The Gospel According To Torrence | Gospel music news, views and interviews Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:22:45 +0000 en hourly 1 Dear Gospel Music, Don’t Reinvent Yourself Tue, 14 Apr 2015 23:25:32 +0000 Torrence kirk-franklinSo the other day all the Phaedra Parks’ of gospel music fandom (Fix It Jesus!) decided to get their doilies in a bunch about the “state of gospel music.” It usually happens about four times a year. It’s usually around a conference, awards show or TV special where there’s a panel or workshop and we decide we want to wax poetic and lament all the things that are wrong with gospel music, the gospel industry and then we convince ourselves that “something must be done” to “save it.” I myself have sat on some of these panels or participated in these conversations where we sit back, weep, moan and complain about the future of gospel music and whether it’s going to be here in a few years because “the people won’t buy it” or “we’ve tainted the message” or whatever other issues those participating in the conversation have decided are most important at the time.  You can almost quote what’s going to be said by whom and usually everyone agrees to disagree and you walk away from it with no answer, but lo and behold another year goes by and by the grace of God gospel music is still being made, albums are still being released and thankfully the illuminati didn’t have its way. (Don’t front, a lot of y’all believe that foolery.)

Oh yeah, back to the other day. So last week Stacia L. Brown published an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled  “It’s time for gospel music to reinvent itself again” in her Act 4 column and the saints went OFF! Everybody was either waving their flags in support of there having to be this big shift in gospel music “once again” in order for it to survive OR there were those who like me had to ask “What in the world are you talking about lady?” Now don’t get it or me twisted. I am not criticizing or mocking the work of another writer and I found there to be quite a few good points and because the positions presented was an opinion and didn’t attempt to be exact and/or data driven, I’m in no way accusing Brown’s position of being “wrong” because it can’t be. But what I am saying is I think there should be more discussion around how she got there and yes, I disagree on the idea of a necessary “reinvention.”

ericailuhgodRespectfully Stacia and everyone else who jumped on that bandwagon I’d submit that gospel music doesn’t exactly need a reinvention but more so a reINTENTION. At the end of last year I was quick to express that I felt gospel music creatively and musically had just gone to a rather “blah” place. The music wasn’t bad but it wasn’t all that great. And then on top of that, some of it was just inauthentic. That position was entirely a creative and musical observation and had nothing to do with the financial issues plaguing ALL music, not just gospel although I’d venture to say that there could be a reasonable link between lackluster music and lackluster consumer participation in the buying of music. (I won’t go into it here but there’s a whole nother conversation that needs to happen around how we measure success in music and whether record sales or full album bodies of work should still be the standard. Again, that’s for another forum.)

But yes, the idea that gospel needs to reinvent itself or essentially become something else in my opinion is sorely misguided. Although there are certain musical and cultural elements that qualify as the gospel sound, gospel music overall is based on content and not style and because of that, gospel is and will always be in a constant state of reinvention and difference because each artist has the right and opportunity to be their own creation and therefore create or invent the sound of gospel they choose. Those who make gospel are not responsible for maintaining the genre but instead, adding to it so that the proverbial quilt of gospel music gets larger, prettier and more unique thus covering us all. An artist who makes gospel music’s intent should be to make the most authentic and high quality music they are called and purposed to. One of the downfalls of this latest trend of hit chasing artistry is that we can tell when it’s real and when it’s not. We can tell when it’s right and when it’s not. If gospel music is in a slump, it’s probably because we have more artists creating imaginary versions of themselves that they think will sell records and when it doesn’t everybody loses.  Because now we’ve got music we don’t connect to and don’t want to hear while they’ve now delivered a project/product that failed commercially. I’d rather my best and brightest work not be a commercial success then have a failed experiment that wasn’t even true to who I was. And quite frankly, there’s a lot of that and we’re seeing more of it as we go.

Tamela-Mann-Takes-Home-Best-Gospel-Artist-Award-At-2014-BET-Awards2Most proponents of gospel needing to have a more mainstream sound in order to “crossover” or have  a level of mainstream success love to use the examples of the careers of Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary and even Yolanda Adams to make their case. But if you dig a bit deeper to each of those artists, there were progressions that were natural and organic to all of them. Kirk Franklin had crossover success with the albums “Why We Sing,” (Platinum) “Whatcha Lookin’ 4” (Platinum) and a slightly contemporary Christmas album (Gold) before he even stomped around God’s Property, was reborn or founded a Nu Nation.  His musical changes were gradual and based off of the energy of the singers he recorded with. (The Family was a small choir/group while God’s Property was a youth choir, etc.) “Stomp” wasn’t a reinvention but an intentional difference based on the group he was writing and producing for, along with what I’m sure were changes in his own musical ideas that came naturally. Mary Mary on the other hand came out the gate with a more contemporary sound, and their career has stayed true to that format so a reinvention on their part would actually require them to deliver a more traditional sound. (Sidebar, as a member of Mary Mary who always pushed the boundaries of gospel music sounds, why is anybody going crazy off of Erica Campbell’s new song “I Luh God.” If you don’t like it, don’t listen. Sheesh. Nobody is forcing that thing down your ears. Ha!) And if you pay attention to the trajectory of Yolanda Adams’ career you might notice that the watershed moment that was her hit “Open My Heart” was not that much of a departure from her earlier records. Although Yolanda had some more traditional gospel elements to much of her songs before then, there was always a contemporary r&b and even jazz feel to much of her earlier songs and projects. None of these artists went into a room one way, came out another way and made a hit. They offered the world their best selves at the time and people connected to it and caused their success and the “con-temporariness” (love my made up words) of the music itself really had nothing to do with it…

How do I know this? Because I can also offer up a number of gospel artists with way more typical or traditional sounding songs and records who have had similar success. Smokie Norful became a household name with songs like “I Need You Now” that required no rap feature to make it relevant. Donnie McClurkin gave us “We Fall Down” without a hot Run DMC sample on the track and it wasn’t even supposed to be a single. Marvin Sapp screamed until times got better with “Never Would Have Made It” without any back up dancers in the music video. And if you need a more recent example; Tamela Mann’s “Take Me To The King” took her to the top of the charts and garnered a gold record (in a time where hardly no one in urban music can get a gold record) without having to do a club mix. If the music is good and honest, it will find the people it needs to find. And frankly, if commercial success is your only measure of success for the gift that God has given you, then you probably should reinvent yourself and sing something else. Despite the slump in gospel music I complained about last year I in no way feel it’s going anywhere or needs to do anything drastic to stay alive or relevant. At this point the music just needs to be good and we’ve got to connect to it and like what we hear, regardless of what style it takes on. The people that are supposed to hear it are going to hear it and the people who are going to love it will love it. But whatever happens, it’s my sincere hope that the gospel music industry doesn’t reinvent itself because if it does, I may not be able to recognize it and that would be a shame

That’s all I got. I’m out.


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Yes, No, Maybe 2014 Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:41:22 +0000 Torrence nope

Yeah… I couldn’t do it. Sorry. What do you mean you couldn’t do it Torrence? Let me explain. As most of you know, for the last few years at the end of each calendar year I would recap gospel music released within that year and give it a Yes, No or Maybe designation so in case you were Christmas shopping or maybe just didn’t know whether you missed a release that year and needed that extra push to pick it up or worse that confirmation that it was just as bad as you thought it was. Last year I almost didn’t do it but so many people asked me where my list was that I gave in and did it even though I had a hard time with it. This year? It’s come up again and this time, as much as I love y’all I really can’t and here’s why?

2014 overall was “No” musically for me. I know I’ve developed a reputation for being outspoken, truthful and even a big “edgy” and none of that has changed but as I started to compile my list I got a bit sad and depressed at what I was writing and listening to. I’m not one of those industry people lamenting the sales slump and how little people are buying records, etc. It’s a problem across the board and not just in gospel music and the music industry at large is suffering in that way. Gospel music is the slice of a larger pie so of course it looks worse when you take a subset of a thing and look at its numbers individually. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work on addressing the issue, it IS still a problem and if gospel as a business is to sustain itself we do in fact need to work on gaining more financial and commercial success for the music.

But that’s not what had me sad. I was more upset because so much of the music was just… blah. The only worse than bad music is just OK music. When something is bad you can actually justify it. So and so can’t sing. So and so can’t write. So and so can’t play the piano worth a dime. But when so and so has the goods and just didn’t deliver? That’s the real tragedy.  And in the words of the great Walter Hawkins, tragedies are commonplace… still… in 2014. Was every record bad? No. Did every song suck? No. There were actually some bright musical moments this year, mainly from independent artists and local choirs who despite the industry implying to them they don’t want them, put out projects anyway and they were pretty great. But I gotta say, most artists just didn’t bring it. So before I bore you (and myself) with a long of list of No’s, Maybe’s a yes here and there, I decided to let it go this year. Chalk it up to something in the water. I’m moving on but not out.

I haven’t lost hope though. We have it in us to be great again and as 2015 rolls around I’m really hoping we get it together. So for what it’s worth, here’s some advice on how to make this next year better.

1. Make music YOU would REALLY like in real life. (I refuse to believe that many artists even like some of the foolery they put out.) And after you’ve decided that you really do like it, for real real and not for play play.

2. Play it for somebody else and see what they think. And not another musician who only gets your eccentricities and tells you you’re the dopest all the time.  If it passes both tests, you’ve probably got a great record/CD/song/album/EP/LP/BLT/MBA/Big mac/Or whatever you’re putting out.

3. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. It’s easy to turn on the radio or look at the charts and think “I’ve gotta sound like that.” If you’re churchy, be churchy. If you squall, squall then. If you like to comb Jesus’ hair with a mink feather in deep worship then do that. Just make sure it’s real and if you!  Don’t be tricked by someone else’s success, style or situation. One size does not fit all. Leave the formulas to math class and newborns. The charade only lasts for a while. Do what God told you to do. You’ll sleep better at night.

4. Record when you know it’s right. I know there’s a lot that goes into scheduling a release but hear me. We can tell when you rushed it. We also can tell when you were over it  and/or your label and you just threw something together to fulfill your contractual duties. But guess what you and we are left with? Your old “angry at the label” CD!

5. Lastly, lay off some of these effects! I know gospel can have a bunch of different styles and sounds but I do think it all should at least sound “human.” .  In 2014 autotune, melodyne and pitchwheels made music sound extremely robotic.  That note you can’t reach? That blend your bgv’s can’t match. That run that fell off? Re-evaluate it before you look to the engineer to make it work for you. If you couldn’t feel it, neither can we.

Well, that’s that and thanks for everything. I’m actually looking forward to next year’s music… Let’s do it!


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Exclusive New Music: “You Make Me Feel (Holiday)” – J. Moss & Faith Evans Thu, 30 Oct 2014 20:45:35 +0000 Torrence J. Moss Faith Evans

Today is a good day! A “holiday” even… (See what I did there?) I got my hands on some awesome new music that I just had to share. J. Moss is setting us up for the release of his new album Grown Folks Gospel which drops on Tuesday,  November 25. I’ve always been of the opinion that J. Moss’ music always had a bit of a “make you almost wanna bust into a 90’s R&B  Jodeci bodyroll but you kinda can’t because he’s singing about Jesus and you hope it won’t send you to Hell” twinge to it and I guess he decided to just embrace it on this project. Ha!

So even though I was already looking forward to what he’d bring on this record I got extra hyped once I found out that he had a song with whom you all know is my all time favorite – the oracle and voice of heaven and the angles herself – Faith Evans. The song is called “You Make Me Feel (Holiday.)” If this track is any indication I think I like where J. is going. Take a listen and in the comments let’s me know what you think!


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Torrence’s Talk With Zie’l Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:07:48 +0000 Torrence pronounced-zy-el

Recently I sat down with gospel girl group Zie’l to talk about their new CD Pronounced Zy-El, working with Tonex and a lot more. It’s pretty funny, you have to watch!

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New Music: VaShawn Mitchell’s “God My God” EP Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:55:51 +0000 Torrence VaShawnMitchell_GodMyGod_Single_FINAL (2)

We could all use a little more music right? Well instead of making you wait until the full length CD Unstoppable drops this fall, VaShawn Mitchell decided to give fans a preview of what’s to come by releasing the EP, God My God. It includes the single by the same name as well as three brand new tracks “Amaze Me,” “This To You” and “Your Name…The Moment.” God My God can be purchased online anywhere you like to buy your musical digitally. Now I will say, if you’re smart you’ll get it on iTunes because if I know iTunes I’m sure they’ll put your EP purchase towards the full CD and you’ll save a few dollars, but what do I know? Ha!

Take a listen to God My God below!

  • PLAY – “Amaze Me” – VaShawn Mitchell
  • PLAY – “This To You” – Vashawn Mitchell
  • PLAY – “God My God” – VaShawn Mitchell
  • PLAY – “Your Name…The Moment” – VaShawn Mitchell
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    RIP: Professor Melvin Crispell Fri, 30 May 2014 03:06:33 +0000 Torrence Professor Melvin Crispell

    On Thursday, May 29, 2014 gospel music and truthfully music at large, lost one of the most prolific musicians and composers of our time. Professor Melvin Crispell has died.

    In music circles, jazz and gospel especially, to be dubbed a “Professor” is a title of the highest honor because it doesn’t just mean you’re good or even great. There will always be good and great musicians, songwriters, etc. But  there’s something about being deemed so great that other greats want to learn from you. Think about it. There are a finite amount of keys and pedals on an organ or piano. And after years of existence, one would suppose that with this limited resource at some point it would be almost impossible to create a unique or specific sound that had not already been heard or created. People have been playing and composing music for centuries before Melvin Crispell was ever born. Surely, they’d played or discovered every note, chord, and progression there was to find. But every now and then, someone comes and breaks the limits off of an instruments limitation. They miraculously discover infinite possibilities inside of a finite construct. I feel like I’m using big words and sounding rather lofty because I’m struggling to properly communicate the grandeur of his gifting. Very few people could take an instrument or a musical art form that had existed for so long and  managed to elevate and shape a unique sound that influences its style and musicianship to this day.

    One would think that after accomplishing such a feat that there would be no room for humility. But this was the foundation of Melvin’s genius and what made “Professor” such an appropriate title. Musicians and composers  borrowed from the sound he created and with a level of grace not seen in people of his stature, he taught them how. Melvin and I weren’t extremely close but because of our close musical circles I was blessed to be around and close to his work many times. As a choir music lover (expert, lol) I knew his entire catalog and there was something so fascinating about watching HIM play HIS songs. And the most honorable part of getting to watch him work was watching him teach. He didn’t keep it to himself. He was always sharing with his contemporaries and aspiring musicians alike.

    But I want to be clear, his talent didn’t stop at just musicianship. Yes, he could make a B3 sing and create  almost orchestral accompaniment from one instrument but he was a true composer, writing and stylizing songs that challenged our ears and minds but were still inherently singable. I’m an official “choir head” and as a minister of music, choir director, workshop facilitator etc., I never realized how many of his songs I “kept in my back pocket” to teach until today. Songs that if asked on a dime I was ready to pull out and sing. This one hurts folks. I was tempted to type that you had to know him to know what a gift he was to us and to our music but who he was is in the music and if you just listen, you will understand.

    Below are some of my favorite Melvin Crispell compositions that you may or may not know he was responsible for. If you weren’t familiar, get familiar. And if you are familiar, reminisce with me as we celebrate Professor Melvin Crispell. Also remember to keep his wife and son in your prayers along with the countless artists, choirs and musicians who counted him as a friend and mentor. Whoever’s playing for the choir in heaven today, slide over for just a second for “Potbelly” and learn something.


  • PLAY – “He Took My Place” – James Hall & Worship and Praise
  • PLAY – “Caught Up” – James Hall & Worship and Praise
  • PLAY – “Gain The World/I’m Not The Same” – James Hall & Worship and Praise
  • PLAY – “The Storm” – James Hall & Worship And Praise
  • PLAY – “What He’s Done For Me” – James Hall & Worship and Praise
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    RIP: Dr. Maya Angelou Wed, 28 May 2014 18:12:02 +0000 Torrence

    I don’t like to take pictures. Maybe that’s the wrong word. I’m afraid of taking pictures. Ok, maybe that’s the wrong word too. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with taking pictures with people or asking them to… Maybe that’s it. It’s hard to find the words for the reason that I’m somewhat picture averse, but there’s a point here. Because I can’t explain it to you, you’ll probably never understand. (Now, don’t get me wrong, if you ask to take a photo I’ll never say no or be shady or anything like that. Lol) Words are important and as much as I hate when they’re overused, I acknowledge and realize how necessary and powerful they are and can be.  On Wednesday, May 28, 2014  Dr. Maya Angelou who taught me… us…  the strength and profound impact of words died at 86 years old.

    I can remember when I met her. It was in 2007. She was a special guest on that season of Bobby Jones Gospel. All of us who were working on the show knew that she was coming and that we’d have to make some special accommodations for her arrival and her time there but we didn’t “get it” until she got there. Some famous people are all hype. They have a talent or gift that has put them on the world stage and they’re made into a “superstar” and with that comes a certain amount of fascination and admiration that is otherworldly. We believe in their uniqueness and their grandeur and the idea that they are made of something different… Above us in some way because they are so special. And if you’re ever in the position to meet most famous people, you know that a lot of that mysticism or fantasy quickly fades away. This in no way diminishes or takes away from their greatness but there’s a moment when natural and shall I say “basic” humanity becomes apparent. The veil is lifted and you realize (sometimes painfully) that they’re not all that you had expected or been made to believe they were. In the words of many of my LA friends you realize “they regular.”

    Dr. Angelou though, was different. The hype was REAL. She was far from regular. When you met her or came into her presence you realized that the thing you thought you’d feel or see was legitimate and tangible in her presence. As a poet and writer it’s easy to conclude that she had a way with words and was thoughtful in how she used them. But as a women in her everyday speech, to see that same care and thoughtfulness was striking. There’s a cadence, tone and intensity that she speaks with that you think is only presented on large stages and platforms. So to be greeted by her or have her answer your questions with the same level of grace and thoughtfulness was mind blowing and jarring in the most beautiful way. She didn’t put it on or turn it on, it was who she was.

    So when she arrived on set and moved through the halls and spoke to the staff and cast at different moments and somehow, despite her declining health managed to leave the impression that we were all individually meaningful and powerful just by speaking to us; I realized just how important words were. And with that, the potency your voice can add to words. We’ve read her works to ourselves and out loud but something happens when you hear it with the right voice. Literally as we moved about the rest of the day preparing for the show everyone had the same story. “Let me tell you what Dr. Angelou SAID TO ME.” Some of it was profound, some of it was just plain ole funny as her wit was top notch, and some of it was just as simple as “Excuse Me” or “I don’t mind” when asked to take a photograph.

    I took a lot of photographs that day all for people who for good reason would be remiss to not have a reminder of the day or the moment they got to be in her presence. As I held the various personal cameras and cell phones with their varying degrees of complexity (seriously though, the flash button should be front and center); I watched her encourage people and even admonish them not to kneel or bow next to her as she had to be seated for most of the pictures because of the stress and pace of TV production. I know some artists who will make you kneel down to their level when taking a photo so as not to appear “short” but Dr. Angelou had a level of pride and grace that no wheelchair could distract or discount.

    I didn’t take a photo with her that day. Because I don’t like to, or maybe because I’m afraid to, or maybe because…. Yeah, I’m still learning how to “use my words.” Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for teaching us.


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    New Music: The Walls Group “Satisfied” Wed, 23 Apr 2014 22:02:33 +0000 Torrence THE WALLS GROUP PUBLICITY 2

    What’s up folks?

    It’s so fun to watch a gospel group’s progress like The Walls Group. This family group comprised of Darrel (age 23), Rhea (age 18), Paco (age 17), and Ahjah (age 16) started taking the internet by storm with their candid YouTube cover videos showcasing killer harmonies, a family blend and vocal tricks that were way beyond their years. Since signing to Kirk Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Recordings, The Walls Group have released the single “Perfect People” and appeared on Bobby Jones Gospel and Sunday Best among other large platforms. Now they’re putting the finishing touches on their debut album and have released a new single “Satisfied.” Take a listen and tell me what you think?

  • PLAY – “Satisfied” – The Walls Group
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    Erica Campbell Debuts “Help” CD Cover Fri, 07 Feb 2014 22:50:05 +0000 Torrence EC_HELPCOVER_full

    Move over white dress and make room for that face! Erica Campbell recently released the cover art for her debut solo CD Help. It was shot by the uber popular Derek Blanks. With no clothing as a distraction in cover artwork past, the always beautiful Ms. Campbell decided to give us something simple and to the point. You can pre-order Help starting on Monday, February 10 and before actual CD release which is March 25.

    Check out the tracklisting:

    1. The Question

    2. You Are

    3. A Little More Jesus

    4. Help

    5. I’m A Fan

    6. The Atkins House

    7. Eddie

    8. Looking Like

    9. POG

    10. More Than A Lover

    11. Nobody Else

    12. All I Need Is You

    13. Changes

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    Bruno Is From Mars, Deep Saints Are from Venus? Mon, 03 Feb 2014 22:12:28 +0000 Torrence brunomars

    Or maybe Pluto, Jupiter? I don’t know. What, you thought I was really gonna go there again? How about not. It looks like it’s becoming a weekly issue where the “social saints” decide that anything on TV that isn’t gospel is sin and anybody watching it regardless of their relationship with God is a sinner. Nope, not gonna do it, but for all those who need a refresher, let’s go back HERE. Why? Because my position remains the same. So if you or someone you know had a deep spiritual issue with watching Bruno Mars’ Super Bowl halftime show? Read this!

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