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 German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and later at my grandfather's church, McFarland Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana. I sang my first solo ("Steal Away") there.
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Many years ago, 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. 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 musical director 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. He was exactly right. In 2001, I became the music director at Western Hills Church in San Mateo. 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 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"). As my music career continues, I also continue to lead people with song in praise of our Living God.
And, I am musically/stylistically diverse in all my music whether it be pop or praise.
Timberlake or Tribbett, Legend 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!
Currently, I'm completing my 2nd solo smooth jazz/R&B album, "TOO," due for release this Spring. Concerts will follow, as well as a very special jazz/R&B project in late 2018. And of course, I plan to do some praise and worship sets at various ministries. I'll be sure to let you know about that. But, in the meantime . . .
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
(On another note -- I just love the Theater!)