Interview With MOHORNS
When Blowing Your Own Horn is a Good Thing

You’ve heard them punching out those notes on Fred Hammond’s Purpose By Design, and you’ve no doubt made been impressed by their brassy power on projects ranging from John P. Kee’s Strength to James Hall’s We Are At War.

MOHORNS:  In fact, you’ve probably seen or heard MOHORNS, the Baltimore-DC based, five-piece Gospel horn unit more than you think, and most recently as part of the stage band on Hammond’s hit Gospel stage play, Been There, Done That. If you’ve got Richard Smallwood’s upcoming Persuaded CD and video live recording on your ‘to get’ list, then you’ll be catching them there too.

“We want to be the “Tower of Power” of gospel,” says James Cheeks, alto saxophonist in the section. Marvin Thompson, trombone player and manager of the section adds, “We want to be a gospel horn ‘Take 6,’” meeting a need as yet unmet in gospel music.

MOHORNS began with Thompson and Cheeks in the early 1990s with live performance—including with Steve Lawrence and Friends, under native Washingtonian Steve Lawrence. Studio work followed, with Kee, and also for the Island Inspirational Records project, Don't Give Up.

Since then, MOHORNS has expanded with Courtney Nero and Randy Ellis on tenor sax and Clifton Brockington on trumpet to round out the high-energy horn section. The current set-up allows the power of a five-piece section and the flexibility to weave in more complex harmonies.

Networking and word-of-mouth have helped MOHORNS to collaborate with a long list of today’s prominent gospel artists.

Courtney Nero shares, “We’re bringing back the live horn sound and flare that the “synth brass” samples just can’t match. We come from a variety of influences—R&B, straight-ahead jazz—and God taps those influences to create in us a new thing for gospel today, both in horn performance—few bands these days have horn sections—and in arrangement, as we write many of our own parts.”

And Nero has no hesitation in explaining the increasingly popular trend to include horns in Gospel.

“I think the synth horn/brass sound was a temporary fix. I think calling it a "fad" is a little degrading, but I think there was an upshot in electronic instrumentation/production that has ebbed and now there's a resurgence in the "real," "acoustic," "unplugged" vibe with a soul foundation and live horns are an integral part of that sound.


It also explains in part the wide exposure of the work of young artists like Darin Atwater, who has opened an orchestral component hitherto seldom used in contemporary gospel”

“Second, many gospel artists are fully embracing the music of different cultures in their contemporary American gospel. Some recent examples include Donald Lawrence and Tri-City's track, "Uzziah," on tricity4.com and Kurt Carr's "In The Sanctuary" on Awesome Wonder.” (See feature on Latin Gospel)

“Those Latin-influenced tunes are heavy in brass and horns. The music of other cultures —Asian, Middle East, Slavic, African, Native American —use a wide, wide variety of instruments with different timbres. This, I think, is causing contemporary gospel to reach beyond the popular soul/R&B-influenced set-up of keyboard, Hammond organ, bass, lead guitar, and drums.”

“And thirdly, while I don't have statistics, the "live recording" is always popular and surges in a cyclical fashion: Healing - Live in Detroit, Live At the Potter's House, Yolanda Adams' The Experience."

Click for review Click for review Click for review Click on each of the above images to check reviews of some albums that MOHORNS had a hand in.
"The live horns bring an "in your face" energy that often can take live recordings up a notch. To make a secular analogy, think of the funkiest, "live-est", most energetic Earth, Wind, and Fire tune you know of (like "Shining Star")...and then think of that same tune with no horns."

“Horns simply add more color and options to the music: they can emphasize the melody, take a counterpoint melody, allow for complex harmonic tensions and releases. A recent car commercial asked the question, "Is a box of 64 crayons better than a box of 8?" I'd go for 64. Richard Smallwood said it simply on the quote he offered for our bio, "...a fresh new touch to the music that God gives."

The next step for MOHORNS, currently in the works, is to put together their own unique project, an instrumental gospel project featuring the horn section up front. This is a rare occurrence in gospel, with the possible exception of the famed House of Prayer brass band.

There’s definitely a market and need for a unified horn outfit like MOHORNS. And here are five young brothers who love the Lord and seek to share the musical gifts and approach God has deposited in them.

All the while, they stress that their experience is a perpetual learning process, absorbing what other have to offer musically and technically in performance and production, and spiritually, especially from producers like Fred Hammond, Steven Ford, Steve Lawrence, Melvin Crispell, maestro Darin Atwater, Joe Wilson, and Dana Sorey.

The power of God manifest through instrumentalists in the Bible is awe-inspiring, and MOHORNS looks forward to greater musical and spiritual growth in ministry.

“It’s definitely a case,” says Nero, “where the whole is greater than the individual parts.”

featured compiled by Stan North,
contributions from Courtney Nero

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