“What A Friend” – Elder Randall Ogans, Sr.

“What A Friend”
Elder Randall Ogans, Sr.
From the CD, What A Friend (2020)
https://elderrandalloganssr.hearnow.com/

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Elder Randall Ogans, Sr.’s arrangement of “What A Friend” is like chicken soup for the soul. The jazz-infused instrumental is the title track from his debut gospel jazz CD, on which son Dorian is a featured musician and co-producer.

“What A Friend” opens with the lull of an acoustic piano, shaping each note of the melody into a reminder of the solace we and the generations before us have found in the 19th-century hymn. Ogans’ arrangement then blossoms into a full-bodied smooth instrumental, replete with electric piano, organ, pads, and percussion.

The track was recorded at Ogans’ own Alpha 7 Ministries Studios in Roseville, CA.

“Oh My Lord” – God’s Example

“Oh My Lord”
God’s Example (2020)
www.gemuzik.com

God's Example cover art

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Urban contemporary group God’s Example drops bars lamenting racial and social unrest, COVID-19, political party divides, and other issues of the day in the single, “Oh My Lord.” Relying on the hope of overcoming turbulent times, the group says the countdown is on for the end of “Pharoah’s gig” and calls for kingdom reformation.

It’s a heavy message that pivots to a decidedly optimistic declaration: “He said He’ll never leave me / Neither will He forsake me / If He said it, I believe it / If He spoke it, I receive it / And I won’t let nobody shake me!”

Musically, God’s Example packages “Oh My Lord” with ample urban contemporary bop and a quick traditional quartet hump – all before the track reaches the three-minute mark. A certain aural nostalgia makes it apparent to me that The Winans are among the group’s musical influences. It’s definitely a compliment to the style of these four biological brothers whose quartet originated in Florida under the leadership of their father, Pastor Emaniuel Roberts.

“Heart’s Cry” – Hope McCants

“Heart’s Cry”
Hope McCants (October 2, 2020)
Hope McCants Ministry

Hope McCants

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Austere simplicity is the hallmark of Hope McCants’ self-written single “Heart’s Cry,” a personal petition for more of God. The vertical worship tune begins with Hope echoing sentiments of the psalmist David, as written in Psalm 63, longing for God as one who thirsts for water in an arid desert. Antonio Black of MB Production accompanies on keys and strings as Hope, whose natural vibrato emerges as the prominent stylistic element in her otherwise deliberately unpretentious performance, lays bare her heart before an audience of One. The rest of us might feel privileged to overhear and make her prayer our own.

Hope serves in ministry with her husband, Pastor Michael L. McCants. She is currently co-pastor at East Point Church of the Nazarene in Atlanta.

“Take Your Knee Off My Neck” – Shirley Caesar

“Take Your Knee Off My Neck”
Shirley Caesar (September 11, 2020)
Shu-Bel Records/Red Alliance Media
http://smarturl.it/shirleycaesar

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

“Take Your Knee Off My Neck” is one of the most direct and impassioned calls to action for social and racial justice that Pastor Shirley Caesar has issued in song. That speaks volumes for a gospel legend whose nearly seven decades of recording stretch across many of our nation’s darkest days of bigotry, segregation, and injustice.

In the riveting single co-written with Michael Mathis, Pastor Caesar speaks frankly about George Floyd’s May 2020 “lynching in broad daylight,” during which Minneapolis police officers held him in place with a knee to his neck until he lost consciousness. Floyd’s death was followed by days of demonstrations around the country. The track opens with crowd chants of “I can’t breathe!” – the last words of too many who have died in officer-involved encounters. Caesar minces no words addressing this and related acts of police brutality.

“Take your knee off my neck!”

“Enough is enough!”

“Stop killing our sons and daughters!”

“Leave us alone!”

She speaks the names of several other victims as well: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland. The roll call of Black lives taken senselessly never ceases to stir deep emotions for me, and this context is no different. “You’re gonna reap what you’ve sowed,” Caesar warns the evildoers.

The straightforward message of “Take Your Knee Off My Neck” is driven by the song’s pulsating rhythm section. It’s an auditory evocation of trifold symbolism. Caesar’s finger is on the pulse of the times, singing pointedly about defenseless hearts that have stopped beating at the hands of their cold-hearted murderers.

Despite the circumstances that make “Take Your Knee Off My Neck” a necessary and urgent call to action, Caesar doesn’t confront the oppressors without lifting up the oppressed. “Beautiful Black people,” she sings, “hold your head up high. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Black lives matter!”

Joy Bogonko talks debut EP, shares best advice she’s ever gotten

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Joy Bogonko is an emerging voice for her generation. The young Minnesota raised up-and-coming musician, singer, and songwriter chatted with Gospel Music Fever about her self-titled EP and offered advice to her contemporaries. 

Libra: Joy, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you.  Please tell us how your music journey started and who your influences have been.
 
Joy: It’s a pleasure talking with you as well! I’ve always been into music from a young age. I grew up playing different instruments and loving how music brings people together. I was about 15 when I started my current journey of singing professionally. I’ve been influenced by my big sister the most for sure because she has always believed in me and my potential. Her unwavering support has honestly been a huge contribution to where and who I am today. Musically, I’ve always loved Adele, Israel Houghton, Rihanna, Jonathan McReynolds, and Lauryn Hill, because of how they embrace their unique voices. 
Libra: Talk to us about your current EP.
 
Joy: My current EP is generally a positive theme about strength, weakness, and conquering what life throws at you. Something a bit more personal to me is understanding that no matter what anyone’s going through, we are not alone and our feelings are valid. 
 
Libra: This is your debut EP.  There’s a lot in store for you.  What are some of your music goals?
 
Joy: I hope to connect with more people, collaborate with other artists, and get better at my passion.
 
Libra: What do you believe is the biggest issue your generation faces, and what is your advice to empower them?
 
Joy: The biggest issue my generation faces is not being heard. I believe in young people so much and as a young person myself, it can feel really hard to speak out on what I believe in. I think the best advice I can give is always remember that any contribution counts, no matter how big or small. We are a force to be reckoned with and I think the rest of the world is starting to catch up. 
 
Libra: Speaking of advice, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
 
Joy: The best advice I’ve ever been given is that there is no competition. When I think of myself as the person I’m competing with, it drives me to excel while also giving myself the compassion and grace I deserve. 
 
Libra: These next questions are totally random. Here we go!  iPhone or Android?
Joy: iPhone.
 

Libra: Texting or talking?
Joy: Talking.

Libra: Last song you downloaded?
Joy: “Black Is Beautiful” by Mayyadda.

Libra: At what venue would you most like to perform?
Joy: I would love to perform at Radio City Music Hall!

Libra: What’s your dream music collaboration?
Joy: My dream collaboration would be with Tori Kelly or H.E.R. 

Libra: What do you want to make sure GMF readers know?
Joy: I want to make sure that readers know that they are valuable and that they matter. And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

Joy’s current single is “He’s Not Done Yet.”  You can listen to it here and visit her socials here

“God Is Love” – Steve Dalton & The Leviticus Singers of Charlotte

“God Is Love”
Steve Dalton & The Leviticus Singers of Charlotte (LSOC) (2020)
www.facebook.com/LSOC2014

Steve Dalton & LSOC God is Love cover artBy Janie Sheeley-Torain
GMF Special Contributor

Steve Dalton & The Leviticus Singers’ riveting vocals and soul-rousing lyrics minister to the brokenhearted and the downtrodden through their latest single, “God Is Love.” It is a powerful but simple message, packaged with an upbeat tempo, which serves as a vivid reminder of the all-embracing reach of the love of God.  Dalton’s finely calibrated declarations mixed with LSOC’s stylistic background vocals that are centered around God’s love will uplift your spirit and stir up your soul.  The ensemble’s vocal vitality and beats are contagious, and as you listen you will be transformed from tapping your toes, praising and worshiping, to eventually pointing to yourself in the mirror and singing, “He’ll never stop loving you!”

“God Is Love” is the first single from Steve Dalton & LSOC’s upcoming EP, The Introduction.

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Janie Sheeley-Torain, Ed.D, is a gospel music enthusiast, author, National Board Certified Teacher, and life-long educator. She is an advocate of invigorating gospel music that inspires, elevates, and encourages the listener. She has published and is currently working on manuscripts that embolden the musicians of gospel music.

“Look to the Hills” – Rev. Luther Barnes & The Restoration Worship Center Choir

“Look to the Hills”
Rev. Luther Barnes & The Restoration Worship Center Choir
From the forthcoming CD, Look to the Hills (available May 29, 2020)
www.shanachie.com 
  
By Janie Sheeley-Torain
GMF Special Contributor 

In “Look to the Hills,” Reverend Luther Barnes and The Restoration Worship Center Choir harmoniously encourage us with a testimony of the unstoppable miracles that only God can perform. Allow this song to reach deep down into your spirit with the reassuring message that whatever you’re facing is gonna get better for you if you just “look to the hills and be blessed!”

Barnes adheres to his signature smooth delivery and relatable lyrics, which he co-wrote with the late Derrick Adams, and both will entice you to sing along and encourage yourself.  “Look to the Hills” is an amazing song – powerful and much needed during this national crisis. 


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Janie Sheeley-Torain, Ed.D, is a gospel music enthusiast, author, National Board Certified Teacher, and life-long educator. She is an advocate of invigorating gospel music that inspires, elevates, and encourages the listener. She has published and is currently working on manuscripts that embolden the musicians of gospel music.

"Foot of the Cross" – Loni Crawford

“Foot of the Cross”
Loni Crawford (2020)
 

By Janie Sheeley-Torain
GMF Special Contributor

Get ready for a fresh soothing sound with a sprinkling of traditional gospel with Loni Crawford’s “Foot of the Cross.”  As Loni ushers in God’s spirit, you can see yourself in the comforting presence of the Holy Ghost.

On the Cross, Jesus effectively paid the price for our redemption from sin and death. He is the powerful victor and has been exalted to the heavenly realms. So, close your eyes and see yourself after an exhausting, challenging day of work or dealing with difficult people – whether it be coworkers, children, or family members – putting on your headset and relaxing in your favorite chair.  Then, picture yourself letting the relaxing instrumentals and the tranquil vocals envelop you in the arms of safety, peace, and joy.  As you do so, you’ll notice Loni’s sprinkling of the traditional coming to the fore with the hymn “At the Cross,” a thematic reiteration that it’s where she longs to be.

Loni has served as a worship leader at various churches and has shared the gospel in America and abroad.  The Detroit born and reared singer currently resides in Birmingham, AL.

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Janie Sheeley-Torain, Ed.D, is a gospel music enthusiast, author, National Board Certified Teacher, and life-long educator. She is an advocate of invigorating gospel music that inspires, elevates, and encourages the listener. She has published and is currently working on manuscripts that embolden the musicians of gospel music.

David Billingsley’s ‘village’ inspires debut piano album, ‘Hymns From Grandma’s Living Room’

By Libra Boyd 
 
Actor and southern gospel singer Andy Griffith said, “Hymns connect us with the past and with each other in the present.”  While it’s true that some people believe hymns are old-fashioned and others think they are timeless, David Billingsley treasures them as essential to a solid foundation rooted in tradition, legacy, and heritage.  This is why he aims for his new album, Hymns From Grandma’s Living Room, to offer hope, strength, and peace – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
David has gained attention in the music community as a keyboardist, composer, bandleader, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, and educator.  Considered by many to be a child prodigy, he started playing the piano, organ, drums, and tambourine at the tender age of six and debuted as a professional musician at the age of eleven.  During college, he played professionally in the Twin Cities and abroad when he joined forces with the Sounds of Blackness, Darnell Davis & The Remnant, Robert Robinson, James Grear & Company, and others.  Since 2017, he has played keyboards and sung background vocals for R&B artist
Stokley & The Vü.
 
Last June in Minneapolis, however, David unplugged.
 
“I decided to unplug and do hymns because that’s how I was raised,” says David.  “I wanted to go back and pay homage to my Village, my upbringing, and my wonderful childhood memories of my loving and sweet grandmother singing those beautiful songs.  Sometimes we’d sing, praise, pray, and cry.  An hour would pass and we realized that God had come and sat with us and visited us.  Heaven on Earth.  Now.  That’s what happened on a weekly basis in my grandmother’s house.” 
 
The multi-talented musician stepped away from nearly all the instruments he learned prodigiously and turned to the Steinway B grand piano to record Hymns From Grandma’s Living Room.  The title gives a nod to where he cultivated his homemade talents.  Fourteen sacred odes of praise fill the debut solo piano album, including “It Is Well With My Soul,” “I Surrender All,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
 
“There are so many songs that can provide healing, strength, and comfort in times of a pandemic. And so many songs are filling those voids in people’s lives.  The thing that sets hymns apart though is how sacred and biblically sound they are. You can’t help but build on a solid foundation when you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. That’s what the Bible tells us to do.”
 
David’s interpretations are both soulfully dynamic and nostalgically homespun.  His grandmother Doris’s affirmation sets the project’s intimate tone from the opening track.  As he renders his arrangement of “It Is Well With My Soul,” her sentiments are expressed in a heartfelt letter read by her daughter, also named Doris: “Your playing the hymns, praise songs, and melodies has brightened, revived, restored, and given me hope and strength to carry on until God calls me home.”
 
God called Grandmother Doris home in 2006, but she is very present in David’s mind and music.  “I can hear Grandma’s voice and feel her spirit through these hymns.  What a great time we used to have.  We were being freed and doing music ministry without even knowing it.  That’s been the basis of my life, music, and artistry…A few weeks ago I realized that in that letter she was giving me the blueprint to my sound and purpose.”
 
While fulfilling his purpose, David has found himself balancing ministry ambitions with urgent family matters.  Health challenges have afflicted members of his immediate family.  In the midst of celebrating the release of new music, he is candid: life is hard for him right now.  Still, his message to self and others is to persevere.
 
“I guess I’m just trying to say never give up on your goals and dreams.  Let nothing stop you until your life mission and song has been realized and comes to fruition.  Life has been far from easyfor me as of late in every way, but I still choose to continue pressing forward even when it’s uncertain.  So I’d just encourage everyone to follow their heart’s desires and watch God meet you when you start to put in the work.  I love God, my family, friends, and fans.  Without my Village, I’m nothing.  With them and God, I can do all things.”
 
Hymns From Grandma’s Living Room is available today on all digital outlets.  For physical autographed CDs, visit billingsleymusic.com.

“Love Is A God Word” – Samuel Obie

“Love Is A God Word”
Samuel Obie
From the CD, Cat-A-Fly (2019)
Available on all digital outlets 

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Samuel Obie foregoes excessive vocals and layers of synthesized sound to deliver the current single from his Cat-A-Fly CD, “Love Is A God Word.”

Obie is a songwriter.  His songs have been recorded by three of the biggest names in gospel music: Shirley Caesar, Edwin Hawkins, and John P. Kee.  Notwithstanding, in this particular composition, the only lyric you’ll hear shows up in the refrain and is the song’s title.  Perhaps this is because Obie is also a seasoned musician.  On this inspirational jazz piece, he chooses to put his organ chops front and center.  It’s a tasteful choice with nimble, expressive fingerwork that interprets love’s divinity in both melody and timbre while the supporting instruments know their place and contently ride the groove.

Obie is a native of Hillsborough, NC who presently resides in the Charlotte metro area.