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.

Lucinda Moore on the critical moment that inspired single 'Still Alive'

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever 

Since her childhood days in Bridgeport, CT, singing in her church and with local choirs, Lucinda Moore’s music ministry has blossomed into a career that has included a fiveyear tenure as background vocalist for the legendary Tramaine Hawkins, a trio of solo recordings, and a Stellar Award for Traditional Female Artist of the Year.

Lucinda’s current single is titled, “Still Alive (I Survived).”  (Click here to read GMF’s review.)  The song as well as her testimony and words of encouragement are nothing short of inspirational.  

Libra:  Lucinda, our conversations go back a lot of years–to the days of AOL Instant Messenger!  How dope has God been for you?

Lucinda:  Doper than dope! God has been the dopest of Dope-tivity!!!!!

Libra:  Your current single is “Still Alive (I Survived),” and a song like that isn’t sung without a testimony.  What’s yours?

Lucinda:  Well back in 2015, the spine doctor found a cyst the size of a watermelon on my spine.  He told me that if I did not have surgery right away that I will be paralyzed in the next week.  I did the surgery!  During recovery from the surgery, the doctor came into my hospital room and told my mom that my heart stopped on the table.  I overheard it and when I came to, I began to write the lyrics.  Cedric Thompson and I co-wrote together.  He produced, rearranged, added to it, and what you hear, magic happened!

Libra:  How did you and Cedric come together as writing partners for this song?

Lucinda:  Cedric and I have known each other for years!  I first got to know his wife, LeJuene Thompson, when I was about 14 years old.  Then, she married Cedric!  Just from being in the gospel industry, I’ve gotten to know the both of them.  Preparing for my new single, several people had suggested for me to get Cedric Thompson to produce the CD!  I am so glad I listened!

Libra:  Lucinda, what is your word to people in the church who are in survival mode and barely hanging on?  There are hurting people in pews, pulpits, and choir lofts every week who are contemplating whether their lives are really worth living.   

Lucinda:  My word to those who are [on] the verge of giving up is, I was where you are.  I thought about ending it all.  I felt like God [had] forgotten about [me].  I’ve been through hurt, brokenness, divorce, unloved, lied on, rejected.  I’ve been through physical, mental, and sexual abuse!  But there is one thing that I did to be healed 100 percent from all the trauma and you
must do the same:  Forgive yourself, for blaming yourself, so you can love yourself!  Once you begin to love yourself, nothing and nobody can ever hurt you again!!!  Then you can give the testimony of “I’m Still Alive, I Survived!”

Libra:  It’s important for readers to know that you’ve been in the gospel industry nearly 30 years.  I’m sure you’ve seen and experienced a lot while active in ministry, and you’ve also seen the industry itself evolve.  What do you feel is currently much needed but not often present in today’s gospel music?

Lucinda:  Well, I think I was the last of the Mohicans – one of them – to experience how the gospel industry was when there were more than three major labels and it wasn’t easy to get into the industry.  Now you have streaming, digital outlets, and do-it-yourself recordings that are hitting the charts!  What is much needed in this Gospel industry is remembering where we came from and not forgetting the tradition of music like the hymnals, the choirs on Sunday mornings etc.  

Also, things are not handed out to recording artists that easy!  In order to be a NATIONAL recording artist, you have to keep that drive and work hard for it!  You can’t give up because somebody told you, “NO!”  Keep going!

Libra:  If you weren’t doing gospel music yourself, what would you be doing?

Lucinda:  I would have either been a detective or would have been a forensic scientist!  From a young child, I have always been intrigued by what I watched on TV.  I’ve always been into TV shows like America’s Most Wanted, CSI, and other shows that pertain to law enforcement, solving, and piecing together investigations!  Straight out of high school, I ended up singing for Tramaine Hawkins for years [and] then started my own career.  I have no regrets!

Libra:  What else would you like to share with us?

Lucinda:  To everybody who is reading this, please go stream or purchase “Still Alive (I Survived)”!  My babies need some sneakers and barrettes for Christmas and Easter!!

Lucinda (@Lucindamoore1) is on Snapchat, Twitter, Periscope, Instagram, and Facebook.  Her website is www.lucindamoore.com.

Worship Leader Krystal A. Livingston: Living God’s Songs In The Key Of Life

By Andrea R. Williams
Some people are just blessed with an ability to take you into the Throne Room of God.  One of those gifted worship leaders is Krystal A. Livingston.  A gospel artist, songwriter, and exceptional vocalist, Krystal A. Livingston is walking in her purpose.  Her talents have placed her front and center and even found her singing behind or opening up for mainstream and sacred artists such as Josh Groban, Kenny Loggins, and Donnie McClurkin.  Although she’s honored for the national platforms she’s been given to minister, her sole reason for singing is to share the gospel through song.
Although Krystal had been singing all her life, she got her first taste as a recording artist when she dropped her debut, My Journey, His Glory. Cleverly, the project was a two-part set.  The first part of the project, My Journey, lays bare her life and addresses issues like low self-esteem or feeling stuck in one’s life.  Understanding the value of transparency and how her story can uplift others, she chose songs which would allow her to share her personal experiences.  The second half of the release, His Glory, includes songs of adoration, praise, and worship to the Lord.  My Journey, His Glory saw the release of an unforgettable single, “Shoelaces,” a track encouraging listeners to look up for their identity in Christ instead of looking down in despair at their troubles.  In addition to the singles from the project, she has also dropped a song, “Great Things,” a classic praise anthem penned by Tessie Hill.
Her most recent creative work is a track called Winner.”  Winner (Hupernikao) is an inspirational power ballad which finds the psalmist showcasing her alto vocals while encouraging the believer.  Another track penned by the vocalist herself, Krystal delivers a rousing performance flaunting her multi-octave range.  The song is also a testimony for the singer, reflecting on a time when it didn’t seem like she was winning at all. 
A few years ago, I had two positions that abruptly ended, Krystal recounts. “At the time, I did not understand what was happening; things were going so well and then, all of the sudden, the rug was pulled out from under me -TWICE.  Later, I realized that I was getting comfortable and God had to make me uncomfortable to push me into my purpose.”  These “unfortunate incidents” were right after she had mentioned to friends her aspiration of full-time music ministry.  The Lord told her to dust off the songs He had given her and to move forward.
And move forward, she has.  Born and raised in the Bronx, New York and a longtime resident of Connecticut, Krystal recently made the move to Atlanta where she plans to put her music ministry in first gear.  No stranger to the educational aspect of music, she taught a Gospel Music Master Class at Yale University.  A graduate of University of New Haven (UNH) in Connecticut, she founded and directed the UNH Gospel Choir and became the university’s first adjunct professor teaching Gospel Music Performance. Prior to her move to Atlanta, she was Executive Director of Worship & The Fine Arts and Director of Praise & Worship at her home church, New Life
Christian Fellowship in Ledyard, CT.
Krystal has caught the attention of many, inside and outside the music field.  The songstress was recognized with a proclamation from New London, CT, and was honored by the National Council of Negro Women.  She has netted awards and nominations for her music as well, including a Connecticut Music Award nomination for gospel music in 2015 and a Holla Back Gospel Music Award for Best Female Artist in 2017.  Also an actress, she portrayed jazz great Nina Simone in a one-woman show, An Evening with Nina Simone.”  In 2018 alone, she made numerous television appearances including Rejoice In The Word with Bishop George Bloomer on the Word Network, Celebrate on TCT-TV, Babbie’s House and Atlanta Live on WATC-TV, Nite Line on WGGS-TV and Club 36 on WBPI-TV.  Lord knows, there is much more to come from this rising songstress and dedicated worshipper.
Andrea R. Williams is a gospel music insider, artist, musician, producer, and owner of the PR firm, Tehillah Enterprises. A former GRAMMY Awards Project Manager, she is author of the book, Live The Life You Sing About: How To Live With Integrity In The Gospel & Christian Music Industry. 

Five Questions With Modern Day Cure: ‘Jesus is the answer’

Modern Day CureBy Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Worship band Modern Day Cure has enjoyed warm reception since the release of their current single “Confident.”  With Aaron and Tamar Chipp at the helm, the Nashville-based group has shared their ministry across several states and venues since 2012, sharing the stage with the Newsboys, Sanctus Real, and other artists. 

Libra:  Tell us about the moniker Modern Day Cure.

MDC:  We get our name from Hebrews 14:8 which says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” To us, this makes Him the modern day cure.  Jesus is the answer the world needs today and He will always be.

Libra: How do you describe the band’s sound?

MDC:  Our sound can be described as contemporary worship with pop/rock elements.  We’re exploring new sounds and feel like we’re finding ourselves in this new season as a band.

Libra:  Modern Day Cure is a young bandjust getting startedso to speak.  What do you want the band to be when it “grows up”?

MDC:  God’s given us a big vision, but we know it’s in His control and time frame.  We try to stay faithful with what He’s given us in the moment.  We like to say we’ll go as far as He takes us.

Libra:  Besides your own music, what’s currently playing in your personal music playlist?

MDC:  We love The Belonging Co (our home church), Elevation Worship, and Bethel Music.

Libra:  What else would you like to share?

MDC:  We’re in the process of recording a new EP to be released this fall…and would love to partner and serve churches, events and festivals. For more info visit www.moderndaycure.com.

Daja Rice on new book ‘Daddy’s Girl’ and the journey from heartbreak to redemption with father

Below is the abridged transcript of my interview with Daja Rice, which first aired June 4, on “The Gospel Music Fever Show” with Libra Boyd. #GMFRadio
By Libra Boyd
Photo | Montez Hilliard
Daja Rice is a singer, professional theater performing artist, playwright, and author of the book, Daddy’s Girl. She’s originally from Spring Valley, NY and presently resides in GA with her husband, Jonathan. Aside from serving in ministry with her husband, she has spent much of her career performing on stage and enhancing the education of youth through the performing arts.
Libra:  Daja, how are you?
Daja:  I’m great!  How are you?
Libra:  I’m doing well, I’m excited [for you to talk] to us about your brand new book, Daddy’s Girl. I really want to get into that, but before we do, I would love for you tell our audience about your ministry. You are in ministry with your husband Jonathan and currently, you are based in Georgia. You and Jonathan both sing. Tell me a little bit about that, because you’ve come on Facebook Live, and maybe done some singing [on there], and you’ve done some worship events.
Daja:  Yes, we have a duo called The Rices and we sing [gospel music] together. Singing is something that we enjoy doing together, but we don’t just limit our marriage ministry to that. We also enjoy having candid and transparent conversations with people about marriage and the lessons that we learn. As a matter of fact, this past Friday (June 1), we celebrated our first year anniversary–
Libra:  Congratulations!
Daja:  … as a married couple. Thank you, thank you, thank you! So excited that we made it.
Libra:  Absolutely.
Daja:  Because millions didn’t.  We’re one of the couples who did. So, to commemorate that, on Thursday, we had a conversation on Facebook Live, called “365 Things I Know About Marriage”. And the reason why we called it that–we didn’t actually talk about 365 things–but we called it that because a lot of times people don’t think that newlyweds know anything about marriage, and that is so untrue. You literally learn something new every single day. Hence the name, “365 Things I Know About Marriage,” because we learn something new every day. And so if you wanna shoot over to Facebook, www.facebook.com/thericessing, you’ll find that video there.
Photo | Tierre Peterson

Libra:  Awesome. And you have a brand new book called Daddy’s Girl. Tell us about it.

Daja:  Daddy’s Girl is an autobiographical story about my process from heartbreak to redemption with my natural father, which inspires women to not only literally acknowledge and embrace the power of the father/daughter relationship, but it also shares personal experiences, like I said, with an effective strategy to promote healing and redemption period. Not only with your natural father, but with anyone or even with yourself. And so I’m really excited about it, because it’s always a beautiful thing when God turns your test into a testimony, and so I’m hoping that this will be a blessing to people.
Libra:  [I like how readers have] the opportunity to reflect [through] the writing prompts [that] are connected to each of the nine chapters of the book.  You said in the book that your assignment is to “help people choose forgiveness, even if you don’t get an apology.” Your assignment is to “help people to choose love, even if your heart is broken.”  How did you find this place? How did you come to understand this as your assignment?
Daja:  I just believe that [just as I] overcome by the words of my testimony, so will other people and so I believe that because God gave me this beautiful story, I have a mandate on myself to share it with other people and let them be blessed by it. And so that’s how I came into knowing that as my assignment. But before it becomes an assignment, it’s just a reality. Sin is a hard reality to face when you do have to do things like forgiving people who don’t say sorry, or love when your heart is broken. Those are hard things to do. And so what I wanted to do through this book was share my experiences with other people [and] tell them how I took responsibility for my healing and redemption.
Libra:  You talk about the point at which you were with your then-boyfriend, now husband. You recalled the point that you were with him at the fair and you had a breakdown. But it was a breakdown that ended up being the breaking point that provided the segue for your breakthrough. Tell us more about that.
Daja:  It was a powerful moment because I realized just how emotionally unstable I was, and that’s a hard reality to face too–because it provokes you. You have to do something. And you can’t just sit back and blame other people for how you feel; you have to take responsibility for it. So I listened. In context. My husband–or my boyfriend at the time–and I were at the fair. We’d had a really great time, it was an awesome day, and then we get in the car and I just burst into tears [over] what we thought was nothing. But it wasn’t “nothing.” It’s never “nothing.” So [I went] on this rant about how unhappy I was.  He let me let it all out, and then he [said] to me–and I don’t even think he knew how powerful this was at the time, “You want me to be your father and I can’t be. I can’t be your father.”
Because I had a void there for my natural father, I was expecting Jonathan to fill areas that he was not meant to fill. And when you do that, it’s a very dangerous thing because then you start to place unrealistic expectations on your counterpart. And everybody comes into our life for a reason, and so I compared people to rubber bands in Daddy’s Girl. I said, “You know, rubber bands will do just like people. They’ll do what they’re supposed to do, but if you try to stretch them too much, eventually they’ll pop.” And that’s what I started to see with Jonathan. It was just, you know it was one of those “pop” moments, like, “Girl, I love you, but I can’t be all of this for you. I can only be what God has called me to be for you, and that is a boyfriend right now. And one day it might become a husband, but it will never be a father. That’s not what God called me to be for you.”
And so once I faced that reality, I also faced the reality that some of the pain and some of the hurt that I was experiencing, I was actually bringing on myself.
Photo | Tierre Peterson

Libra:  Was Jonathan aware of the nature of the relationship between you and your father at that time?

Daja:  Yes, but Jonathan (pictured right), even though he was aware of the nature of our relationship, only got my side–because my father lived almost a thousand miles away from me. And so my father and Jonathan had met, but they didn’t have a lot of interaction with each other, and Jonathan didn’t have the opportunity to make his own judgment.
It took me a little time [to come to terms with the reality that Jonathan presented me that day at the fair], but he was right. And I didn’t realize that until maybe a couple weeks later. So when I finally realized that he was right, I didn’t even tell him that he was right. I just went to work. I sat with it, I reflected on it, and then I did something with it.
Libra:  And what strikes me is that you handled all this with care. You mentioned in the book that you received your father’s blessings to write Daddy’s Girl, which I think is critically important because your father is still a part of your life. He was at your wedding. How is your relationship with your father now, and what has been his response to the completed book?
Daja:  My relationship with my father is real. It’s a real father/daughter relationship. We talk often. He gives me his fatherly advice. He disagrees with some of the things I do. I disagree with some of the things he does. We love each other through it. It’s a real father/daughter relationship. None of that idealistic stuff that I used to hold him to, and so our relationship is redeemed in that way. And what he thinks about this book is that people will be blessed by it, just like I do. And so he’s just super supportive.
Libra:  Well that’s really encouraging. That has to mean a lot to you.  How can folks purchase Daddy’s Girl?
Daja:  You can go to www.thericesent.com and shop there.  I am [also] going to start a virtual book club on Facebook. So if you want to be notified about that when it starts, just subscribe to our mailing list on the website [I just mentioned], and you’ll be notified when that starts as well.

60 Seconds with Rapper Mike Teezy

By Jane M. White
GMF Special Contributor
Mike Teezy is a rapper, singer/songwriter, musician, and dancer whose music – inspired by everyone from Kirk Franklin and Michael Jackson to Kendrick Lamar and Busta Rhymes – is creating a buzz throughout the gospel and urban inspirational community.  I recently caught up with him for a literal minute at the 2018 Rejoice Awards, just before he was announced as the winner in the Urban artist category.
Mike, how did you get started?

I started off with poetry.  I was always behind the scenes playing the drums and stuff like that.  Poetry was my outlet to relieve stress or whatever I was going through at the moment, and then I thought, why not put it to a beat?  So that’s pretty much what God started doing with me.

What is your latest album called?

I actually just dropped my new EP, Szn (pronounced “season”).  I dropped that on my birthday, April 7th.

And how can people purchase it?

It’s on Spotify, Amazon, Apple music – everything!

Where are you based?

I’m in Winston-Salem, NC at Faith Christian Outreach Center, where my father [Michael Tyree] is the pastor.

How can people contact Mike Teezy?

My website is www.miketeezymusic.com.

Russell Witcher talks about ‘Coming Out’ memoir, healing balm of sacred music

Russell Witcher
By Libra Boyd
Russell Witcher knows something about resilience.  It is one lesson he generously shares in his recently released book, Coming Out of the Ashes. 
The accomplished organist and pianist has spent most of his life making music, dedicating his time and talents to God and serving churches in North Carolina and Virginia. Currently, he serves two North Carolina churches, Union Grove Baptist Church in Hurdle Mills as minister of music and First Baptist Church in Raleigh as lead musician and worship leader. Russell is also an ordained minister, recording artist, and more recently, author of Coming Out of the Ashes.
The 140-page memoir details a dark time in life during which Russell balanced a secular job with music duties at a church he previously served. During this time, colleagues at his place of employment brought allegations against him which Russell says were ultimately proven false. Still, the humiliation, investigation, arrest, court appearance, and negative media attention plunged him into isolation and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
Seven years later, Russell has found healing in the writing and telling of his story. He has also found healing through music. The trial deepened not only his faith, Russell explains, but his worship.

I have a deeper appreciation for hymns like ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ and ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness,’ because [God’s] grace sustained me and was truly made perfect in my weakness. He was also my friend when it seemed like everyone had deserted me and turned their backs. During this period, I definitely ministered from a place of pain. At times I would become so ‘full’ that I was left speechless for the moment…tears streaming down my face with stretched out arms in worship to God but surrendered in total dependence on Him for the strength that I needed to get through this ordeal, as well as the understanding of what He was teaching me through the trial.  And He has truly been faithful and unfailing in His love and care for me.

“Prayer Will Change Things” from Russell’s very own 2008 CD, Sacred Notes from a Minister of Music, also grew more relatable.  The song recounts the well known New Testament story of Paul and Silas in jail and the midnight prison shake-up.  Russell now has his own testimony.  He recalls,

When I was thrown in jail (in the pit, as I said in my book), I lived that experience. I was there until midnight when [my wife’s cousin], who is a bailsman, came to my aid. Not only was it a familiar Bible story, but it was a reality for me.  It was prayer that
pulled me through.  

Russell shares his story to inspire people who are confronted with despairing situations that they too can make it through their difficult season.  Coming Out of the Ashes was a featured title at Book Expo America 2017 and is available at Amazon.

‘Wilson Idol’ winner Alexander Blount: ‘I am ready to see where He takes me on this journey’

Alexander Blount

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

With gospel vocalist Shawn McLemore at the helm of the judges’ panel and a $1,000 prize and other perks at stake, Alexander Blount emerged as the 2016 grand prize winner of the “Wilson Idol” Talent Show, held Saturday, September 24, at Fike High School in Wilson, NC.  The annual competition was presented by Summerville Promotion and Production Company and Tall One Outreach Ministries and emceed by GMF’s Libra Boyd and Rev. Justin Barbour. 

‘Wilson Idol’ is an event that showcases the singing, instrumental, and spoken-word talents of Wilson area youths and adults.  The talent show opens doors for many participants and exposes them to the greater Wilson community and beyond. 

Libra caught up with the East Carolina University sophomore and newly named “Wilson Idol” to talk more about his musical journey and ambitions. 

Libra:  Congrats on your win!  Please tell us about your musical background and interests.

Thank you! I started singing at church and school when I was young, like most children. I know I wasn’t more than three or four when I started singing. I have always loved music and the positive effects that it had on people, but I never looked at the bigger picture of what Christ had for me. I definitely didn’t start taking my singing seriously until 11th grade. My chorus teacher, Mr. Jeremy Tucker, really started showing me the possibilities of what I could do with music, and I’m glad that I listened. I attend East Carolina University’s School of Music, and I’m majoring in music education and vocal performance. As far as my interests go, I really like what every genre has to offer. Music is a universal language that musicians and listeners all speak, but if I had to choose [a genre] I’d [choose] gospel and jazz music.

Libra:  Who are your musical influences?

Lauryn Hill, Marvin Winans, Jermaine Dolly, James Hall, Cory Henry, Pastor Andrew Barbour, Greg Cox, and Stephen Pender. They all have brought something totally different to the world of music, whether it [be] their own rendition of a song or something [completely original]. I really like how they were comfortable to be themselves. They did things their way instead doing what everyone else was doing, and the music that they have created is absolutely great.

Libra:  The judges selected you from 15 contestants as the grand prize winner of “Wilson Idol” for your performance of VaShawn Mitchell’s “Turning Around for Me.”  How did you select that song and what was your prep process like?

I actually heard one of my friends at church sing it, and I really loved the message behind it. Things will turn around as soon as you put your faith in Christ and stop worrying. I would practice at least four days out of the week to make sure I had everything down. Eventually, I [got] my parents to come hear me. Then once I got with the ‘Wilson Idol’ band (Rod Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Jesse Johnson, and Zyyayre Johnson), we all clicked and I was like, ‘Yeah, we have something special here.’

Libra:  So you expected to win?

Honestly?  No ma’am.  There were a lot of great vocalists in the competition. But I’m grateful that I won!

Libra:  What are your music ambitions?

I plan on releasing a single within the next few months and eventually an EP…then an album and eventually [I want to] collaborate with different artists. I’ve been talking to Jamal Lewis and Stephen Pender about it. Jamal is a great producer and over the course of my ‘Wilson Idol’ experience I got to know him; he’s a great guy.  Stephen is a family friend, and he’s like my big brother; and in my opinion he’s one of the best organists on the East Coast. Along with them, my parents and peers are backing me so I can’t wait to get to the next level of my career.

Libra:  With more exposure and larger platforms, it becomes important to remain grounded in and covered by your local assembly.  Would you like to shout out your church?

I would absolutely love to! Everyone in Willing Workers Apostolic Holiness Church (Lucama, NC)–young and old–have watched me grow and perfect my craft daily. They all are my family and I truly love them!

Blount adds,

I [also] really appreciate the opportunity that Dr. Mildred Summerville gave me. I thank my parents and grandparents, my siblings, my girlfriend, and everyone that is connected with me for believing in me. Most importantly, I thank God for the gifts and talents that He has instilled in me and I am ready to see where He takes me on this journey of life. 

In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, Blount’s win comes with a trophy, a chance to perform for gospel great Pastor Shirley Caesar, a part in the stage production of Dr. Mildred Summerville’s award-winning gospel play, “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child,” and an opportunity to record with artist Dr. James Robertson.

GMF congratulates Blount as well as the runners-up in the youth and adult divisions.

Vickie Winans: Blinging, Singing, Laughing, and Giving Today’s Music Talent a Chance

Vickie WinansBy Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Vickie Winans’ voice, smile, and personality have one thing in common: they are all larger than life.  All three have endeared her to fans across the country, allowing her to maintain the momentum of a music career that spans three decades.

Despite not having released an album in several years, the award-winning singer of such hits as “We Shall Behold Him,” “Shake Yourself Loose,” and “Long As I Got King Jesus” remains in demand, nearly as much for her side-splitting humor as for her uplifting, high-energy concerts.  Her travel and performance schedule are rigorous.  In fact, when we talked by phone yesterday afternoon, the 62 year-old songstress was waiting to be picked up from the airport after a trio of weekend concerts in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  This Saturday, she is headed to North Carolina to headline a concert dubbed, “Bling, Sing, Laugh Til You Scream.”  As far as the bling is concerned, Winans, who manages herself, confessed to me that between now and this weekend, she will have to carve out time to make custom pieces of jewelry to showcase and sell at her concert.  While she and I laughed and talkedI did most of the laughing and she did most of the talkingshe spoke about the legacy of her friend Dr. Bobby Jones, her knack for making people laugh, her jewelry line, and the big opportunity she’s giving aspiring singers in all 50 states. 

Libra:  Vickie, just last month, the finale of BET’s Bobby Jones Gospel aired, and you had the distinction of being one of the show’s final performers, helping to send off the longest running original show in cable TV history with “We Shall Behold Him.”  What was that like for you personally, helping to close that chapter in TV history?

Vickie: You know what?  That’s the very first song I sang when I was first on [his] show.  Being able to close [the finale] out with the song that opened my careerI mean when that song came out in 1985, it was my very first hit, and I ain’t looked back.  [Bobby] was a blessing to me when I first came out, so it was a blessing to be able to celebrate his next chapter.  He was so successful, [and] you know he just doesn’t stop.  I don’t know what he’s running on!  I’ve never seen anyone like him.  They say that about me, but Honey I’m like, ‘Okay. All right…I need to be tryin’ to retire in a minute!’ (Laughing)  But it was a happy and sad moment; I cried in the back. 

Libra:  I have to digress and ask, have you always been the comedian among your family and friends?

Vickie: Girl, you know it.  Clown.  Class clown.  How [are you] the class clown and the valedictorian?  That’s what I wanna know!  I was the class clown and valedictorian of the same class!  There were 12 kids in my family, and my daddy had a really outgoing personality, so I think I just got hit.  He had a big smile, and everybody tells me I have a big smile.  All my sisters and brothers got big smiles, all my nieces and nephews, grandkids…everybody!  We’re hit with all these teethand it’s expensive when you get old because they go to falling every which way and you gotta keep ‘em in.  I told my daddy, ‘Man, your smile is so big, your gums just run out!’

Libra:  (Laughing) See, this is the unique aspect of your concerts.  You not only sing, but you make us laugh!  Now you even have a jewelry line that you showcase.  Tell us about your jewelry. 

Vickie: Yeah...you try to make it a ‘line,’ but when you’re going as fast as me Chile, you just make jewelry and sell it! I make it myself. Handmade. By myself. I can’t keep up [with the demand].

Libra:  Is every piece a custom piece?

Vickie: Oh yeah!  I make them all right out of my headnecklaces, earrings, and bracelets.  You know I’m a clean freak; I keep my house clean.  But baby you turn that corner and go in that officeLord Jesus!  I’ve got over a million beads and they’re everywhere…and I sit [at home and make my jewelry] at night when I get done with all my contract stuff….I just got back from China, trying to get [my line] launched.  I owned a jewelry store, and it got to be so busy that I couldn’t handle it, so I closed it.  But I still love jewelry, so I make jewelry and sell it.  I do it to better myself, to better my church, to better my life, to better my children and their children, and to better my homeless foundation.…You know, people named me The Hardest Working Woman [in Gospel].  I didn’t name me that.  I just looked up and somebody said, ‘Here comes the hardest working woman‘  I said, ‘The what?  How come y’all don’t give me no real nice names like they gave DorindaThe Rose of Gospel?  And Shirley CaesarThe First Lady of Gospel.’  But it’s a compliment! 

Libra:  It certainly is.  Being called The Hardest Working Woman in Gospel is a compliment and a testament to your work ethic.  It’s amazing and it’s inspiring to other people who are trying to wear many hats successfully.  And since you are extremely busy, what else is going on that you want to make sure our readers know about? 

Vickie: Well, I am getting ready to put out something so big for people who don’t get the opportunities that I get.  I’m going to all 50 states, holding auditions, selecting the top ten singers [in each state], and doing a compilation CD featuring those singers.  I’m calling it ‘She Gave Us A Chance.’  So it will be Vickie Winans Presents: Michigan Sings Gospel, Vickie Winans Presents: New York Sings Gospel, Vickie Winans Presents: Ohio Sings Gospel, and so on.

Libra:  So to be clear, there will be a total of 50 CDs a CD representing each state and on each of those CDs will be ten artists from that state.

Vickie: Yes, the top ten artists who win the auditions in each state.  And the ones who don’t win, that doesn’t mean the end for them.  They will be in the videos, they will be background singersthey will be used in whatever we do with that particular album.  And we’re going to use producers who are not already [exposed].  And you know I don’t put out no junk tracksYou like that idea?

Libra:  I love that idea!  Is this for 2017?

Vickie: Naw Girl!  I anticipate starting this the first of September.  What would I be waiting on?  Old as I am, I don’t even buy green bananas; I might not have time to see ’em get ripeI’m starting in September!

Libra:  (Laughing)  You know, this is such a fitting way to finish our conversation, because we began by talking about Dr. Jones and his platform.  Even though you’re using a different medium, you are doing the same thing: giving people opportunities and a platform for their talents.

Vickie: I try.  I believe that when you are successful, you should reach back and pull as many people as you can over, and I can’t wait!

Minister of Music's experiences inspire Christian fiction novel 'That Church Life'

For ten years, Teresa B. Howell was the minister of music for the Durham’s Mt. Olive Holy Church youth choir.  When she eventually turned her attention to her love of creative writing, it’s understandable that the church music department was a common thread for several characters in her recently released fiction novel, That Church Life (Walking in Victory International Publishing).  Specifically, explained Howell to GMF, “The lead character [in the book] is a great singer and was in love with the organist.”  The organist is the novel’s antagonist.  Another main character is the choir director.  The plot itself is complex and is influenced by a number of Howell’s personal observations and experiences over the years while involved in various church organizations.   Here’s the synopsis:

The Church Gal Crew is leading the way to salvation at Mt. Zion Holiness Church.  Feisty Natalia Freemon is the “head” of the crew.  Rebellious and outspoken, she has no problems challenging the church status quo.  Years later however, her loss of faith will tragically impact her life.

Michelle Hanks, a country girl from a hardworking farm family is the peacemaker and “soul” of the crew.  Although struggling with self-confidence she is wise beyond her years and can’t wait to escape the farm life and find success; even if it costs her soul.

Missy Jones, the “heart” of the crew, has the face of an angel and a voice sent from heaven. A pastor’s daughter raised in the church, Missy loves the ministry and her place in it.  But the flesh is tempting, especially when it comes in the form of sexy church musician and Mt. Zion playboy Tommy.

In spite of her dedication to the word, Missy falls hard for Tommy, and then falls out of favor with the church.  Trapped in a cycle of relationship abuse, Missy’s world is falling apart until Beanie, a reformed stick-up man turned Evangelist, shows her real love. But when tragedy strikes, Missy is torn between the truth, that could jeopardize everything she loves, or a lie that could be her damnation.

These three best friends drift away from each other and the church but come back together through spiritual downfall, relationship crises, drug addiction, and even murder.  Can the crew survive the drama involved in That Church Life?

Though a work of fiction, Howell does not shy away from writing about troubling realities that plague more than a few church folks.    For more information about the author and That Church Life,visit teresabhowell.com.