The Revealing of The Process
Heralded by many as "The Prince of the Praise Party", Woolforkís funk-filled jams coupled with his heartfelt lyrics have captured an underground generation for over a decade. After four albums and a two and a half year layoff, Woolfork is back on the scene with his latest release, The Process: Birth-Development-Destiny. As Woolfork notes, the title is more than just a trendy catch-phrase.
"Iíve been going through my very own process," states Woolfork. "That title for this CD comes straight from what Iíve been through. I donít know if thereís another artist in the industry that has been through what Iíve been through in this past two years, but God is still good."
"I was in St. Louis for a time pastoring at a church there. There was just a call to come back to the Cleveland area and resolve some things with my old record label and birth the vision that God gave me to get my own thing off the ground," continues the Ohio native. "Over the last two year period, there has been a LOT of growth. Now God has brought me to the light and Iím just ready to do what weíve got to do to make this label a success."
Though the enthusiasm of his current place is evident, Woolfork does not soon forget the experience of his Ďprocessí over the last few years.
"I relocated from Cleveland and went through a pastoral experience," shares Woolfork. "You always hear preachers and pastors telling you that you really donít know how it is [to pastor a church] now I do. I know that itís my destiny to pastor one day. I truly believe that God just really wanted to put me in a situation that was one of the rougher spiritual experiences that Iíve ever been through. In the middle of the last Soulfood album, I really just took myself off the scene. It was just a point in my life where I just really had to re-evaluate ĎCharlesí. This evaluation and re-evaluation is where not only the title came to life for the CD, but the building blocks for the rest of my life fell in place. It was a defining moment for me to pull myself off the scene for a couple of years, and decide what I really wanted to do."
"When I came back from St. Louis, I went back to my roots as the worship leader for my old church. I really, really found the heart and mind of God again," continues Woolfork. "I went through a period where I couldnít even write lyrics. When you know youíre anointed and you canít touch the face of God, thereís not a lonelier place on the planet. And thatís where the song "No More Pain" is birthed. You go through so much as an artist. Everybodyís got a story about you. One-third of it is true, one-third is lie, and one-third is rumor."
Historically, Woolfork has been one of Gospelís most translucent artists, willingly sharing his sometimes painful experiences for the betterment of the masses. However, he found that this might have caused more harm than good.
During this journey, Woolfork, much like one of his earlier releases, reached a pivotal "Turning Point". "I got sick of me. Itís like my soul stunk," admits Woolfork. "I looked at myself and knew that I could be so much better as a person and as a preacher. I know that Iím anointed to do things. Then you see people like William Murphy and Byron Cage enjoying their season and coming into the fullness and fruition of every promise that God has for them. When you realize that youíve been out just as long and you havenít seen your season, itís like youíre flunking class. Iíve been out since í93. When was I going to step up and pass the grade? So there had to be some re-evaluation time for Charles. Iím thanking God for it because a lot of people donít get the opportunity to recognize it before itís too late."
"It was a rough time for me. I came back from St. Louis nearly homeless. My mom suffered a stroke. No job. No money. No current record. You get back home, look in the mirror and say ĎWhoa!í. People donít have a positive word to say about you. You feel like the song that says, ĎNobody loves me, everybody hates me, I think Iíll eat some worms.í I know for a fact that in that time period God kept speaking to me, ĎIím growing you underground.í The song "Clearly Speaking" was birthed out of that. Everything on this CD is real and true. From the party joint ĎWe Praisiní to the last piece on there ĎGet Upí, everything is true."
The inherent "rebirth" of Charles Woolfork has resulted in the launch of his new label, known as Eternity Musiq Group. His new solo effort is the first release from the label and itís the source of a great deal of excitement for the solo artist.
"EMG is a label that was forged out of informational frustration. Iíve been in this industry for fourteen years. You would think that in fourteen years I would learn a little bit more about it than just getting a call to go do a booking, showing up at a gig, singing and being a blessing to people, selling a few CDs, getting a small honorarium, and going back home waiting for the next call. There is a true industry out here. One of the examples of Ďnothing to everythingí success is Kerry Douglas of World Wide Gospel. He doesnít know it, but heís been an inspiration to me in getting my thing off of the ground because I kind of frameworked it after him."
"Eternity Musiq Group is part of a larger company called The Network. We got the top-notch recording studio, the top-notch video company (called Media Group Studios), my record label, Eric Mull Photography and housed them in one location in the warehouse district in Cleveland. Iím the only African-American in the group. The other guys are Caucasian business guys who have no reason to trust in this little ghetto gospel boy. They know that Gospel doesnít make the money that R&B does. Weíve had people like Anthony Hamilton and American Idol finalist Scott Savol come through this studio. They said, ĎCharles, because we believe in what youíre always walking around here preaching, we want to allow you the opportunity to birth your record label. We want to partner with you. All we want to do is work with you to see your vision come to pass.í"
"There are several different companies that are birthed out of these brothers," continues Woolfork. "Weíre working with underprivileged, inner-city kids with a project coming later in the year called Project Phoenix. This is a music production school. Weíre going to teach everything from the mixing board to wiring studios to speakers and audio to songwriting and keyboard lessons. Anything that anybody wants to learn about the music industry, they will be able to come through Project Phoenix and be certified. Weíre getting grant money to be able to fund this program. When these kids come through the program, they will be certified sound technicians, lighting technicians, and worship leaders. Itís my gift of fourteen years of hurt, pain, and frustration to give back to the community. If I canít be the one to do it, maybe my son or daughter or somebody in that generation can come up and be the one that can take off and make a difference like Kirk Franklin did in í94."
Woolforkís longevity is allowing him to focus on giving back. Heís taking the opportunity to champion a worthy cause, while using his testimony to inspire young people.
"We have an HIV-AIDS awareness movement called Abstinence in Action. Now, when you ask an old Pentecostal player like myself, Ďhow can you tell somebody else about abstinence?í Well, Woolfork says in his comical preaching voice, and then quickly gets serious about the issue. "Church folks need to QUIT PLAYING. Everything thatís going on in the world is happening in the house of God, unfortunately. Our kids are infected with HIV and living and dying of AIDS in the church. Itís not just the stereotypical folks that we like to point the fingers at. Itís preachers that are creepiní and tippiní. Itís choir directors. Itís psalmists. Itís innocent sisters. My very first experience of sexual involvement did not happen in the world. It happened in the church. See, Iím being transparent again. If theyíre going to kill me, then theyíre going to kill me."
The Abstinence in Action (AIA) group has a specified mission. "We come in an have young people who are living with AIDS or HIV or whose parents have died from AIDS or HIV address large groups of young people between the ages of 15 and 18," states the label owner. "In Cleveland, we had an incident where a female sophomore in one of the larger high schools was infected with HIV. She ended up causing over 600 other young people indirectly to be infected with HIV in the high school system. AIA is a program that weíve developed to get kids to be open and transparent and talk about the things that theyíre doing. I sat down one day and counted the number of sexual influences in one hour of programming on BET. There were 157 references to some sort of sexual innuendo or conduct. This is why I believe that God has chosen me because I know that I didnít remain abstinent. I wasnít able to Ďhold my muleí, so to speak. I know the destruction that it caused my life."
Woolfork willingly shares his testimony regarding the impact of his own lack of abstinence. It impacted his career far more than he imagined.
"Everything that Iíve put out before this, I can say that, to a degree, was some sort of fallacy or facade," acknowledges Woolfork. "If any other artist wants to be real about it, they know what Iím talking about. They know about the things that go on after the concerts in the hotel. There was a point in time in my life where I would walk in the church and I could feel the spirits of those that were willing to be the ones to do whatever goes on after the concert. It was that intense. So take it from someone who has been through it. By the grace of God, Iím not infected with anything. Iím telling you and pleading with you to live this life according to what this Word says. Holiness, without which none of us will see God or make it to Heaven. Quit tripping out here on the stuff that we see on TV. Weíve got a Jay-Z. Weíve got a Beyoncé. I often tell people that youíve got to move the residence of the place you worship off of the corner of 106 & Park."
"A believerís focus should always be on the promise of God," states the worship leader. "The thing that impresses God the most is when we can really be made over in His image and in His likeness. If artists that are reading this can really look at themselves and say that they are the true image of God, then they should be really proud of themselves. But I know that everyday that I look at myself, I know that Iíve got to work on something because itís not exactly the image of God. Weíve got to be more liquid than weíre willing to be in Godís presence. We put a CD out and think that weíve got it all together. However, there are young cats out here like Tye Tribbett that are blaziní and puttiní it down. I get stopped on the street all the time and people say, ĎMan, youíre one of the O.G.s for this. How do you feel about [these young people] doing that?í Iím thanking God that they are in the fullness and the prime of their season. Iím also giving God praise that mine hasnít come yet but Iím not going to be dumb enough to miss it when it does comes by being out of His will."
Woolfork doesnít regret anything that has happened up to this stage in his life. He clearly understands the path that heís on and has a unique perspective on his "Process".
"Iím sure the Lord looked at my life and knew what that life was supposed to be," states Woolfork. "Because I have got into Ďselfí and got into what I felt I was owed by the industry, that vision might have gotten off track. But Iím thankful for the process that Iím in right now the development process. Nobody can look at a photo-negative and tell the vision that the photographer had in mind. The thing has to go through the development. It has to go through the harsh chemical process. It has to go into that dark place and develop. And when it comes out into the light, then you see all of the colors, the beauty, and the moment that the photographer captured. So, Iím thanking God for the strength to endure the process that I had to go through just to get to the development. Iím in the middle of the development stage. It ainít over for me by a long shot."
Woolfork credits his current church affiliation as a tremendous difference-maker for him right now.
"Iím at The Word Church in Cleveland, Ohio," says Woolfork with great pride. "Iím a part of the music ministry and the worship ministry there. Pastor R.A. Vernon has been a monumental influence on my life. The words of the interlude ĎThe Differenceí are absolutely true words. I came to the altar one day. Pastor Vernon told me directly, ĎI donít need superstars. I need sons.í That blew me away."
Woolforkís latest work features a song titled "Clearly Speaking", which is near and dear to his heart. "That song is a special piece," he states. "So many artists and preachers donít hear God. We hear what we want. Iím sick of people prophesying about houses, diamonds, cars, and jewels. If Iím not hearing God speaking, I donít want to hear it. Iíve got a good pastor that doesnít speak anything but Godís Word and blessings into your life. Our church is probably the largest drama-free church on the planet. He told me to get my feet planted and be a man of integrity. He told me to be a man of God and be an example. In little to no time, God just elevated and promoted me to a point where Iím a part of this ministry. Itís a team effort though. Itís not Charles in Charge. Itís God in charge. Pastor Vernon is the head. Charles has the anointing of the second man though. Iím going to do all the work like Joshua. Iíll be like Aaron and make sure that I get my hands and knees dirty, do whatever it takes [to get the job done] and put all of the credit on the head so God gets the glory. And when God blesses him, if Iím in line with him, then Iím in line for a blessing, regardless of what people think about me."
Woolfork over the years has had to balance his music ministry with his preaching ministry. In the midst of this process, heís found a new way to steady himself between the two gifts.
"Itís easier when youíre not living a lie," says Woolfork. "Itís easier to sing what youíre truly preaching about. Itís easier to preach what youíre truly living. Then you donít have to make up songs. You can wake up and say ĎThis is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.í God will give you a different twist on those same words where they really need it. I balance it out by listening to other great up and coming preachers like Bishop Sammy C. Smith. Bishop Smith is one of the monumental preaching influences on my life. He preaches straight Bible and straight truth. He is one of the preachers that the country needs to look out for."
After what has seemed like a tumultuous two and a half year period, Woolfork is ready to launch into the next place that God has for him.
"I see it squarely in the middle of the development phase and itís shifting into destiny. That simply means that God is lining me up for my season. If my tongue can remain pure, my hands remain clean, and my heart remain pure, then I believe that everything thatís the desire of my heart, God will give it to me. Iím happy. Iím happy, happy, happy. Iím 100,000 percent in love and it feels good. And Iím going to leave it there!! Iím poised for a rare opportunity for a second chance to make a first impression. Itís only by the grace of God. Worship songs nowadays lay me on my face and remind me of where I could have been. Iím reminded of the drug dealing days, drinking days, and the partying days that I tried my best to bring over into a Gospel lifestyle. I tried to do what I wanted to do but Godís got a funny way. You have not had a foot in your behind until Godís foot gets in there. Godís favor has once again returned to my ministry, my preaching, my psalmody, my writing, and my lifestyle. Iím just feeling God on every aspect with all ten fingers and all ten toes."
Woolforkís reflection on the last few years is both honest and genuine.
"I apologize to the gospel community for being ineffective," says Woolfork. "After that apology, I want to thank the gospel community for receiving me back with open arms and I want to love the gospel community and the church community like never before."
Indeed this is all a part of "The Process".
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