Interview With Daryl Coley
The Gospel Song Stylist
Everyone has a favorite Daryl Coley song.
ó interview by Stan North ó
Whether itís "Heís Preparing Me", "When Sunday Comes", "Beyond the Veil", or any of the others that the veteran tenor has seared into the consciousness of the Gospel nation, the jazzy and incredibly controlled style that marks his work canít be confused with anyone elseís.
As a San Francisco native, Coley began in the industry playing organ with The Hawkins Family, and was musical director for Tramaine Hawkins. Moving from there to collaborating with Rev. James Cleveland in the early 80ís, he became a solo force on Sparrow Records into the late 90ís.
With a fresh project on the shelves (see album review of Oh, The Lamb), this time with his new group Beloved, that signature sound is never more evident. Coley himself tries to define it:
"Signature sound? Well, Iím reminded of jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson, (whoís Godmother to my children and mom to the family!). She calls herself Ďa song stylistí. When I listen to my own music and Iím very jazzy in my approach to it, I know how to deal with different genres of music I think maybe Iíd call myself a Gospel song stylist. Thatís as opposed to a Ďtraditionalí or Ďcontemporaryí artist. I fall somewhere in between.Ē
Now with the fourteen-voice ensemble Beloved backing him (the group first appeared with him on disc on the Stellar-nominated project Christmas Is Here from 1999), Coley had an opportunity to dig into a new approach.
"Yeah, for those who have followed me from my first album in 1985, you can hear the growth, you can hear the ministry spiritual growth in the Word of God and the things of God. As you experience life, you draw from those when you sing, when you write and arrange."
Daryl Coley at the GMWA
Daryl Coley is a regular at the annual National GMWA Convention.
But you may not see him much, because he involves himself regularly in backstage activities such as chapter registration and nightly musical organization. These are low profile activities, and so itís not a place that many would expect to find a high profile artist.
"Yeah, but for me, itís just fun. I grew up in workshop, I started when I was 13 years old. Workship is so massive, anything to keep it moving is just fun for me to do. So I just have a work ethic when Iím there, anywhere I can help, anywhere I can assist, Iíll be there. Because workshop is an area where I was taught, where the Lord used some who have passed, and some who are still there, to assist me, train me, to point me in the right direction, to give me opportunity and open doors. So I think itís only fitting."
"Whether itís running up and down the aisles, ushering, whatever I can do, I donít have a problem with that."
"I really got to work with the voices, and individually with the singers even, because they are a small group. Youíll hear a lot of 4, 5, 6-part harmony in this album to color it a little different. The stories of course are a little different. You can listen to it and say, 'Oh yeah thatís Daryl Coley' because thereís that signature sound. But itís a little different, because itís got some funk on it, some latin rhythms, some good, old fashioned, stomping Gospel even. I try to reach everyone, so that something on my album will minister to everyone."
"And it proves itself, because thereís people at concerts who will come up to me, the little kids of 3 or 4 years old, who say, ĎThatís Daryl Coley! We play your song in the car, Daryl Coley!í"
"And then thereís the grandmother who will come up too. So it just shows how itís trans-generational. And I love that. Because as I grow in the Lord, Iím reaching not only my generation but two behind me as well. Thatís always exciting to me, because I like people."
With regard to Beloved, Coley makes the point of distinguishing that they have a real heart for ministry. But on a practical level, in concert how does that heart manifest itself?
"Well, the difference is, all of them are licensed ministers, a couple of co-pastors, evangelists, so all of us are in preached Word ministry, as well as music ministry. So itís unique for us all to come together."
"[Beloved's members] are all from The Carolinas, both North and South, and we crossed paths and came together. We went on tour in Japan, and when we came back, they asked if they could stay together, and so we looked at that."
And obviously, things gelled. Then Coley did a bit of research to come up with the name, for ĎDarylí, and found out it means Ďbelovedí in Hebrew. So it was an obvious choice.
On the new project, there's a striking use of narration throughout. We wondered if that was a feature in concerts too?
"Oh yes. I feel very comfortable with them at the lead mic, singing, but also ministering as far as Word. Weíre bringing it real to the people weíre ministering too. We can all go lay hands, and heal. And thatís very important, because people are in situations that are hurting and need to hear from God. A song is good, but sometimes some things can hit you so hard you canít remember a song, but if you get a solid word of God, and a solid word from God, well thatís sometimes more important."
Musically, the albumís material comes from a diverse group of writers. Yet you donít pick up any feeling of disjointedness; rather thereís a definite cohesiveness from start to finish.
and Howard Hewett
One of the artists that Daryl Coley relates to is Howard Hewett.
"Howard grew up listening to Gospel. His mom, before she passed, was one of the premiere Gospel announcers. Howard has his roots in listening to Gospel, he listened to the same artists I did, because weíre in the same age bracket. Some have a problem and say, ĎWell, they need to [singing] in the church.í
But thereís some in the house to minister to the house, and thereís some in the world to minister to the world. If their relationship and their heart and their purpose are correct and right, and theyíre taking of what they need to as far as God is concerned, then more power to them."
You can read our in-depth interview with Howard Hewett by clicking on his image above.
"Well, as regards the process, certain songs, some people sent to me. But I do all the background arranging, so I would hear what they had and I would put it together. I do all the vocal arranging. Then musically, I teach my musical director, Eric Reed, my chief musician. I show him my thoughts and ideas on the keyboard. And then he takes the tape and goes to the band. Then they say to me, 'OK Pop', because they call me Pop. And then they make it work."
And like with most albums, certain songs just make you sit up and take notice. One of those on Oh, The Lamb is 'Silent Scream', penned by V. Michael McKay. With Coley on lead, the slow build is as intense as the lyrics, which speak to when things may seem OK on the surface.
"Wow, that was a song that I heard in Houston in a concert that I had with V. Michael. The singer that sang the song that night was Melonie Daniels from New York. I was sitting in the audience (because I was sitting out, getting ready to join the concert), and when I heard the song, I said, 'Oh God, please let me have a piece of this!' because the song is just fabulous. And right then, Michael said ĎDaryl, come up here and sing a verse and chorus of this.í And it just wore me out."
"V. Michaelís had at least one or two songs on my last four albums. It was a toss up between 'Silent Scream' and 'Oh, The Lamb', for the title of this album. But 'Oh, The Lamb' was the first one that my wife had written for me, so we went with that. Itís a praise song we use in our church service, so I took it and added a few more things to it."
And the family involvement doesnít end there, since Coleyís youngest son Teceion also contributes a cut, 'He Will Make A Way'.
"My baby son, yeah, he wrote a song. He was fifteen when he wrote it last year, heís sixteen now. He was struggling with his musicianship, he wanted to do something but didnít know how to do it, or how to express it."
"So when I got the opportunity to do this album, I said to him, ĎOK, I need a song from you!í He looked at me for a minute and said, ĎOK Dad.í And he started writing ideas and things down. And then we fine-lined it. He plays drums and so he sat down [at the set], and sang the melody to me. Later we got together to go over it, and I said 'Yeah, this is right, thatís right'. He had some general themes, I broke them down so he could look at them, and we put them together [and made the song]. After that, he said, ĎOK, Iím writing nowí, so heís putting together his own demo now."
Another standout song is the lead single from the project, "II Chronicles".
"I did a version of this song on my very first solo album in 1985. About 3 years ago I had the opportunity to record with a choir in Sweden, By Grace. They wanted something original, so I sat down and reworked this one, and recorded it with them for the European market. But it never got released over here or anything. [In putting this album together], I said to myself, Ďthis message is true, the Lord will heal the land if we remain true to Him.í And Iíve always wanted to do something with the bossa nova rhythm, with that celebratory feeling to it. I love that feel. Itís a happy rhythm, you get up and move."
Coley went on to give his perspective on where Gospel music stands today. Itís a topic very much on his heart.
"I think Gospel has always been marketable, always been progressive. I think in some styles of Gospel, weíve always been Ďtoo similarí to whom weíre trying to minister to. Iím privileged to be in places where there are people who are not into Gospel. They donít know who I am, and they come and they say, ĎI want to see and hear something different than what Iím already experiencing.í"
"And this is from people who are my age, of my generation Iím 45. And from the generation behind me, which is my children, those in their teens or their twenties. Theyíre saying, ĎWe donít want to hear something weíre already hearing on the dance floor, or in the clubsí."
Read the album credits to Oh, The Lamb, and youíll see that Daryl Coleyís parents passed away within weeks of each other in 2000.
ďGod is helping me through it. Itís pretty rough. When my father passed, he had been sick for a number of years, and that last year of life we saw a decline in him. My mother was having health problems but they werenít chronic or fatal."
"But the week that I was burying my father, my mother had a stroke. It was mild, but because she was recovering from a lung infection a few months prior, she wasnít strong enough to pull through, so she died of pnemonia. It was a month and five days after my dad died.Ē
"Itís kind of devasting, but God is pulling me through. Iím actually just putting some things together in honor of her. But God is faithful and He strengthens and He does heal.Ē
In the album credits to Oh, The Lamb, Coley offers up some comfort for those going through a similar pain:
ďTo all of you who have had to deal with the transitions of loved ones over the last year or so, donít think of them as lost, or only in your past. Just remember that in Christ, there is no death to believers, only rest, and they await you in the future that are in eternity in Christ Jesus, our hope of Glory.Ē
"Sure it can be musical, it can be colorful, but it needs to maintain a separatism from whatís already out there. I think the industry, to be very frank, is embracing more commercialism than it is spiritual aspects. And I think itís because those that are spiritual are not in charge."
"They finally realized that Gospel music is very marketable, they looked at the numbers and saw that millions were being made from Gospel. But I think that Gospel, like jazz and classical, has a longevity to it. And you can make money from it over a period of time. Many Gospel projects that have been out for five years or more are still selling, because you have the music and the message."
"And then I think that the generations that have been brought up listening to Gospel music just want it to stay the way theyíve know it. For example, I know a lot of secular artists out there have been brought up in the church, theyíre right of the choir stand. And they want to keep that tie to what is true to them, what is right to them."
"Maybe they have to go out and do whatever job it is that they are doing, but they really have a relationship with the Lord. I donít have a problem with Ďsecularí artists having their heart and their life right with the Lord, and they being out there with music that is not derogatory or suggestive. I mean, it they're out there with good strong lyrics, but donít go into those areas that make you think of Ďother thingsí."
All this ties into Coleyís recent move back to his native California from Charlotte, North Carolina.
"We were prompted to move back there for the same reason that we were initially prompted to move to Charlotte. The Lord is directing my wife and I into another aspect of our ministry. Weíre embarking on developing a mentoring center, as well as a shelter for women and men who are out there. We have a heart for people."
"For me, itís a passion for mentoring the psalmists and the minstrels of the kingdom. I think that the reason that Gospel music has gone where it has, is the result of there being no instructors. People have a talent, a zeal, a gift, but they donít necessarily know what to do with it. So they do whatever comes into their heart, their mind, what they see on MTV or that kind of thing."
"[The new ministry] is not to be preachy, but rather to give information of the presence of the Lord, and representation of the protocol of the Lord and who he really is, so that people wonít have a problem with identifying Who we are representing."
"We have musicians who think the church as a gig, and that totally disses God. And then we have people who are lackadaisical about worship. So this is not just for those who are into performance, but for those who minister in the house of God. Itís needed so we can change our mind and our hearts about how the things of God should be handled."
"I also have a conference called The Levitical Ministries Restoration Conference. Itís for pastors, ministers, musicians, psalmists, anybody whoís in the upper tier of ministry in churches. Itís a restoration conference, very casual. We talk about the things that hurt us, we pray about it, we get healed from it so we can go back to our churches with a holistic ministry."
On the musical tip, Coley is looking to several new ventures, including an upcoming stint with The Boston Pops in June 2001. But thatís certainly not all he has up his sleeve. And no surprise here, itís along the jazz lines:
"Harry Connick and I talked about doing a big band Gospel thing. Iíve got that in my spirit, the big brass and all. That would probably be more of a solo project, the Frank Sinatra approach. Iíve also got an orchestral album in mind, with strings and lush accompaniment, along the lines of a Natalie Cole thing. I love that, the feeling of the strings, the orchestra and all."
"Then next thing is an album of duets, some with secular artists that Iíve had the privilege of working with: Layla Hathaway, Nancy Wilson of course, Patti Austin, Chaka Khan. Iíve planted this in their spirits, and theyíve said they would love to. And Gospel artists too: Tramaine (I used to be her musical director), and Yolanda, Vanessa (who I sing with all the time). And then Kim Burrell and some others who are excellent. Also Mom Albertina Walker, Mom Shirely Caesar, you know. Iíve also got a couple of solo vocalists that I hope to be introducing to the nation soon through [my production and artist development group] Integra.
With the new album, of course touring is certainly in the plans for Daryl Coley and Beloved. So you can be sure that youíll be hearing him sing that favorite song of yours, if you keep your eyes on the concert announcements in your city.
And donít worry if youíre maybe in a Ďway-outí locale, because Coleyís got more than several dates lined up in countries and places that include Africa, Korea, Italy, Japan and Germany.
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