Interview With Gary Hines (Sounds of Blackness)

The Sounds of Blackness have consistently generated some degree of confusion in Gospel circles, as peeps debate, among other things, whether or not they should be called a ‘Gospel’ group. Certainly the music they present goes far beyond the bounds of Gospel, both in lyric and in sound. GospelFlava.com’s Gerard Bonner recently spoke with Sounds of Blackness’ founder and leader, Gary Hines, with hopes of setting the record straight.

Rarely does an ensemble possess diversity, intensity, and ethnicity and present these qualities in a compelling and entertaining manner. Yet, The Sounds of Blackness meet and exceed this description with a focus on educating and empowering listeners to encounter the entire scope of the African-American music experience. The Minnesota-based group has reached both national and international prominence throughout the last decade, and their current project Reconciliation is currently climbing the charts as we speak. However, the history of this organization has extensions a bit beyond the scope of the last decade.

"We got our start at Macalester College, a private institution in Minnesota, back in 1969," says director Gary Hines. "At that time we were known as the Macalester College Black Voices. The Sounds of BlacknessOur focus was to continue the legacy of the great Duke Ellington. We were one group who would present all styles of black music." After changing their name to The Sounds of Blackness in 1971, the choir independently recorded their first project titled Images of Blackness in 1974. They proceeded to record the sequel to that project, Images of Blackness II in 1976 and The Night Before Christmas in 1978. While these projects were wonderful musical experiences for the choir, they would not make their commercial debut until 1991.

"We had been approached by many music labels following the three independent projects. However, they all approached us with an image that they wanted us to portray. In all cases, the changes that they were asking for were simply unacceptable. They suggested us changing our name to the 'Sound of Music' and the like and we refused to limit ourselves in that manner," declares Hines.

In 1991, The ‘Sounds’ signed with A&M / Perspective Records. This union introduced the nation and world at large to the choir, whose uniquely diverse sounds garnered attention from both the secular and the Gospel communities alike. While the debut project was titled The Evolution of Gospel, the progressive nature of the project caused a huge stir within the Gospel community. Couple the musical content of the album with the Hines’ declaration that the ‘Sounds’ is not a Gospel group, and the industry had a brewing controversy that follows them to this day.

"Though we've won awards in Gospel categories and from Gospel organizations, we are not a Gospel group. We are a group made of Christians who love the Lord and always put the Lord first. All of our music consists of an inspirational music," states Hines. "However, the Sounds of Blackness is a black music group. We have the unique ability of presenting all music."

One of the great debates within Gospel music has been if the genre is designed to entertain or minister. Hines is quick to inform many that the Sounds indeed have a ministry. "We have a unique ministry," says Hines. "Our job is to glorify God through all styles of music. As a people, we have begun to embrace a Eurocentric way of thinking. In the early African cultures, the people included God in everything that they did. God's music was a part of everything and not just used solely for church, as in the Eurocentric societies. We have been fighting the concept of including God in everything that we do. It is impossible to understand the full range of experiences that we deal with by limiting ourselves to one style of music," declares Hines.

After three award-winning projects, Hines and The Sounds of Blackness decided to dissolve their 7 year relationship with A&M in the spring of 1998. "We achieved many things under A&M. However, we felt that many things should happen with us on a much broader scale. In order to do that, we had to pursue other options," says the director. "Fortunately, it was an amicable parting. Shortly after we left, Perspective folded, so it seems to have been a good move for us."

Hines and the Sounds of Blackness then signed to the fledgling Zinc Records, a Minnesota-based record label. "The union between Sounds and Zinc was just natural. We have a very natural vibe with them," says Hines.

That partnership has birthed the Sounds’ current project titled Reconciliation. This 14-track project marks the first totally self-written and self-produced project by the group. "We honestly feel that this project is our best work. We have a habit of not releasing a project until The Sounds of Blackness CD, Reconciliationwe feel that it has equaled or surpasses our previous project from an artistic standpoint," says Hines.

This unique project embodies the entire vision of Hines for the Sounds in this new millenium. "It's pretty clear that as a human race we have a few choices. We could remain the way that we are and destroy each other, or we can come together. People need to open their hearts, stop the madness, and come together," proclaims Hines.

"This project addresses issues of reconciliation that are necessary in all of our lives. The song 'Rainbow' addresses reconciliation between life and death. 'Tell Me What You're Thinkin' deals with reconciliation between men and women. The title track addresses reconciliation along the lines of race and religion. 'Thank You' deals with spiritual reconciliation between God and man," says Hines. "We feel as though we are musical ambassadors and are able to communicate to the world through God's perfect form of communication, music."

Currently, the Sounds are embarking on their ‘Reconciliation Tour’. In addition, the ensemble will be recording music for the upcoming Disney soundtrack to the animated feature The Life of John Henry. The Sounds will also be featured on the upcoming Phil Collins tribute album, slated for release the first quarter of 2000. With a message of education and reconciliation, The Sounds of Blackness believe that they are poised to continue to ride their amazing wave of success throughout the new millenium.

— interview by Gerard Bonner

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