when this CD comes out. I hope that people are blessed and that it restores some joy into the world to so many hurting people. I just hope that my music can do that. I hope that my music will open doors also for me to help people. I really have a heart to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Prayerfully, my music will allow some of those things to happen this year.

Tisha: What has been your most memorable moment thus far as a gospel recording artist in this industry and why?

Onitsha: I don't know. That's a good question! You know, I have a lot of good memories, but the thing that sticks out the most for me is being on the Hero tour with Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary. The girls [Mary Mary] gave me an opportunity to step forward and do a guest solo in their show for the whole tour and it was just amazing! Just the response and the feedback, you get a little taste of how it's going to be when it's your chance to step forward. It was really cool and it opened up doors and gave me the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of people who would otherwise, not know me until later. So it was really a blessing. I'll never forget it. I'll be forever grateful to the girls and Kirk for allowing it.

Tisha: Being in the music industry, you can tend to have a lot on your plate. How do you stay focused and who holds you accountable?

Onitsha: My family holds me accountable. They love me and will tell me if I'm wrong. I stay focused by staying prayed up and reading my Word and try to do the right things that God tells me to do and I fast, so that I can hear God and hear what He's saying to me.

Tisha: When people hear your name, Onitsha, what do you want them to remember?

Onitsha: I want them to remember my heart. I have a heart for God's people. I want them to like the singing and the music and be touched, but I want them to know that I have a good heart, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that I want lives to be changed. So when they hear Onitsha, I want them to feel like, "That's a great girl. She has a great spirit and a good heart."

Tisha: So, it sounds like it's not just about the fame or traveling to big cities, but it's really about God's people.

Onitsha: Not at all! I would sing on the street corner.for Free! (laughs) I have been fortunate and blessed to be in this position, but if it all came down to it and I lost everything, I would still go and proclaim Christ, wherever, however I have to do it, I'll do it, cause that's what He wants me to do.

Listen out for Onitsha's CD, Church Girl, on April 17, 2007. For more information on Onitsha, log on to: www.hiddenbeachmedia.com or www.myspace.com/thechurchgirl.

A Legend Returns: Interview with Tramaine Hawkins

For most gospel music lovers, songs like "Be Grateful", "Jesus Christ Is The Way" and "Holy One" bring back fond memories of the hayday of gospel music. Gospel diva Tramaine Hawkins was a pivotal part of that classic time of sacred music and delivered powerful, soul-stirring performances, amazing musical presentations drenched with a divine anointing. During the Love Alive Series and 9 solo albums, Tramaine Hawkins' flawless vocal ability and moving songs secured her place in gospel music history as royalty.

It's been over 6 years since she's stepped to a microphone to record and for fans of the singer, it's been a long wait. On March 6, 2007, Hawkins brings an end to her recording hiatus. It's been a challenging ride for the singer with a number of recording starts and stops and producer and songwriter changes, but finally the musical butterfly emerges from her cocoon with I Never Lost My Praise. "There are so many testimonies with this CD," says Hawkins. "It was on and off.for years. Then in the beginning of last year while I was in consecration at my church, Kurt Carr called me and said he knew God wanted him to be a part of my next project. He started to sing, "I Never Lost My Praise", a song the Lord had just given him for me. When he sung the song, I knew it was God; it was my testimony. I believe that's why the other producers didn't work out. That's why there was such a struggle with the timing. God had planned it just for this time. His timing is always right. Sometimes although it's uncomfortable, we need to learn how to relax in his timing."

With mega-hit songwriter Kurt Carr at the production helm, the two-time GRAMMY Award winner returns to the industry with a stunning collection of music, fit for a gospel queen. Songs like the opener "Excellent Lord", written by her son and hit producer Jamie Hawkins and her daughter-in-law, well-known recording artist Sunny Hawkins, along with the title tune, "I Never Lost My Praise" confirm that time has been good to Tramaine.

Songwriter and piano virtuoso Richard Smallwood makes a guest appearance on the project on the beautiful track, "Lord You Are" and Patrick Lundy & The Ministers Of Music offer their backing vocals on the CD's moniker and the rousing "Like Never Before". She also takes the listener back doing her own rendition of gospel's crossover hit "Oh Happy Day". I Never Lost My Praise is a clever mixture of traditional and contemporary gospel music and showcases Tramaine in the best voice she's ever been in.

Although she's been absent from recording, she's still been quite busy. "When I think about all the successes I've had in this industry, and to still be singing and vibrant and traveling and to still be one of the ones that people yet want to hear, I know it's God's favor," says Tramaine. "I know it's His divine favor."

Celebrating 40 years in gospel music, Hawkins got her start singing at her church at the age of four. She began singing professionally with the Heavenly Tones followed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. But it was her songs with the Love Center Choir on their Love Alive Series that made her a household name. The combination of her captivating soprano vocals and superior songwriting by Walter Hawkins was the formula for classics like "Highway", "Changed" and "Stand Still and Know". She's been recognized with two GRAMMY Awards, two Dove Awards, an NAACP Image Award, a Gospel Music Excellence Award and an induction into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Decades later, Hawkins is continuing to give fans the dynamic performances - complete with back-bends -she's known for. I Never Lost My Praise is set to introduce this artist to a brand new generation. Hawkins is thrilled about the new project and feels it's a great representation of her artistry and where she is in life at this moment. She says, "When I say that these songs are tailor-made for me, well, I just can't say it any better than that. It's like when you buy a suit in the store. Although the style is nice, the sleeves may be too long. But these songs are like having something couture made. It fits perfectly!"

Interview with Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin has gained the type of notoriety gospel artists only dream of. Since 1993, he's not only been a mainstay in contemporary gospel music, but trailblazed his way into mainstream music and record books along with numerous accolades and awards. In the process, he's taken gospel music out of the church and into the streets, a feat foreign to sacred music. The Dallas, Texas native, was a virtual unknown 14 years ago when the mega-hit, "The Reason Why We Sing", burst onto radio making him an overnight sensation.

Take a minute to read my recent conversation with Franklin as he talks about what's on the horizon for him, what his priorities are in life and why so many marriages fail.

Andrea R. Williams: 2006 was a great year for you. The AMA win, Hero going platinum, the expansion of Fo Yo Soul Entertainment..

Kirk Franklin: It was a great year. They've all been great years. It was a year of breaking, a year of learning. I can say that about every year. I'm grateful for everything that you named. For me, they are secondary to the other things. Even though the album is selling, there are things that God is doing through me that have an eternal value. Because when your stuff doesn't sell, that's when people start to feel like failures and inadequate. We're not supposed to have our value hooked up with awards and the achievements that we get. I made a decision a long time ago to never allow those things to be what I judge a good or bad year on.

AW: What is your barometer?

KF: When I look at my kids and their character. When I look at me and my wife and how we're communicating with each other. When I'm looking at the growth of my children. When I'm looking at the spiritual growth of my children. When I'm seeing some old habits in my life die. When I see character traits in me grow. When people come up to me and said, 'What you said on Oprah really changed me and my wife's marriage and I went to my girl and I repented'. Or like the lady that called Oprah and said that her ex-husband saw some dude on Oprah spilling his guts and wanted to say he was sorry for everything he did to her when they were married. Stuff like that an AMA or a Stellar Award couldn't compare to.

AW: Is it hard to keep that focus with the industry being driven by sales, popularity and imaging?

KF: Yeah, it's hard. What makes it really hard is that the church has bought into that thinking as well. The church has celebrity connected to it. It's about who's the hottest bishop and who's got the mega-church. You try to run away from the mentality and thinking in the world and you run right into it in the church. It's about who's the dopest and the hottest this and the hottest that. It's all around you.

AW: This year, you have a number of things coming up - hosting the Stellar Awards, the concert for the Childrens Defense Fund, and a film. Tell me what it's like to be able to host the Stellar Awards.

KF: It's always an honor when they ask me to be a part of something. I'm the type of dude that's always grateful for every chance I get. I'm always appreciative. Folks don't have to call you. There are dozens of talented people out there who deserve to host and deserve to do this and that. I'm not the only cat on the corner. There are several people out there who are doing great things, great ministries and great calls on their lives. I'm honored that in the midst of 14 years that I still have an opportunity to part of the body and just to be a part of the community.

AW: I know that you're going to be doing an event for the Childrens Defense Fund. Tell me how you connected with them.

KF: They are an advocate for issues that go on in America. CDF is a very prestigious organization headed by Marian Wright Edelman. She's done some great things, especially her work in lobbying for the rights of children. I was doing research about how I could be part of something to that would be great for me. With CDF, it seemed like a great marriage. I thought about it a while and saw all of the things they were doing. There are a lot of people that don't know all that she does. They aren't a very "commercial" type of organization where you're always hearing about what they're doing. They do a lot of great things, but it's under the radar screen. Whatever it is that I can do to bring more awareness to what they do, I just want to be a part of that.

AW: And the concert.

KF: It's our first endeavor to bring awareness to the organization. It's a free event. It's the day leading up to the Stellars Awards. We're going to have my good friends come out - Donnie McClurkin, Kelly Price, Chante' Moore and Kenny Lattimore, Keke Palmer, that' s the young lady from "Akeelah and The Bee". I'm just going to have some people stop through and really be connected to what we're doing. We're going to celebrate Marian Wright Edelman and what she's done. We're going to continue to strive to fight the good fight.

AW: I know you've expanded Fo Yo Soul Entertainment to include films..

KF: We trying to expand the industry with the visual. In this information age, we receive information in so many different ways. We just want to be part of opportunities that give us a chance to reach out to more people - to expand the business we have for Christian entertainment. And by Christian entertainment I don't mean that every movie is going to be about a pastor at a church. Doing that defeats the purpose of what we're really trying to be about. We're trying to be in the culture, Christ in the culture. We're not trying to create a bubble. "John Q" could have been a Fo Yo Soul film. "The Pursuit of Happyness" could have been a Fo Yo Soul film.

AW: Your upcoming film is called "Church Boy".

KF: We are at the table with Lion's Gate about doing a biopic that will be loosely based on my story like "8 mile" or "Purple Rain". We're hoping. If you know like I know, anything in the music industry is subject to change so I kind of wear it lightly...

AW: I know you recently released Songs For The Storm. It's really a compilation of songs of healing. What inspired you to do that?

KF: Just the season. It still feels like that season. It's still just a paycheck from the storm. Whatever God lays on my heart to do to shed some light during a dark season for people, I always want to be obedient to that. It was an idea that just kind of evolved. It seems to be blessing people.

AW: What do you think Christians can learn from what happened with Katrina?

KF: I don't think it's necessarily a Christian lesson or even a human lesson. I think it was just a revelation. It was a disconnect with the people who are in offices to take care of other people. It's also a disconnect that's still there between rich and poor. What Katrina did was bring awareness to that issue. It made people aware that in 2005, there is still a color line in the country. There's still a disconnect and distrust from people in public office. And then, we complain about people not voting and we look at Katrina and say, "Are you serious?"

AW: I know you've celebrated 10 years of marriage. It's certainly a milestone especially after some of the trials that you've been very open about.

KF: This month is 11 years for us. It's a great thing. That's my best friend. I think the reason why marriages don't work is because we marry people for motives and for reasons that have nothing to do what eternal. I mean, you can't get married to a big butt woman because she's fine, because after 4 or 5 kids, that big butt is just going to get bigger. And you can't marry him just because he's fine and has abs now. Because after a few years, he's going to be sitting around and have about 1 ½ abs. When you marry people based on looks or money and when those things change, that's when people don't make it because they don't ask the real questions. People don't ask questions like, "If this person is in a car wreck and paralyzed, can I roll this woman around for the rest of her life?" It's a hard question to ask. But I think if people did ask some of those questions, fewer people would be getting married - which is a good thing. I would rather have fewer people getting married than more people getting divorced. The problem with our culture is that when a woman gets a certain age, we think she should be married. That ain't Bible. Paul says in Scripture, "That I would rather you all be like me.."

AW: What keeps you grounded?

KF: Well, I bump my head a lot! Let me not even try to paint a picture that I've got it all together. There are days that pride and self get in the way. I'm not going to even lie and not admit that I don't have those days. But what I try to do is to strive to stay sensitive to God and when He shows me [what I need to work on] as long as I respond to what He shows me, I'm good. If He shows me that that was a vain move or a prideful move, I confess it, ask for forgiveness and continue to allow Him to keep chopping off at me. The more that I'm honest about it, the more I'm victorious over it.

Interview With Men Of Standard

Isaac Carree, Bryan Pierce and Lowell Pye have been singing God's praises for almost 10 years as the group Men of Standard. Songs like "Gotta Grip", "Praise Party', "In Your Will" and lately, "I Will", have endeared many fans to their diverse and spirited style of gospel music. Originally formed by Carree and Pye who were members of John P. Kee's New Life Community choir, the two-some added Pierce, a former youth pastor at New Orleans' Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church to the group. Later, noted producer Michael Bacon joined the group, but left amicably in 2005 downsizing Men of Standard to a trio.

Just delivering their fifth project, Surrounded, these young men are truly "on fire" for the Lord. Read my interview with the group as they talk about transitions, spiritual accountability and the one thing that makes Men of Standard standout from other gospel trios.

Andrea R. Williams: It seems like the group has been in a period of transition. I know that you lost group member and you have a new label. How has that shift been for you?

Lowell Pye: It's been a great shift. Change is good and necessary; everything is always changing. With the group, our look has changed, our sound has changed and our label has changed. We're excited about what God is doing. We moved from Malaco to Sony; we've gone from a four-member group to three members. And we had a new producer for Surrounded, Warryn Campbell. The quality of our music is better. We have great promotions, great management. Things have changed. We're so excited about them because things are done in decency and in order.

ARW: With the new project, would you say that your sound is still the classic sound we've been used to from Men of Standard?

LP: You can still hear the Men of Standard sound and, of course, the message is still the same, but now, it's just on another level. We brought in a new producer and now we're writing most of the material. Seventy-five percent of the material was written by Men of Standard and it comes from our heart. We're opening up with personal experiences and share how God has seen us through. We're letting that out to help encourage others.

ARW: The one thing I've noticed about your group is that you've seemed to master all sorts of styles of gospel music. You fuse the gospel genre with contemporary and traditional sounds.

LP: I think that comes from the different styles that we have individually and where we come from musically. I love quartet. I was born on quartet. My mom and dad sung quartet. When I started singing, I sung quartet. I also started listening to The Winans, Commissioned, and some of the more contemporary groups and tried to do what they were doing and merge it with what we were doing. I think it came out okay. Musically, that's where we are. Isaac is more of a contemporary lover of music and I try to help him appreciate the quartet style. Men of Standard has been able to adapt to different crowds because of our differing musical styles. That's what makes us really amazing.

ARW: In your opinion, what is the role of gospel music?

LP: It's to make people know about Jesus Christ. With everything happening today, I think that role is so important. We have to let people know that Jesus is coming back soon. People won't be able to say, "I didn't know" because the gospel is everywhere. It's on the radio; it's on television; it's in the videos; it's in the movie theatres. It's everywhere you go. Now, there are so many genres to choose from; there's hip hop gospel, contemporary gospel, traditional gospel, Contemporary Christian, and praise and worship. It's a choice; there's no excuse. As the Bible says, "choose ye this day who you will serve."

ARW: Are there certain things that you do as a group or individually to make sure that your walk with God remains a priority?

LP: We were born and raised in the church. Doing right and living right comes second nature to us. We definitely know the way and if we venture off, we know the way to get back home. We have the luxury of growing up in the church. But for those who don't have that same testimony, the Bible says, "confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and thou shalt be saved". It's about repenting and turning away from your sins. That's how to get back. Also, we have people in our lives that keep us accountable. We're not perfect so it's important to have people around you to pull your coat tails who aren't afraid to say, "That's a little bit left field; that's a little bit right field." It's also about your personal convictions and a personal relationship with the Lord.

ARW: I know that Warryn Campbell produced the project. As you know, he's worked with so many mainstream and gospel artists. What was it like working with him?

LP: It was really good. Isaac and I had worked with him previously on "The Question Is" on Woody Rock's album a few years ago. So we were familiar with Warryn. The chemistry was there. He's a great talent and he's incredible. The timing was perfect for us to work with him. The recording process was fun and stress-free. We worked and we laughed and we joked; it was a great experience. I'm sure that we're going work with him soon when we work on our next album.

ARW: The first single from Surrounded is "I Will". Tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the song.

Bryan Pierce: "I Will" tells us that it's time for us to do what God has called us to do. When God tells us to do something, we should be saying, "Lord, I will do it. I will pray. I will lay hands on the sick. Whatever you tell me to do, Lord, I will." That's what the song is about and it's a call to all Christians to do the will of God.

ARW: Will you be following up the release with a tour?

BR: We're in negotiations now. We're looking at doing something with a major gospel artist, but we want to make sure it's done right for the people to enjoy it and to really be blessed by it.

ARW: There aren't too many male gospel trios out today. What do you think makes you different from some of the other groups of the day?

Isaac Carree: What makes us different is that we're three different men from three different corners of the earth with three different styles of singing. At the end of the day, we blend well together. Most groups out there have one lead singer or maybe two. God has blessed us all to be able to sing lead. We can step out and hold our own, but support each other in the background. Bryan will be singing lead and Lowell and I will be having a riffing contest in the background. But we all understand our role. We respect each other's gifts and callings. We've been working with each other for the last 10 years and it's still working to this day. None of us is chasing a solo career; none of us is chasing individual accolades. We're doing it collectively. To get where we want to go, we know we must do it collectively.

For more information about Men of Standard, log on to www.menofstandardmusic.com.

Interview with Virtue

Virtue hit the gospel music scene in 1997 with their self-titled debut on Verity Records. Delivering uplifting, pop-friendly tunes, the foursome not only garnered attention from radio but Grammy, Stellar and Dove Award nominations. Since that time, the group has released 4 projects, added and subtracted group members and shifted to a new record label. But what made Virtue one of the best known gospel girl groups - terrific vocals and catchy songs - hasn't changed.

Karima Trotter Kibble, Heather Trotter Martin and Ebony Trotter Holland make up Virtue today and have just released their sixth project and first musical offering in two years, Testimony. The first artists on Darkchild Gospel, the brainchild of Rodney Jerkins and Freddie Jerkins, a duo known for writing and producing some of the best in the biz like Michael Jackson, Destiny's Child, Whitney Houston, and Toni Braxton, Virtue hits hard with the new CD. Take a moment to read my interview with these wonderful young women.

Andrea R. Williams: Tell me a little bit about how Virtue was started.

Virtue: We were born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and started in Huntsville, Alabama, where we went to college, Oakwood College. It evolved from there. Two of the group members left due to family and other things. But here we are. We've been around for 10, almost 11 years.

ARW: You're one of the few girl gospel groups who have been around for that long. What about your ministry do you think has contributed to your longevity?

V: I think it's just been the grace of God. When we thought that there would be no more Virtue, God said to us, "It's not over yet". It's been a lot of prayer as well. A lot of families don't get along, but we do. We love traveling together. That makes it all the difference.

ARW: Are there times when it's rough working with family?

V: You know, with every family, there's bickering. But sometimes it's just like, "Okay, you're mad at me; get over it!" Honestly, that's how it is. I can't imagine working like this with anyone but family.

ARW: Have you all been singing all your lives?

V: Yes, we have. We were born and raised in the church. We're Methodist. We sung every week. We were part of a group called "BASIC", Brothers And Sisters In Christ. That gave us a lot experience with singing in front of people. But we got most of our experience at Oakwood College. A lot of artists have come out of Oakwood College including Brian McKnight, Take 6, Sharon Riley and many others. Coming from there was a blessing. It's been said that if you can sing at Oakwood, you can sing anywhere.

ARW: Was there a point where you all decided that you wanted to do this as a ministry?

V: We didn't start like that. We went to college and our main goal was to graduate. I wanted to be a teacher. But the Lord was saying to me to sing although my focus was being the first in my family to graduate from college. I said to God, "If this is what you want me to do, you'll let me graduate from college and sing." As a teacher, you're supposed in to be class all the time, but I was never there; we were on the road all the time. My teacher said, "If God is calling you to do this, then here's the syllabus; turn in your work when you get back". And that was nothing but the grace of God. That's how I got my masters degree. At one point, someone had asked Karima to get a group together to sing for a worship service. Someone recorded that service and somehow that tape got all the way to California. Word was getting around and so eventually, Tara Griggs-Magee, who was at Verity Records at the time, signed us.

ARW: You're with DarkChild Gospel/Integrity Gospel now. How did that connection happen?

V:Freddie [Jerkins] had worked on Virtuosity with us. He came back to us after that project and wanted us as part of his label. When we talked to him, he said to us, "I want to sign you today!" We were surprised, but we signed with him immediately. It was a smooth transition between leaving Verity and signing with Freddie. There was little time in between. Working with him and him producing the new record was a lot of fun; it was truly an honor to work with him. It was different for us because we've never worked with one producer.

ARW: For those who haven't purchased the project yet, talk a little bit about the CD.

V: We really love this project. We have a number of guest artists like Martha Munizzi and T-Bone. We are so excited about this project. And we honestly feel that there's something on this album for everyone. We love the CD and have been playing it for months now. People have been telling us that they can listen to the CD over and over and over again because there's always something new and fresh. We think our fans will love it too!

Interview with Joe Pace

Joe Pace is one of the foremost experts when it comes to praise and worship. Credited as one of the first African-American worship leaders to introduce praise and worship to the black church, Pace has delivered some of the most dynamic and energetic church projects found in the genre. The producer, arranger, musician and award-winning choir director consistently gives praisers new tunes to lift hands to and worshippers new tracks to bow in reverence to.

Now the ordained minister, leader of The Colorado Mass Choir and recent author of the book, From Performance To Praise, turns his attention back to recording with the release of Mighty Long Way: The Vision Comes Alive. Pace celebrates a decade of music ministry at the live recording which took place at the Living Word Community Church in Nashville. Joining Pace on this project are over 120 singers from his previous recordings, a group that made up a special Mega Mass Choir especially for this event. Pace honors his 10-year milestone by revisiting some favorites that made him famous.

Read my interview with this praise and worship leader as he talks about his ministry, his book and why he feels praise and worship is important.

Andrea R. Williams: Long before the Byron Cages, the Israel Houghtons, and the Fred Hammonds, you had already been a pioneer in the genre. Did you set out to do that?

Joe Pace: I wouldn't say "set out to do". For me, it's been more about who I am. I'm thankful that I'm able to do it on the level that God has enabled me to do it, to expose and facilitate worship at the local church level. And I'm glad that others are doing it; there's so much room for everyone. I applaud what Byron and others are doing. Before I was doing it, people like Patrick Henderson and the West Angeles Church of God In Christ were doing it before it was in vogue.

ARW: So you're glad where praise and worship is now?

JP: Yes, I am, as long as it's authentic and genuine. I don't want the praise and worship to specifically to become a genre or a fad or a movement. I don't want it to be "let's hop on and let's do this". It really is an integral part of our worship lifestyle. I hope that everyone is pulling from the intrinsic value that is in praise and worship.

ARW: One thing that I love about your songs is your lyrics mirror exactly what I would say to God myself. Do you write from the perspective of relating to how others might feel or are the lyrics strictly from your own perspective?

JP: There is a combination, but specifically for me, especially in the praise and worship, my goal is to do music that can be duplicated - to do music that the church can do. I don't consider myself a typical artist because I know my calling to the local church. So I, particularly, try to write music for the minister of music who is able to teach it to the praise team in 10 or 15 minutes. There are other songs that are expressions of things I've been through like Speak Life and others. Sometimes people want others to articulate things they aren't able to. Overall, the music that we do facilitates ministry at the local level. For the Sunday Morning Service project, which we'll be doing more of, we wrote songs for every aspect of the worship experience - Call To Worship, The Offering, The Communion.

ARW: I thought that was a fabulous concept.

JP: To me, that's where it is, Andrea. These are the people that are on the front lines. Most people aren't going to be on stage in front of 10,000 people. They won't be in stadiums or an arena. They just do what they do every single week and they want to do it well. And I want to be one of those artists that gives back and facilitates them doing what they do. If I can do that, then I know I'm doing what I'm called to do.

ARW: What encouraged you to write From Performance To Praise?

JP: It's that totally. My call is to be a resource for the local body. I can wait until I'm 90 to write an autobiography. But how much time do we spend saying, "Here, these are tools to help you do what you do better in music ministry and here's what I've learned?" It's important, especially from an urban perspective. There are other books out there from other perspectives, but not a lot from an inner city perspective. There are nuances in the church, and this book is to help the church organize itself from a music standpoint. It's something that every minister of music deals with. We're working on a workbook, an accompaniment. Most of my time is spent doing workshops. There is nothing like going into a church and sitting with a young musician and showing them the ropes. What good is it if we're not accessible and reachable?

ARW: How do you balance it all? I know you're a minister of music, you're a recording artist, you do workshops, you're the director of the Colorado Mass Choir.how do you do it?

JP: There are times that it is hard. Having good people helps. I don't do as much in the ministering role as much because I'm traveling a lot. But I have to keep a balance and focus. One of the best ways of doing that is a relationship with the Lord. That's one reason that I like workshops because I've found that there's nothing like the local church to help keep you grounded and humble. The mothers of the church don't care who you are or if you got nominated for a GRAMMY or whatever. They say, "Boy, just come on up here and play this piano!" They could care less; it keeps you really humble.

ARW: Many ministers of music aspire to attain the status you have. Do you think that should be a goal for the local church musician?

JP: I don't knock that. I think that it's a noble pursuit and aspiration. I would just say to make sure you're focused on what God has called you to do, because if you're in it for any other motivation, you're going to have a hard time. You can't be in it to make money; it has to be a call. And I would say that your aspirations should not supersede your commitment and your faithfulness to what you're doing now. Real success comes from the rewards of your faithfulness. For those who are looking to do that, stay committed and faithful. I am a testimony that your gifts do make room for you; that's a fact. You have to stay where you need to be so that God can elevate you at the appropriate time. I also ask people who are looking for a higher level of success, "Are you ready? Are you ready for what is to come?" I ask aspiring artists, "Where is your demo?" Many times they tell me, "I'm working on it." Well, you're not ready. They need to be prepared to do what it takes to get where some of these artists are.

ARW: I know you recently released "Mighty Long Way". It's a great Sunday morning praise and worship project. I noticed that instead of providing new music you revisited your classics.

JP: Thank you. Instead of doing new songs, we decided to do a compilation CD. We've been doing so many different things - Colorado Mass, Praise & Worship Series, and so forth. Our 10-year celebration gave us a unique opportunity to pull everything together into one double CD; we also wanted to introduce people again for the first time. We included stuff from C Mass. We got together representatives from all the choirs that have ever done anything with me and recorded a live DVD. We have new songs like the title song, Mighty Long Way and Offering of Praise, but ultimately, the project is about celebrating all that God has done in the last decade.

ARW: In your opinion, why is praise and worship important?

JP: It's important because it's personal. It's that personal music that translates the relationship between you and the Father. It's that vehicle that sets up the throne and the residency for God to inhabit the praises of His people. It enables you to get into the atmosphere, into the presence of the Father and musically worship. It gives us the opportunity to be transparent, to learn God's purpose for us, to learn more about Him and ourselves.

For me, it's also a weapon. It affords me the opportunity to tear down things that are in my life (issues or circumstances). In using praise and worship that way, it's one of the quickest ways to get God to show up in your situation. Beyond that, we have a mandate to worship Him just because. It's such a passion of mine. We can get in the habit of asking God for things and asking God for things and asking God for things. But how much time do we worship Him just because. I like it, you like it, but how often does someone call you up and say, "Andrea, I just wanted to tell you that I love you. I didn't want anything; I just wanted to tell you, girl, that you're doing a fabulous job. Bye." You immediately may feel like, "Okay, he wants something. There must be something to this because no one just calls who doesn't want something". Therein lies the essence of what worship is supposed to be. The more we worship, then the other stuff we'll get.