It’s Time to Make Room for “Grown Up Gospel”

I love GOD, but I don’t quite “luh” Him so much! At 35, I identify with Generation X more than I do millennials and when I hear the word “millennial”, I think about my cousin who’s 12 years younger than me. She’s a millennial, if I’ve ever met one! The generational gap that used to exist has been shortened, obliterated and well, blended. Now, we’re all millennials and I’m not even sure there’s a word for anyone under 20 today. I guess it’s true, people figured Jesus would have already returned by now, and it wouldn’t matter. Our taste in gospel music also differs and much like our generational names, I think our gospel music choices have been done away with, too!

Where is the music for saved, sold out people? Not choir music, not “church” music, not praise and worship…real life music! The kind of music that tells the truth about life’s challenges, encourages you to keep growing in Christ, actually sounds good and speaks to being settled…where is it?

Commercially, we’re in this sort of twilight zone. Music is created for consumption on Sunday mornings and as preferred listening during our streaming sessions. The Christian experience is more than Sunday mornings, and our music should reflect that. It seems that our music has stalled out in favor of what works as “overtly” Christian messaging. But it’s not fair and is shortsighted for believers in living color. We mess up, think about going back, celebrate our progress and even fall in love, get married and well…ya know! Why doesn’t our music reflect that?!? We’ve been outsourcing certain aspects of our Christian experience to “inspirational” and R&B artists. Because of this, we miss out on some of the intrinsic excellence within our community.

Say for instance, Charles Butler’s weight loss journey or Jake Hughes’s weight loss journey that includes new music and a companion workout DVD? That’s a part of the Christian experience we should be celebrating and shouting from the rooftops! Instead, we get the implication that those issues don’t fit the small parameter of gospel notoriety. But, what does?

Listening to gospel music from 2010 to now, has been like watching a foal learn to walk. Awkward more than anything else. Gospel music has ground down its sound to only about two or three major choirs and many of the artists we grew up listening to are now Pastors or radio show hosts. We were left with disbanded boy and girl bands and the end of true crossover gospel music. What we have now is music for people that love mainstream life and music and God, too. Deitrick Haddon’s “Sinner’s Prayer” wasn’t supposed to open the door like it did, but following his hit, we started to hear more transparency which was great but also a little too personal!

Kierra Sheard performs in Dallas Photo Credit: Fred Willis, SoulProsper Media Group

Love & Marriage
Remember when D Haddy threw Ike Nice under the bus for allegedly interfering with his marriage? I don’t think he was apologizing for it, but “Clean This House” was a little telling! He went on record to say that he wanted his song to very closely resemble R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”. It did, and to (im)perfection. After rebounding from her husband Teddy’s adulterous past, Tina and Teddy Campbell became nearly inseparable. The pair were singing and ministering together. Tina is a very open book about almost everything and you guessed it, there are songs about that too! “Love, Love Love” with Stevie Wonder is a bit of an anthem celebrating her restored, faithful husband!

Cheryl Fortune is fighting for her future! 

Coming of Age
When Kierra Sheard decided she wanted to check out life on the other side of the gospel tracks, she parted ways with her brother as producer and enlisted hitmaker and super producer Rodney Jerkins. Her single “Trumpets Blow” ushered in her new phase with a message for people her age.

The reason I didn’t like it is because I wasn’t in the club or lukewarm, I was already saved. I was pursuing God and all He has for my life, still am. I’m not standing in judgement but as a person with no desire to go backwards, I often find myself lost while listening to the radio. Where is the music for saved, sold out people? Not choir music, not “church” music, not praise and worship…real life music! The kind of music that tells the truth about life’s challenges, encourages you to keep growing in Christ, actually sounds good and speaks to being settled…where is it?

What happened to crossover gospel music?

Kingdom, Not Church(y)
I’ve found that majority of the gospel music is focused on evangelism and atmospheric church music. But, nothing for life between Sundays. I looked…there is a way to love God and enjoy the gift of music without it becoming a worship service. I love this vertical worship movement and trust me nobody does it better than Judith Christie McAllister! But what about “ambulatory” gospel music? Like Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” Kirk Franklin put a spin on it that made it church approved, but I think we’ve lost our creative edge in gospel music by trying to appeal to a new crop of believers who are more “Christian” by sight than by action or experience.

This has left a gaping hole in the landscape of gospel music…or has it?!? I think we’ve simply been overlooking gospel music’s latest, greatest gem!  The unofficial name I’ve given music like this is: “Grown Up Gospel”! It probably won’t be a new category any time soon, but it should be known as music for people who are “settled” and not wavering, who love God, great music and Jesus Christ! The music isn’t often played in church because A. it’s not worship service friendly based on it’s instrumentation or vocality B. It’s lyrical content is intimate and personal C. It is best enjoyed away from church. I don’t mean trap gospel, either!

Generalizations about generations have caused us to miss these gifted artists, but not anymore! I think it’s time we celebrate these artists and embrace “Grown Up Gospel” music, for a change! Brian Courtney Wilson’s project “A Great Work” really opened my eyes to what this music sounds like. I was three tracks in and like a ton of bricks, “Our Father Is Kind” knocked me over! The longer I listened, the more songs like: “Noise” “A Great Work”, “Heal” and “My Record Will Be In Heaven” made me reminisce about singers- no, crooners like Brian McKnight who could do no wrong and effortlessly transport you from here to there, right onto the record with them! Songs like “Heal” speak directly to the social injustice that continues to plague our nation. Watch my interview with Brian Courtney Wilson where we discuss this topic:

Brian Courtney Wilson Talks “A Great Work”

It’s a seminal work, a quintessential offering, a musical masterpiece, even. Brian Courtney Wilson’s “A Great Work” is a wonder to behold. Seriously, folks! We have listened countless times and for innumerable hours to this album and the place it takes listeners is rare air!

Another element missing from gospel music is our lack of social justice themed songs. Songs like: “Let My People Live” by Robert E. Person, “Get Us Through” by Desmond Pringle and “Mother Emmanuel” recorded by Pastor Shirley Caesar are only a few of the latest to address the level of social unrest in the country.

As if it’s not already hard enough to recognize and appreciate this newfound sub-genre of gospel music, artists like Allyn Johnson, Quamon Fowler, Quennel Gaskin Cory Henry in jazz/instrumental music and Damien Sneed and Audrey Dubois Harris on the classical side are just a few Christian artists deserving of recognition ministering the good news in other art forms. 

It’s Time to ‘Make Room’
Jonathan McReynolds has taken us on his journey with Life Music 1&2 and now “Make Room”. He transparently tells us about his journey to this place where like most adults his/our age, he makes room for what he wants. When asked about his growth into this album, he said: “I didn’t know I would need this much grace!” Sounds like us, doesn’t it?!? Yep…at 28 he knows that we should have already ‘graduated’ from some things but also acknowledges that “the devil learns from our mistakes even if we don’t…”

…for Love…?!?
He calls it “life music” and I’m prone to agree. As a journalist and taste maker, I’ve decided that I’m going to be a lot more intentional about the life music I make room for! Bishop Jason Nelson’s current single “Forever” has that special sauce! It’s a message from God, but also from husband to wife (you know they wrote it together, right?) and it just feels good! You know you want to slow dance to it! That song speaks to a special maturity in Christ. One that is separated from religious platitudes and free in Christ to be exactly what it is! I’m calling it the wedding song of the year! The saints all but rebuked Fred Hammond’s love album but love artists like Kem who openly discusses faith when he’s not singing. There are countless believers who sing R&B but it’s puzzling that many gospel music listeners are put off by their favorite gospel artists singing about anything but God.

Other artists like Anita Wilson have also been ‘slept on’ because of her R&B vibe! We all know she struck gold with “Jesus Will” but there was more to her than the churchy bounce! In fact, “Jesus Will” was the dead giveaway-grooving like they were! Once it hit the airwaves, people forgot completely about the first single from the album “Speechless”. Her cover of James Taylor’s “Shower the People” was an easy listening gem that music lovers everywhere can appreciate, as well. From Worship Soul, she ventured into “Vintage Worship” and gave us some 80’s inspired concept videos to coincide with her radio singles…which were received tepidly. Her latest offering “Sunday Song” released with it’s initial single “I’ve Seen Him Work” bouncing on the airwaves like a Luther Vandross jam more than a salute to Chicago gospel legends. You don’t know Luther, if you don’t know his work with ensembles and choirs!

It’s out there, folks! “Grown Up Gospel” that’s what I’m calling it! I’ll add a few other names to the list of artists to consider: Jermaine Dolly, Mary Mary (The Sound), Tasha Page-Lockhart, Cheryl Fortune. The Walls Group (they’re not kids, anymore), Lexi, CeCe Winans (Let Them Fall in Love), Koryn Hawthorne, Thurman B Thornton, and many others! Who would you add to this list of “grown up gospel” artists?


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