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
— interview by Gerard Bonner —
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
"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. Our 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
"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
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
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 we 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,
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.
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