|Total Praise||Praise & Worship|| |
|Center of My Joy||Praise & Worship|| |
|Anthem Of Praise (Psalms 150:3-6, Psalms 34:3)||Persuaded|| |
|Healing||Healing - Live In Detroit|| |
|Psalm 8 (Edit)||Praise & Worship|| |
|Trust Me||Promises|| |
|Thank You||Praise & Worship|| |
|Angels (Extended edit)||Praise & Worship|| |
|Calvary (Luke 23:33-46)||Setlist: The Very Best Of Richard Smallwood LIVE|| |
|The Lord's Prayer||Vision|| |
Those seven words eloquently capture the multifaceted essence of Donald Lawrence. Songwriter. Producer. Composer. Music/choir director. Recording artist. The guiding force behind such No. 1 hits as “Encourage Yourself,” “Back II Eden” and “The Blessing of Abraham.” Equally at home in both the inspirational and contemporary arenas, the multiple Grammy and Stellar Award winner has collaborated with a diverse roster, including such marquee names as Karen Clark Sheard, Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, En Vogue and Mary J. Blige.
“It’s said that the music you do is where you’ve lived,” says Lawrence of his creative journey. “What I do isn’t contrived. I don’t think in terms of genre or religious perspective. It comes from being honest. I just honor the gift and purpose I was given to touch the world and inspire. And people have paid attention to that.”
Indeed they have—to the tune of 20 years and counting. After scoring his second No. 1 gospel album with 2011’s YRM (Your Righteous Mind), Lawrence is preparing to commemorate his anniversary milestone with the first of two albums featuring live re-recordings of select songs from his vast catalog complemented by several new tracks. Due this fall, the first QWE/eOne volume, titled Best for Last, was recorded primarily in Chicago with longtime songwriting/production colleagues Daniel Weatherspoon and Percy Bady. The second volume, slated for 2014, will be recorded primarily in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Lawrence was born.
Also joining Lawrence for the two-volume series is a host of special guests, many of whom have played important roles in his career. The list includes Karen Clark Sheard, Kierra Sheard, Kelly Price, Lalah Hathaway, Hezekiah Walker, Stephanie Mills and Yolanda Adams. Adams’ bring-the-house-down vocals on volume one’s title track kick off a rousing celebration 20 years in the making. Yet its chorus also hints that Lawrence doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels anytime soon: “Although you may think that your time has passed \ God only saving the best for last \ Your future greater than the past.”
“I don’t know why it’s said that your best days are your youth,” explains Lawrence of the song’s message. “The Scripture talks about your latter being greater than the former. I wanted to speak to people who feel it’s a wrap. It’s never too late to dream.”
Additional standouts include “The Gift Looks Good on You” and “Hebrews 4:9.” Both are spirited lessons revolving around Lawrence’s central theme of grace. In this instance, he is talking about grace as talent; that people should stop looking across the fence at what others may possess and instead honor their own gifts. “Most people think grace is covering sins, but it’s also an area of divine enablement,” he says. “Some people have the grace to write or sing. I do music. Don’t covet someone else’s grace; honor yours. And if you honor it, God will allow you to take it to a broader arena.”
Lawrence began taking charge of his grace while growing up in Gastonia, NC. Raised by a gospel-loving aunt and influenced by gospel pioneer Andraé Crouch, he taught himself the piano at 15. From there, Lawrence put himself through the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music as a musical theater major. He and Worth Gardner, one of the school’s professors, later wrote the 1986 musical revue “Sing Hallelujah!,” which toured across the country and played off Broadway.
After a stint on the musical staff of the TV series “PTL Club,” Lawrence trained his sights on secular music when he was asked to become vocal coach for hit-making R&B/pop female group En Vogue. The early ‘90s found him integrating both worlds. That’s when he began an eight-year tenure as music director for Broadway/R&B star Stephanie Mills while also working as part of the urban inspirational group Company, a seven-man R&B group. Providing backing vocals for Stephanie Mills, Company was also signed to Irving Azoff’s Giant Records, and released its debut album, Devotion, in 1993.
Concurrently, Lawrence started sending songs to a North and South Carolina-area group called the Tri-City Singers. Stepped to succeed the act’s former musical director, he helped the group claim a No. 2 debut on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart with 1993’s A Songwriter’s Point of View. The set, melding hip-hop and other contemporary rhythms, featured guest turns by Peabo Bryson and Mills. Over the next 12 years, Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers issued a string of top five gospel albums, including No. 1 Bible Stories, tri-city4.com and Go Get Your Life Back. These releases sported such memorable hits as “Testify,” “Message to the Saints” and “The Best Is Yet to Come.” The albums also boasted an array of guests, including Clark Sheard, Ann Nesby, Kelly Price and Kim Burrell.
Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers retired in 2006, culminating their run with a cross-country, sold-out tour and a live recording, Finale. The project spun off the hits “Encourage Yourself” and “The Blessing of Abraham” with the latter spending 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart.
Two years prior, Lawrence stepped out with his first solo album, the Donald Lawrence & Co.-headlined I Speak Life, with cameos by Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Faith Evans, Lalah Hathaway and jazz icon Ramsey Lewis. Featured hits included “You Covered Me” and the anthem “Healed.” He followed that with a second No. 2 album, 2009’s The Law of Confession, Part I, and the hit “Back II Eden.” He then scored his second No. 1 with YRM (Your Righteous Mind).
Lawrence’s musical passion continues to manifest itself through various pursuits. He has written and produced for the legendary Clark Sisters, Clark Sheard, Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker (including No. 1 single “Souled Out”), among others. He has taught at Chicago’s Columbia College. And in September, he’ll celebrate his sixth anniversary as host of Verizon’s national gospel choir talent competition “How Sweet the Sound,” working alongside Walker, Yolanda Adams, Tamela Mann and other special guests. Future plans include expanding into TV, film and Broadway projects.
“New ideas and concepts for songs, new talent, more knowledge … the more creative I can be is what keeps me excited,” says the indefatigable Lawrence. “You reap what you sow.”
Hawkins gave very little thought to a career in music until 1968. In an attempt to raise money to send the Ephesian Church of God in Christ's youth choir, directed by Edwin Hawkins, to a convention in Washington, D.C., Hawkins helped the group record an album, Let Us Go into the House of the Lord. Although initial plans called for the album to be sold locally, it became an international success when a single, "Oh Happy Day," sold more than a million copies. The group subsequently toured as the Edwin Hawkins Singers.
In the early '70s, Walter Hawkins left the group to pursue a career on his own. After earning a Master of Divinity degree from the University of California in Berkeley, he founded the Love Center Church in Oakland. Two years later, he returned to the Ephesian Church of God in Christ to record an album, Going Up Yonder, with the Love Center Choir. In addition to continuing to work with the Love Center Choir, Hawkins periodically collaborated with his brother and other family members. While he joined his brother to record an album with the Oakland Symphony, he wrote and produced an album, Baby Sis, for his youngest sister, Lynette, in 1985. The same year, he wrote and produced one tune, "Everybody Ought to Know," on The Search Is Over, the debut solo studio album by his wife, Tramaine Hawkins. In 1988, he joined with the Hawkins Family to record the album Special Gift. Three years later, he co-produced and served as musical director and arranger for a Grammy-winning album, Tramaine Live, by his now ex-wife.
Hawkins worked with other artists as well. Together with the Love Center Choir, he performed on albums by Van Morrison and Lee Oskar. On his own, he worked with Diahann Carroll, Sylvester, and Jeffrey Osborne. In 1985, Hawkins wrote and produced three songs for the Williams Brothers' album Hand in Hand. During the 1990s, Hawkins was back leading the Love Center Choir on the Grammy-nominated Love Alive V: 25th Anniversary Reunion, released in 1998. His catalog was revitalized in the new millennium, with a number of reissues and an all-new recording, the Stellar Award-winning Song in My Heart, in 2005. Hawkins underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2008, but was well enough to join a subsequent Hawkins Family reunion concert tour. A sixth "Love Alive" recording was being planned for fall 2010 when Walter Hawkins succumbed to the pancreatic cancer at his home in Ripon, CA on July 11 of that year, at the age of 61.
Bishop Morton is a visionary leader, accomplished author, renowned pastor and popular recording artist. When talking about his album he said “In my music I refuse to get stuck, I could just do the oldies all the time but I challenge myself … you have to go to the next level [in my music, in my church]. If you are going to make a difference … the future belongs to those who are open to positive change.”
Living the truth of those words, Morton releases BEST DAYS YET his 10th solo album and it features a first time collaboration with Grammy Award winning producer Donald Lawrence.
BEST DAYS YET is diverse but not confused. The songs reflect Morton’s command of a variety of styles. “I love variety and I don’t want to get locked into one style,” said Morton. “It is all on here … the different styles I like to embrace ‘the churchy style, the contemporary style, ‘worshipping style’ so many different qualities that each of the songs have.” But the album’s strength comes in the flawless combination of Morton’s strong vocals and Lawrence’s masterful vocal arrangements and production.
Morton expertly threads a common theme throughout the different styles so there is a definite sense of cohesion when listening to BEST DAYS YET from beginning to end. Resounding with themes of encouragement, hope and transformation, BEST DAYS YET opens with a timeless song for the church, the title track, “Best Days Yet.” Though studio-recorded, the song’s powerful instrumentation gives it a live feel.
Continuing the themes throughout are album cuts “Times Like These,” and upbeat “It’s Over.” And the highlight tying the theme together is the Kurt Carr-penned “Something Happens (Jesus)” which is pure gospel music. The vocals come together beautifully on the powerful song.
Bishop Morton calls BEST DAYS YET a “prophetic project.” It speaks right to the heart of society’s current issues. “When you think about ‘you ain’t seen your best days yet,’ I’ve seen so many depressed people in this recession … people who are about to give up,” said Morton. “I want to lift their spirits. [Let people] know they can succeed. If people really know that their best days are ahead, that things are changing in their life … That something [does] happens when you call the name Jesus. That is what I want people to get out of this album – for people to know something IS going to happen … it’s not going to stay the same if you trust God. It’s going to get better.”
There are stellar guest artists on BEST DAYS YET including Marvin Winans on “Things Are Changing.” “I love the contemporary vibe of this song but it has such an important message,” said Morton. Winans’ smooth and rich vocals over the cool groove make the song a standout.
Also on the album is the incomparable Karen Clark Sheard. A nod to Thomas Whitfield, an early mentor to Morton, “The Grass Withereth” is an absolute modern take on a classic. “Thomas Whitfield produced one of my first national CD’s and he saw something in my music way back then,” said Morton. “He was really a genius before his time and for Donald Lawrence to come in and take it to the next level.”
Achieving a definitive release with BEST DAYS YET, Morton makes the album a family affair working with his son, PJ and daughter Jasmine Morton-Ross. PJ, well known for his amazing songwriting pens several songs on the album lending his signature sound. PJ’s hit “Go Through” and “The Promise” led by Jasmine are high points. “I am so proud of her [Jasmine]” said Morton. “I really want to see her do her own project, she’s so gifted and I love her voice that I think it’s time for her to go to the next level in music.”
Morton went on to explain, “working with my children is very key to helping keep relevant … [my son] who produced several songs … gave me one of the greatest compliment saying ‘hey Dad you still got it’ I tried to hang on in there … of course it was a different experience for me for him to produce some of my songs.”
“I love singing and am so excited about what I do, Morton continued. “I just believe there so much more in helping others … like my daughter and son who are carrying on the mantle for me.”
BEST DAYS YET is well rounded, powerful and encouraging. As he does in his role as pastor & Bishop, Morton lifts people’s spirits through this album them honest messages of hope. “There is so much in each of the songs,” he said. “I want them to really minister to people [they] need hope in this day and time. The songs really center around that.”
Bishop Paul Morton is the International Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and Sr. Pastor of Changing a Generation church in Atlanta, GA. With over 30 years of singing and recording, Morton has plans to start a new season in his life.
He announced recently his retirement from Presiding Bishop of FGBCF in 2015 as well as retire from pastoring in 2020. Morton won’t rest on his laurels. His legacy is pass on his vast knowledge. “I want to share with people the experience I’ve had in life … I want to be able to teach in school … show people how to be successful,” Morton said. “I have the experience of longevity and know how to make success last.”
On December 11, 2009, Billboard Magazine named her the No. 1 Gospel Artist of the last decade. In the same chart, her album Mountain High...Valley Low was acknowledged as the best gospel album.
(Houston, TX – February 28, 2011) -- Multiple GRAMMY® Award nominee and Stellar Award winner Vanessa Bell Armstrong today signed an exclusive recording and co- management agreement with Music World Gospel. Armstrong will be co-managed by Clive Ennis of CAnthony Entertainment.“It has been a wonderful journey,” said Vanessa Bell Armstrong. “I am so happy to have a new home with Music World Gospel. I am excited about working with my new team.”
Since her 1983 debut solo recording, Peace Be Still, Armstrong has had a string of number one hit songs. She has recorded 15 critically-acclaimed and award-winning albums that include a mixture of traditional and contemporary gospel, praise and worship songs, greatest hits and “best of” packages. Throughout her career, she has worked and collaborated with numerous artists, including Pastor Shirley Caesar, Tramaine Hawkins, Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Marvin Winans, The Winans, John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir, among others. During the late 1980s, Armstrong had success as an R&B recording artist. Her self-titled 1987 album from Jive Records featured the Billboard charting hit "You Bring Out The Best In Me," as well as the club favorite "Pressing On.” Her other career highlights include her 1987 Broadway debut at the Longacre Theatre, co-starring in Don’t Get God Started with Giancarlo Esposito, BeBe Winans and Chip Fields, among others. In 1989, Armstrong had a cameo role in Oprah Winfrey’s ABC miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place. She also recorded “Shine On Me,” the theme song for the NBC hit series Amen. In 2011, at the 26th Annual Stellar Music Awards, Armstrong was presented with the Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones Legends Award.
Armstrong, who President Barack Obama has said is one of his favorite gospel artists, has a one-of-a kind gospel style and signature sound that is a perfect fit for Music World Gospel. “Vanessa Bell Armstrong is an extraordinary talent with an extraordinary gift,” said Mathew Knowles, founder, President and CEO of Music World Entertainment. “We are honored that she chose Music World Gospel as her new home. She is one of the best vocalists of our time. She has influenced a generation of singers in various music genres. We look forward to continuing to build on her rich musical legacy.”
"Vanessa Bell Armstrong's journey is a source of encouragement to many,” said Clive Ennis, founder and CEO of CAnthony Entertainment. “She has flourished in several areas of entertainment throughout her remarkable career, making her one of the gospel greats of today. It is truly a privilege to work with such an exceptional individual and we are honored and excited about our new joint venture with Music World Gospel."
Armstrong was born in Detroit, Michigan and currently resides in Houston, Texas.