“I love what Clif does. He's the best...and he'll make you feel all the love.”
— Pete Turner, Break It Down Show
Pop music superstar Katy Perry, Grammy winning trumpeter Chris Botti and two-time Grammy nominee jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti are among the celebs who have been in Clif's audiences.
Clif has performed with Freda Payne, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Norman Connors, Bobby McFerrin, Ellis Hall, Sheena Easton, American Idol judge & vocal coach Peggy Blu, Four Play drummer Harvey Mason, jazz fusionists Hiroshima and former Chicago vocalist Bill Champlin. Clif has opened for Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Rubén Blades, Dan Siegel and Dionne Warwick.
Clif was born in the Harlem Sugar Hill area of Harlem and now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. His eclectic vocals span the genres of jazz, R&B, gospel, blues, rock, folk, pop and classical.
"I frequently use the 'jazz' description because it allows me to be me:
A singer who loves to be eclectic & expressive in a variety of musical genres." CP
Clif is "a lush tenor with soaring melismas in his individual passages."
Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times.
In 2016, Clif released his debut solo album--Welcome To My World--that also features a Clif/Freda duet-"No Payne, No Gain." She is best known for her hit song "Band Of Gold." A dance mix of "No Payne, No Gain" produced by the UK's Nigel Lowis was on the 2016 Grammy ballot for nomination for Best R&B Vocal. "No Payne, No Gain," written by R&B Hall of Fame inductee Preston Glass ("Miss You Like Crazy, "Don't Make Me Wait For Love") spent 2 weeks at the top of the Soul/R&B charts in Great Britain, receiving the title of UK’s Soul Song of the Year. In August 2016, Clif and Freda performed their duet live in LA at Herb Alpert's Club Vibrato. Also on Welcome To My World are original En Vogue vocalist Maxine Jones and Midnight Star's Reggie Calloway. Welcome To My World was produced Preston Glass, and Grammy orchestra music director Larry Batiste.
The power trio of Glass, Batiste and Payne reunited for his 2018 release - TOO!
Dynamic Duets - Clif teams up with an array of musical legends including George Benson and Little Anthony on this Preston Glass-produced album.
Love and Compassion - produced by Glass includes a track featuring The Manhattan's Gerald Alston and Clif's Welcome To My World track,
"Peace Is More (Than The Absence of War)."
Disco Soul Gold - the #1 R&B/Soul album in the UK for 2017, was produced by Nigel Lowis and includes the dance mix of "No Payne, No Gain."
A musical epiphany for Clif occurred back in the 1970s upon hearing a 45-rpm record of Donny Hathaway, "Jealous Guy," from the Donny Hathaway Live record. "I was floored! So, I went out and bought the whole album!”
Bobby McFerrin . . .
is credited with "discovering" Clif, who saw McFerrin singing at a club one California evening. Clif went in, talked with Bobby during a break and talked McFerrin into singing with him. Bobby asked Clif, "Are You good?" Clif replied, "Yes!" Bobby then asked, "Are you REAL Good??" Clif said, "Yes!!" At the start of the next set, McFerrin introduced Clif to the audience and then let Payne, "do his thang!" The audience response was so great that McFerrin sang with Clif and invited him to be the special guest at McFerrin's next gig. At that gig, he gave Clif his first California gig as a soloist.
Music figures prominently in Clif's family. His father, James "Buddy" Payne was a reedsman who gigged with jazz legends Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. Clif's mother was a talented vocalist who once backed Nat "King" Cole in a vocal ensemble. The Payne family lived in the same apartment building that, at the same time, was also home to Duke Ellington and drummer Cozy Cole (Ringo Starr's favorite drummer). Ellington lived on the 4th floor, the Payne Family and Cole lived on the 3rd floor, circa 1954. The apartment building located at 935 St. Nicholas St. in Harlem is now a designated national landmark.
Shandra Bennett, Clif's cousin, is a background vocalist with country superstar Martina McBride.
AN EARLY FALL
I'll never take walking for granted again. 2013 was to be my year of great musical opportunities. But, all that was put on hold on April 6 while performing in San Francisco. I did a routine leap off the stage onto a crowded dance floor. When I landed, I discovered that I had blown out both kneecaps and torn a tendon. Plus, I was locked in a squat position and couldn't get up. Fortunately, there were 3 doctors on the dance floor who rushed over, unlocked my legs and kept me from going into shock. They called paramedics, who then took me to St. Francis Med Center. On Monday, April 8, surgery was was performed to repair all the damage in both knees. It's the kind of injury athletes are prone to getting. I've heard it happening with one knee-- but two? At the same time?
"I WANNA BE AROUND . . ."
I knew my injury was serious, but I didn't realize how serious until the surgeon and his assistant visited me in my hospital room. The doctor said, "Clif, we don't want to alarm you but, the last African American patient of mine that had your kind of an injury a year ago died suddenly 4 weeks after leaving the hospital." Apparently, fatal blood clots had formed in his legs, travelled to his lungs and caused a pulmonary embolism--killing him in within minutes of his arrival at the hospital ER room. "We don't want that to happen to you, so we'll be quite aggressive in giving anti-blood clotting treatment. We wanna keep you around a little longer!" Two big thumbs way up for that last sentence!
So, I was moved to Intensive Care where I remained for the next 21/2 weeks. Both legs had full-sized braces on them. I couldn’t move my legs on my own; I needed at least one person to help me. One of those anti-blood clotting treatments involved me giving myself a shot in the stomach once a day. It was a bit weird doing it at first, but once I started thinking of my stomach as a dart board, sticking a needle in it was no problem.
The hardest part of all of this was realizing that standing and walking would be impossible for me for the next 4 months. I thought of all the gigs I'd miss, all the money I wouldn't make and the possibility of taking yet another year just to get back on my feet and get back on the gig scene. Then, I noticed that my wheelchair had a name embroidered on its backside--"breezy." "How appropriate," I thought. I wanted this season of challenges to breeze by asap! I never ever imagined me having this kind of injury. Regardless, me and Breezy did quite a bit of traveling in 2013. I returned to gigging in mid-May while still in my wheelchair! On one gig, several band members actually lifted me onto the stage--Breezy and all! It’s nice to have friends who’ll do that for you.
At home, we had to make a lot of changes. I had a ramp installed on the outside steps and used public transportation for the disabled to get around--Outreach and RediWheels. Going up and down those steps was a trip because the ramp was much steeper than what was needed! Then we had to take the doors off of a couple of rooms just so Breezy could get through the doorway. Nurses came to my house a couple of times a week for physical therapy and routine chores like bathing me and monitoring my blood pressure. They installed a "porta potty" to make it easier for me to go the bathroom. Once I got tired of that, they showed me how I could crawl by scooting to the bathroom using my arms and upper body.
My special physical therapy at Breakthrough Physical Therapy began on a weekly basis in August. In September, I said goodbye to Breezy and began to stand and do some walking using a walker. In November, I switched to a cane. And, in December, I was walking unassisted.
It's been a long road to recovery--but I'm back! And looking back, I can see that 2013 did go by fast. Focusing on all I needed to do get back on my feet made the year literally breeze by. It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, but it did turn out to be a great learning experience for me on the art of patience and persistence – 2 things that just can’t be learned in a breeze.
It's true that so many singers (especially African American singers) got their initial musical schooling as a child in church. And it's true, that's how I got my musical start. Yes, I went on to learn music in grade school, high school, college and years on the road domestically and overseas. But the foundation of my musical education and spiritual DNA began in church. First, at Harlem's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church (the church that influenced theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and later at my grandfather's church, McFarland Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana. I sang my first solo ("Steal Away") there.
* * *
In 1990, as an ambitious career singer living in Hollywood, I made a remarkable discovery in the parking garage of the apartment building where my family resided. I was carrying some personal belongings from my car through a doorway and into an elevator. The door was held open by a thick, deformed book lodged between the bottom of the door and the floor. After making several trips from my car to the elevator, I took a look at this book. To my surprise, it was the NIV Bible! Now by this time in my life, I had wandered far away from God. But I still had a measure of respect for His written word, it didn’t deserve to be disrespected as a doorstop. So, I took the Bible up to my room, cleaned it, and put a couple of heavy phone books on top of it to flatten it out. It was ready to be shelved after a few months--where it remained unread.
My parents raised me with the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. My grandfather was a Baptist minister. He baptized me when I was 9. Several of my relatives were music ministers, preachers and singers making music for the Lord. And here I was-- the only one in my family singing secular music.
In 1995, while performing at LA's Jazz Bakery Christmas concert, I felt God’s call to use my talents for His glory. At one point in a solo, I began testifying as I sang: mentioning Jesus and the Lord. When audience members met me backstage after the show, they complimented me on my passionate "on fire” performance. I told them it was the Spirit of God moving through me. When I said that, their responses ranged from blank, stone-faced stares to simply turning and walking way.
A month later, my family and I left Los Angeles and returned to Bay Area. I heard that Billy Graham was going to be preaching at the Oakland Coliseum.
I went, listened to his message about God's love and came forward during the invitation. Then I decided to start attending church again—something I hadn’t done since 1976. I started attending First Baptist Church in Castro Valley, CA. The pastor of the church gave me an NIV. He suggested that I read a little everyday. Weeks later, I bought a study version of the NIV. When I put it on the shelf with my other books, I noticed that" doorstop" Bible I had saved years before. I took this Bible and noticed that it was the same version the pastor had given me--only the “doorstop” version was arranged so that it could be read from beginning to end in one year. Then, I opened the Bible from the center and read my first scripture in years -- Psalm 19.
After a while, I met the church’s worship pastor, Dave Bassard, and I auditioned to sing on the praise team. I passed the audition and was told by the director that with study, prayer and training, I could be a church music director in 4 or 5 years. At the time, I had no interest in becoming that. But, Dave became my mentor, and he was exactly right. In 2001, I became the worship leader at Western Hills Church in San Mateo, CA. Over the next several years, I went on to serve as music director and worship leader at more Bay Area churches--notably, Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto (the church of theologian Ray Stedman) and Crosswinds church in Livermore. Both are California churches. As music director at PBC, I was given a week of study with theologian Gordon Fee at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
What brought me back to Christ after years of pursuing stardom in the music business? I had a healthy pro resume, but a malnourished soul. Some might call it a mid-life crisis. Maybe. But I prefer to call it a spiritual awakening. It wasn’t the first time God had knocked on my life’s door. But it was the first time I had listened and opened that door. The rest is no longer my story; it’s His story.
What Is A Psalmist?
Socio-political marketing labels make our discernment of God's will difficult. Socio-political marketing labels also hinder our recognition of our God-given uniqueness and individuality. Socio-political correctness has created a new label--Cultural Christianity: A kind of "christianity" that says only certain people are welcome at the foot of the Cross, and only certain people are deserving of grace and mercy. Cultural "christianity" isn't biblical Christianity--it's based on humanistic political dogma and selective social agenda. Biblical Christianity is based wholly on the Word of God--the Higher Standard that transcends our understanding and labels. Therefore, I don't describe myself an evangelical, a republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, nor am I right or left (though, a Jewish rabbi once complimented me as a Righteous Gentile): I am a biblical realist, a Christ-follower beginning with the Psalms--which is why I refer to myself as a psalmist. One can access the entire Bible from the Psalms. One can feel the weight of His glory. And the emotional range of the the Psalms is like a spiritual rolodex of highs, lows and everything in-between. Biblical study is absolutely essential in growing spiritually in character and integrity. Don't read it just for knowledge; read it (as an elder once said to me) to hear from God. So, definitely check it out. And feel free to send any questions you may have to me at my ministry email, email@example.com. Psalter is another name for the Book of Psalms.
In my music career, I have been blessed and fortunate to open in concert for Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick and others. My pop music career continues. But, I'm also blessed as a worship leader to have opened in ministry concerts for Lincoln Brewster ("Everlasting God," "Today Is The Day.") and Derek Johnson (Jesus Culture) ("Your Love Never Fails"). My Northern California-based Common Culture Music Ministry reaches people from every part of our society. I continue to be musically/stylistically diverse in all my music whether it be pop or praise. Timberlake or Tribbett, Katy Perry (Kathryn Hudson) who I met at one of my gigs, or TobyMac, Gregory Porter or Kurt Elling. As a friend once said to me, "It's all ministry!"
In other words, it can ALL be a tool for ministry!
I'm supremely blessed to be a Dad to a wonderful son and daughter.
My 2nd solo smooth jazz/R&B album, "TOO," is available now! And you can also find me on new-released compilation albums.
I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.
Psalm 104: 33-34