Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Honoring DMV's Greatest Gospel Musicians (Past and Present) Part 1

I have the pleasure of meeting, experiencing and playing with some of the greatest musicians known to man. Every city/area has its local heroes. These people change the way we think and approach different aspects of music and not just Gospel.  In the DMV (DC, MD, VA), we've been extremely blessed with some of the greatest Gospel/Church musicians on this side of the earth. They help make singers, producers, and preachers sound and look good. Some are heroes who have never truly been recognized, and many do not know. It is my attempt through this blog to celebrate our local musicians who have set standards for music and music production in this area. There are many common denominators among this distinguished group. The first is the variety of musical styles that they studied to get where they are now. Secondly, most if not everyone on this list has traveled abroad to perform. You will never experience true musical joy until you have traveled and perform in other countries where the appreciation level is through the roof. Thirdly, church was the training ground for all of these artists. Those who are still living are still playing on a regular basis, but don't allow churches to hinder their ability to share their gifts to the world. I know for sure I did not get them all, but I think this list is a great conversation starter. (This list is in random order)

1. Richard Smallwood

Most of us already know that Richard Smallwood is one of the greatest musicians in American History much less Gospel Music.Those of us who live in this area have an extra blessing of seeing and hearing him more often. His style and approach to playing and writing has changed the lives of so many musicians and singers. Any musician, especially in the DMV, who cares about music is really careful to interpret Richard's music as accurately as possible in their playing and in their teaching to their respective choirs and/or groups. In other words, we don't want to get it wrong. One of the little known facts about Richard is that he has been and still is very faithful to his church.

2. Henry McKenzie Davis

Many do not know or never heard of Henry Davis. OMG. You need to watch this video of him and Richard playing a duet before we move on. .  Although Henry moves in and out of the DMV area, many know him as the master musician. His ideas and piano versatility is unmatched. He can take a hymn and make the words speak to your heart through his fingers. I was blessed to play with him at the Gospel Music Workshop of America one year and that was one of the joys of my life.

3. Dr. Pearl Williams Jones (1931-1991)

She died before I had a chance to meet, her but thanks to my late piano teacher, Alton Street, I was exposed to the genius of Dr Pearl Williams Jones. Hear a one minute clip of her playing and singing "We Shall Overcome" I wish there was more that I could expose to you. Dr. Jones was the chief musician at the Bibleway Temple of Washington where her father, the late Smallwood E. Williams, was the founder and Pastor.  She influenced the lives of so many musicians both Gospel and Classical. As with Richard Smallwood and Henry Davis, she was also a virtuoso pianist.

4. Rev. Andrew Blues Webb

Anyone who knows about drummers in the DC area has heard or played with the great Blues Webb. Blues has toured with many Gospel and secular artists. He is a trailblazer with his disciplinary approach to music. One would be hard pressed to find Blues outside of a pocket; however, if called on to showcase his skills, he doesn't disappoint. Blues has undergirded a slew of Gospel artists and churches in the DMV area with his consistency. I have never heard an unkind word spoken about Blues and his integrity  He is one of those quiet masters of his instrument. Blues Webb is a legend in the DMV area and abroad. We salute you Blues!!

5. Anthony "Tony" Walker

Talking about someone under the radar! One of the greatest musicians I have ever seen in this world is Mr. Tony Walker. Tony Walker is one of the awesome musicians who has traveled for many years with Richard Smallwood. He also travels with secular recording artist Ledisi on a regular basis. In addition, He is a musician at the Zion Baptist Church in DC. Tony is a quiet storm with whom a lot of musicians do not know. He is a chief musician of the highest order. He can play anything and any genre. He is also a well sought after producer. Here is a clip of Tony playing "Shackels" in a live performance: One can learn a lot from his humility as God has exalted him in so many ways.

6. Mark Walker

Speaking of Walker's, Bassist Mark Walker is a playing phenomenon. There is so much to be said about Mark Walker that it could take up this whole blog. Mark plays at Great Mt. Calvary Holy Church in DC, and has traveled across the world with a number of well known artists. He is not only a great musician, but a great person. Mark is a family man and a mentor to so many young musicians. He is also not afraid to speak his mind as it pertains to music and worship and that is rare in this climate. We in the DC music community hale Mark as one of the greatest, if not the greatest bass player in the area.

7. P.J. Morgan  

Anyone who can sit down and battle the great John Peters is worthy of being in this blog. (see video P.J. Morgan is the Music Director and the director of the Male Chorus at the Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glendale, MD. For years, P.J. has blessed many churches, artists, and musicians with his playing, ideas, and production. P.J., like so many great musicians, has his haters and musical critics, but no one can refute his musical ability and creative genius. Like others in this blog, P.J. has been an amazing support to so many artists in the DMV. He also has musician videos that one can purchase to learn some playing and improvisation techniques. In other words, P.J. can make music come alive in a unique way. He is now back in school taking music classes to further his musical education. In this business, you should never stop learning. When you do, you cease to be relevant. On a side note, I had the pleasure of playing on a recording (Myrna Summers) in 2005 with P.J., and I must say, I had to go back to school again so that I could hang.

8. Aaron Spears  

What can we say about Aaron Spears other than the fact that he is awesome! I remember seeing him at the GMWA in our early years shocking everyone with his playing every time he got on the drums. Aaron is very aggressive, and his playing is not for those who cannot hang musically. If you are lacking in musical ability, his playing will overtake you.  He is one of the greatest influences on this current generation of drummers in the U.S.A. and in the DMV. Here is a video of him playing "Caught Up" by Usher at the Modern DrummerFest Aaron still plays in church when he is not on the road, and is always willing to share advice with others who look up to him. Aaron is one of the greatest drummers the DC area has ever seen.

9. Minister Stephen Hurd (

Stephen Hurd is a man well-known for his passion for Praise and Worship across the country. But few know that Stephen was a school teacher and church musician before he rose to critical acclaim as an artist. Stephen Hurd is and has been an inspiration and teacher to many across the DMV area and abroad. While Deacons were still leading devotion in most of our area churches, Minister Hurd was the conduit of change introducing the new concept of Praise and Worship music and the ideas of free flowing worship atmosphere that comes with it. In the early years of his music ministry, Hurd was blessed to have one of the greatest church bands known to man (Mark Walker, Blues Webb, Mike McCoy, and P.J. Morgan) while he was serving as the Minister of Music at the Gibbons UMC in Brandywine, MD. Presently,  Minister Hurd serves as the Minister of Music at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, and continues to gives artists and musicians opportunities that they would not normally have.

10. Rev. Nolan Williams

It was hard for me to write this list without including the Rev. Nolan Williams. He is a master at what he does: teaching, arranging, writing, or just simply playing a hymn on the piano which is my personal favorite. If you have never heard Nolan play the piano, then you are missing a treat. Nolan is the former Minister of Music at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and was also one of the chief music editors of the African American Heritage Hymnal of which many churches across the country currently use. Rev. Williams has branched out to do more than just church music. He has served as music director for many occasions of national significance including 2012 and 2013 performances at the White House kicking-off its annual celebration of African American History Month and the dedication ceremony for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial. He is also the founder/director of the Voices of Inspiration. Nolan is definitely an inspiration to many. Rev. Williams is also well known for pinning the Praise and Worship song "Hallelujah Amen".

11. Rev. Donald Vails (1948-1997)

Master teacher, organist, pianist, and Gospel Artist, the late Rev. Donald Vails was a major influence on many artists in the DMV area. Many people don't realize the extent of Donald's musicianship. You could walk into Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, where he was the Minister of Music until his death, and catch Rev. Vails either directing or playing the piano, the Hammond B-3, or the Pipe Organ. Whichever instrument he graced, you could feel the anointing coming from his hands as he played and sang. To this day, I have never heard anyone play the Hammond B-3 like Rev. Vails used to play it. I remember watching him play the shout with both feet on the Hammond. WOW! He was truly unique. Many are aware of Rev. Vail's great recordings as a Gospel Artist, but he was also an unbelievable musician who influenced the lives of so many DMV musicians such as Stephen Hurd, Patrick Lundy, and Mike McCoy just to name a few.

12. Tim Linzy (Deceased) 

Although I never got a chance to meet Tim Lindsey, I got to understand who he was through some of the other bass players in the area. Here is a quote from Mark Walker about Tim: "First, he was a great brother who personally encourage me, and made me feel I could play with anyone. Second, he was dedicated to helping others fulfill there visions and dreams by playing on so many local demos and projects and some of the local projects never came out. Third, he was someone who left a mark on musicians everywhere, speaking and greeting all known and unknown musicians and singers at concerts and events. Can't tell you how rare that was back then for well known musicians to be friendly! Fourth, he traveled and ministered with one of the greatest Gospel groups of our time: Richard Smallwood and the Smallwood singers. I think everything else speaks for itself!"

13. Pastor Michael Reid

For years, Pastor Michael Reid has been a force in the DMV area. Pastor Reid is best known for his rendition of the great hymn, "Even Me", that many recordings as well as church and college choirs have adopted as their gospel anthem across this country. . Pastor Reid has served in several churches, and had some of the most successful Gospel Music workshops in the DC area. It was through his tours of duty that he gave many musicians and directors, including myself, the opportunity to teach and minister in front of larger audiences. Pastor Reid also pioneered the idea of church consulting of which many, including myself, are now doing which enables a person to operate more than one church Music Ministry at a time. Michael is an inspiration to many. I wish I could tell his whole story. but that's for him to tell in his upcoming book. Pastor Michael Reid is now the Pastor of Redeemed Christian Fellowship in Capitol Heights, MD.

14. Patrick Lundy   

Patrick Lundy moved to this area to attend school at Howard University as a Music Business major and the city hasn't been the same since. Patrick is the founder and director of the Ministers of Music which is now an institution in the DMV area. They have withstood the test of time while others have downgraded their choirs to groups. Patrick has worked with and has given many the chance to experience excellence in Gospel Music under his tutelage. Patrick got his start in the area at Ebenezer A.M.E Church under the direction of the late Rev. Donald Vails. He now serves as the Assistant Minister of Music at the Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glendale, MD.

15.  Dr. Lucille Banks Robinson Miller (1911-1998) 

This list would not be complete without this great woman of God. There is too much to be said about Dr. Miller so I refer you to what was written about Dr. Miller from the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton which explains it all.

16. Kenneth Louis 

Kenneth Louis is a true pioneer in the DMV area. Kenneth is well known as a performer, lecturer, composer, and arranger. He is the first graduate in the United States with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Ethnic (Gospel) Music Studies (1992) from the University of the District of Columbia, and is the Dean of Black Catholic music liturgy. He has mentored many up and coming singers and musicians in the DMV area. He's known for writing the popular gospel song, "Jesus You Brought Me All Of The Way". He also coordinated the music for the Pope's last visit to the DC area which was held at Nationals Stadium. He is truly a musician among musicians. Here's a performance of the song oversees.

17. Dr. Robert J. Fryson (1944-1994; Far right in picture)

Known for writing one of the most popular gospel songs of all time, "God Is",which was recorded by James Cleveland in 1979, Dr. Fryson was an inspiration to many across this world. He was a musician, writer, singer, and a master songwriter. You could often catch Dr. Fryson with his acclaimed group, Voices Supreme. His music is included in the African American Heritage Hymnal and in other publications. The Robert Fryson I knew for a brief period of time was a humble man who took the time to speak and work with others.

18. Dr. Wesley A. Boyd (Died in 2009)

School teacher, mentor, choir director, minister of music, former Richard Smallwood singer, scholar Wesley Boyd encouraged many young people in the DC area to excel in all forms of music. He was a master teacher, and had a profound impact of the culture of Gospel Music in the DC area. I had the privilege of working with him at the Kennedy Center for a concert with the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of The Gospel. It was there that I learned of his brilliance as a musician and a teacher.  He's Dr. Boyd performing with Richard Smallwood at the White House.

19. Minister Isaiah D. Thomas 

Well known producer, singer, songwriter, and Minister of Music Isaiah Thomas has been in the Ministry of Music for quite some time. He currently serves as the Minister of Music of the Macedonia Baptist Church in DC, and has inspired many through his music and his ministry. Isaiah is best known for his songs: " I Will Bless The Lord", made famous by Byron Cage (I still like the original version better), "God Said He Would Be With Me", and "The Greatest".  Isaiah has set a new standard for production in the DC area, and has inspired many producers and musicians indirectly to raise the level of musicianship when it comes to recording and releasing albums.

20.  Myrna Summers 

Rounding out this list is none other than Myrna Summers. A musician in her own right, Myrna has an unique way of singing, directing, and interpreting music. She is best known for her radio hits: "God Gave Me A Song" and "Uncloudy Day", which was recorded live at the Refreshing Spring C.O.G.I.C. in 1982. It goes without saying that Myrna is and has been an inspiration to many and she's not only a pioneer in the DMV area, but across the nation. Myrna currently serves as the Minister of Music at the Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glendale, MD.

Phillip Carter