Interview With Ben Tankard
Voice of a Minstrel

“But now bring me a minstrel.
And it came to pass, when the minstrel played,
that the hand of the LORD came upon him.”
(2 Kings 3:15 KJV)

There have been many titles associated with Ben Tankard, from “the Quincy Jones of Gospel” to “the father of Gospel jazz”. Tankard has introduced the music world to the concept of Gospel jazz through anointed instrumental music, which, in the early 90’s, was totally innovative. His unparalleled success propelled him toward numerous awards, production opportunities, and star-like recognition within the The Minstrel CDGospel community. Yet, it’s the title of “Minstrel” that is most endearing and humbling to Tankard. It also serves as the focus of his new project on titled, appropriately enough, The Minstrel.

“This album is my perspective of ministry,” says Tankard. “The project is a bit more serene and relaxing than some of my previous projects. With this one, you can sit still and let God minister to you.”

Tankard states that this project is different from previous releases because he is a changed person. “Things are different for me now. I am operating in the office of a pastor now. I'm finding that the music is merely a vehicle for ministry," stated Tankard. "If music can influence people to kill, why can't it cause people to experience healing and victorious living? When I play, I expect people to be healed and delivered through the music."

He is recognized as a talented and gifted musician. However, Tankard's acceptance of the office of a "minstrel" has caused him to make some adjustments. “Gifted musicians come and go. However, a minstrel is one who plays under the unction of the Holy Ghost.”

The Minstrel serves as Tankard's first instrumental project since his urban praise project Git Yo Prayze On from 1997, which featured the recording debut of the Tribe of Benjamin. "We received a lot of calls about the Tribe. In fact, they have a new project coming out on Integrity Records this year titled Raise the Prayze. We took eight songs from the Integrity catalog and gave them new arrangements. We also have the title cut, 'Raise the Prayze' and a remix of 'Git Yo Prayze On'.

However, there was a void felt," notes Tankard. "Fans felt as though there was a lack of anointed Gospel jazz. I did enjoy the project with the Tribe, but I had to go back and put out a chill project," states Tankard. And that’s what The Minstrel is: laid back, anointed jazz, gently imprinted with the recognizable Tankard touch.

As Gospel's inaugural instrumental artist, and as a genre innovate, Tankard has always had challenges to overcome. "One of the toughest elements to deal with is that mainstream radio still views the music as backburner format, as if the music is not good enough to stand alone," says ‘The Minstrel’. "However, I decided to take advantage of the lemons and make lemonade. I stopped fighting it Ben Tankardand asked radio to play the music whenever they could. We soon found that the music was being played everywhere and I counted it as a blessing."

In addition to radio airplay, Tankard has a unique approach to concerts and tour life. "When I perform, I don't have a contract fee. I give promoters our raw travel costs and then depend on faith for the increase. We generally have the promoter or pastor raise a love offering. Whatever they give us is between them and God," proclaims Tankard. While this approach seems unconventional, Tankard finds it to be a succesful system. "When I have sought the Kingdom of God, God has given me everything that I've always wanted in the natural. I believe that the Word will work for everyone and it has worked for me."

Tankard's success as an instrumentalist yielded numerous production opportunities for Tankard throughout his career. While producing for artists such as Yolanda Adams and Twinkie Clark over the years, Tankard has now put production on the backburner for a while. "Truthfully, I found myself at a different level of ministry and I had to keep up with that. After watching souls being saved and delivered on the road, it became difficult to leave the road for three months to produce a project," says Tankard.

However, he has not totally forsaken production altogether. "I worked on the new project from the Tribe and I’m also shopping for a distributor for a new project from Cassandra Robertson (a former lead singer with Kirk Franklin and the Family)."

While Tankard has returned to his instrumental roots, he does not foresee Gospel jazz as having secure future right now. "I don't Ben Tankardsee it being a strong musical entity like secular rap has become. There is no one taking a strong stance. We need strong Word-oriented minstrels to step up to the plate. The genre needs someone with integrity, someone that will be a modern-day David. We do not need a Gospel Kenny G. Signs and wonders must follow when a minstrel plays. We should expect debt cancellations and miracles when our music is played," declares Tankard.

The future for Ben Tankard appears bright and challenging. "I'm looking to pastor a ten to fifteen thousand member congregation. I'm looking to have a high-polished TV ministry that will fuse Word and music equally," he says.

With an ear for music and a heart for ministry, Ben Tankard is poised to continue his lasting impact into the new millenium.

— interview by Gerard Bonner —

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