Interview with Donald Lawrence
Donald Lawrence is one of those people in Gospel who make it very difficult to summarize what they do, because they do so much.
— interview compiled by Stan North —
While it would true to label him as a singer, producer, songwriter and choir director, it seem that these are just some ways that he has found to express his vast, God-given vision.
From his training in musical theatre to his early work in guiding the musical careers of artists such as Stephanie Mills and En Vogue, it is clear that these were pedestals for Lawrence to climb to God’s present calling on his life.
His multiple production and songwriting collaborations with artists ranging from Daryl Coley to Thomas Whitfield to Rodney Posey are well-known. Peabo Bryson, Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price have each seen the value of his musical genius.
In 1993, the ground-breaking debut from the Charlotte, NC based Tri-City Singers, A Songwriter’s Point of View, jolted the Gospel world to attention. With Donald Lawrence newly at the helm, the choir quickly rose to the upper echelons of artistry, with subsequent albums such as Bible Stores, Hello Christmas and Tri-City4.com cementing that reputation.
With the March 2002 release of Tri-City’s fifth album, titled Go Get Your Life Back, it was appropriate that Gospelflava.com capture some of Lawrence’s perspectives in interview. He showed himself to be more than willing to explain his vision.
“The Tri-City Singers is definitely a ministry for the 21st Century church. Some were put here to go outside the church, however our mission is to bless those in body first, and then to go to those outside those four walls. Charity begins at home, and there are so many hurting people in the church.”
From the opening song onwards, it is clear that Go Get Your Life Back is especially directed towards those who need encouragment. With recent world events hitting closer to home than ever before, and with societal emphasis on ‘life in the USA changing forever’ after the Sept 11, 2002 terrorist attacks, it would natural to think that these events seeded the album’s theme. Not so, however.
The Impact of Donald Lawrence
THe Discography of Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers:|
A Songwriter’s Point of View (1993)
Bible Stories (1995)
Hello Christmas (1997)
Testify Remixes (2001)
Go Get Your Life Back (2002)
Production and Arrangements from Donald Lawrence are peppered all over hit Gospel projects you may have in your collection. Here's but a sample of artists who have brought Lawrence in to assist on production or arrangements for their own projects:
Karen Clark Sheard
Ricky Dillard and New G
Rodney Bryant & CCMM
Kirk Franklin and the Family
Gabriel Hardeman Delegation
Hezekiah Walker & LFT Church Choir
“Not really, it just came from listening to the voice of the Lord. I knew that this was to be the title for this particular album. Jesus says that “the enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” So the message here is by all means, “go get your life back”. Don’t let the enemy steal your love for life.”
"The terrorist attacks simply confirmed the need for someone to encourage everyone to go get their destinys back, to go get their dreams back, to go get their love for life back. Life is a gift and God doesn’t mean for us to live our entire life sad!”
A quick recollect of previous Tri-City Singers projects reveals that more often than not, a very identifiable theme is present on each. Bible Stores and Tri-City4.com were each unique packages that were far more than a great collection of choir songs. Go Get Your Life Back has a similar cohesiveness to it, as its unfolding is connected an inter-related series of encouragements in song.
“That’s definitely a result of my theater background, but also because of my passion to make sure the entire CD offers a consistent message or theme, kinda like a research paper!”
So if Go Get Your Life Back is akin to musical theatre or a well-designed essay, then Bishop Walter Hawkins and the always soul-stirring Ann Nesby would be the star actors or the prime sources. Hawkins duets with Lawrence on the encouraging “Seasons”, while former Sounds of Blackness front voice Nesby was honored with the lead vocal role on the album’s title track.
Like any good playwright or essayist, Donald Lawrence had a reason for including these two artists in particular.
“As a child I always loved incredible vocalists, not just those with a lot of ability, riffs and tricks don’t get me wrong I love those too but I love singers with a lot of heart.”
“What comes from the heart moves the heart, and what’s so amazing to me is that I’ve worked with most of the vocalists I grew up admiring and praying that I could just [one day] get an autograph.”
“I’ve known Ann Nesby for about 13 years, even before she sang with with The Sounds. She did two of my plays, Sing Hallelujah that ran for a while at The Village Gate Theater (off Broadway) and A Woman Like That, which starred Peabo Bryson, so we go back a ways.”
“As for Bishop Hawkins, he is someone I’ve studies as a songwriter. I’ve always have been and always will be a fan of his, as both a singer and a songwriter.”
“Both Ann and Walter were people that I heard [in my head] singing the cuts that they were featured on.”
Go Get Your Life Back
It's classic Donald Lawrence, with hype tracks and innovative choir vocals. Expert cameos from Walter Hawkins and Ann Nesby set off the project, titled Go Get Your Life Back. |
See album review.
An album is far more than its guest artists, and in the case of Tri-City, it hardly needs to said that the choir is a wealth of talent in and of itself. Lawrence went on to describe some of the players behind the scenes, so to speak, starting with his musical director, Daniel Weatherspoon.
“Daniel is soooo bad, he was a great help assisting me on this project as a co-producer, engineer and musical director. He’s been my organist for about 6 years, and he also co-wrote a couple of songs with me, “Love’s Holiday” on our Christmas CD featuring Men Of Standard, and “Blessed” from Tricity4.com. We plan to do a lot of things together in the future.”
“There were three other guys that brought incredible talents to the table: Troy Taylor, Isaac Phillips and Randy Jenkins. Also, there’s Vanessa Durrah who works very hard as general manager for the choir. She’s been holding it together for the entire existence of Tri-City, and I couldn’t do this without her.”
“Keeping me together is my manager Jimmy Maynes (of Jive Records), along with Marsha Burke, my day-to-day manager due to Jimmy’s heavy schedule.”
Soloists have always been noticeable within The Tri-City Singers, with people such as Sheri Jones, Brenda Waters, Arnetta Murrill-Crooms and LeJuene Thompson stepping into the limelight in recent years.
“Yes, I do have some great singers. People are always amazed that they can step into the shoes of some the major vocalists we’ve featured on each Tri-City album. Like I said earlier, I look for heart and passion in the voice. I’ve been around incredible vocalists all my life, and a lot of the lead vocalists you hear in the choir are singers that I grew up with and some that feel like I’ve known all my life.”
“I think they’re some of the most on point vocalists in the world, and very smart singers technically and spiritually!
Donald Lawrence then went on to honor noted Tri-City Singer vocalist Robin Rowe-Stewart, who recently went home to glory, succumbing to breast cancer in February, 2002.
“That was and still is a very painful wound. She was really like my blood sister, we go back to the first grade, through to sixth grade and high school. She’s always been a part of everything I did musically, in GMWA workshop albums, PTL, etc. I worked real hard with her to posture her for her own solo career, which was one of the next projects on my plate.”
“Everyone always felt that Robin and Donald were destined to have successful ministries, we would sit and dream about everything I’m doing now. I still shed a tear when I think about how much destiny was in her and how the world will never experience it. She was the funniest person and know and a phenomenal singer…she will be missed!!”
The Tri-City maestro finished by offering his perspective on the state of Gospel music in 2002. It could be argued that in doing so, he was also unwittingly describing himself.
“I love the fact that artists are getting smarter by the years, starting their own record labels, understanding business and ministry. And I especially love this move of
music that borderlines the prophetic and tells us where we are in time. It really blesses me!”
All content in GospelFlava.com ©
copyright 2002. No
information to be reprinted or re-broadcast from this site without the expressed
written consent of GospelFlava.com. All rights reserved. The opinions expressed in GospelFlava.com articles do not
necessarily reflect the opinions of GospelFlava.com