Harvey Watkins Jr.
Redefining The Tradition

For nearly 40 years, The Canton Spirituals have blessed thousands across the nation with their unique harmonies and heartfelt songs. Within the last 5 years, the quartet has captured the attention of the Gospel music industry. Since their hit 1993 album Live In Memphis, group frontrunner Harvey Watkins, Jr. has lead The Cantons to national prominence with a The Canton Spirituals - The Live Experience 1999progressive sound that reaches all demographics. Several albums later, The Cantons continue to merge traditional quartet vocals with contemporary and infectious music with their latest project The Live Experience 1999.

"Our group is different than any other quartet out there," says Watkins. "We have our own style. Our band is made of young musicians and we feed off of each other." With Watkins being the link to the original members of the group (his oft-sung about 'daddy' was founder Harvey Watkins Sr.), the other blood connection is his nephew, lead guitarist DeWayne Watkins. This careful blend of seasoned experience with the creativity that surges from youth, makes for a very engaging musical ministry.

The new album has all the hallmarks of another Canton power project. Like all good quartet recordings, this one was recorded live. Jackson, Mississippi was the location (at the Greater Bethlehem Temple Apostolic Church), and the 15-track project bears witness to the energy and enthusiasm of both The Cantons and the capacity hometoen crowd that crammed the church. Notable is the inclusion of the cut, "I Made It", which pulls co-veteran Albertina Walker into the vocal mix.

The relatively recent rise to national and international stardom has been a humbling experience for the group. "It's all been very flattering. However, we ask the Lord to guide our steps and keep us humble. We can forget our focus if we're not careful. So we spend lots of time in prayer and making sure that we put God first," states Watkins.

The singer, songwriter, and producer loves performing and seeing people blessed by the Spirit of God. In doing so, Watkins notes the many challenges that encounter Gospel music in this new year. "The toughest part Harvey Watkins Jr.of the ministry is to reach as many people possible. There are so many avenues now available to us such as TV and radio," states Watkins. "It's also time for artists to come together. People need to see that artists are united in working together to win the world for Christ."

The Cantons have been known to reach audiences of all ages at their concerts. However, Watkins takes no issue with those who don't enjoy quartets. "I never am offended when someone says that they don't like a quartet. I believe that when a group performs that the people should see the Jesus in you. If we stop lifting our problems and start lifting Jesus, He'll draw the people," proclaims Watkins.

In reaching a diverse audience and embracing a more contemporary sound, The Cantons are quite comfortable with those who believe that their music has strayed from the traditional path. "People must understand that different people do different things. Folks have different works and can each carry the anointing," states Watkins. "Everyone needs to recognize those artists who have an anointing and get out of their way. There are people that The Cantons can't reach that Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin can reach. The church needs to respect that."

While uncertain of their immediate future, Watkins looks for God to be with them and give them direction. "We just want to keep our focus," he says. "Anyway that God blesses, I'll be satisfied."

interview by Gerard Bonner

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