Donald Lawrence shares on the state of Gospel music & the Gospel choir, his favorite recordings with The Tri-City Singers and a couple of artists that got his attention. | @DonaldLawrence
Donald Lawrence has applied his scholastic training and anointed gifts to develop talent and compose / produce music for a host of artists, ranging from En Vogue to The Clark Sisters, from Stephanie Mills to Karen Clark Sheard. His international reputation and multiple awards are mostly tied to his timeless recordings with The Tri-City Singers. The release of his latest album, Goshen, featuring the reunion of Tri-City has garnered great expectation and fanfare for Lawrence and his unique artistry.
In a recent interview with BlackGospel, Donald candidly shares his thoughts on the state of Gospel music and the Gospel choir, his favorite recordings with The Tri-City Singers and a couple of artists that’s got his attention. As an ambassador for Contemporary Gospel music, Donald Lawrence successfully bridges the gap between millennials and music fans of all generation. He’s the quintessential pro we’re proud to highlight in our exclusive one-on-one this week.
Christopher Heron: What was one of your favorite Gospel albums over the last year?
Donald Lawrence: I don’t know how to answer that because people don’t really focus on full albums anymore but if I would have to say one it would be Jonathan McReynolds. I think he’s a true creator.
Christopher Heron: You’re a veteran and you’re also very intuitive. Is there an emerging gospel artist you’re keeping an eye?
Donald Lawrence: Yes. There’s a guy by the name of Osby Berry. He’s become a viral sensation. There’s something special about him and I will tell people to keep an eye on him. Besides being a great talent, there’s something special there.
Christopher Heron: Your first release is A Songwriter’s Point Of View, so I guess the album has the most significance. Is there another album in your catalog that has significance?
Donald Lawrence: That album has the most emotional connection because it is the first album. It was also me doing what I’m doing now, really creating something new at that time and taking risks, being creative and trusting my creative process and what God gave me.
I think the same thoughts about The Law of Confession, which was spiritual wisdom put to song. It was about creating unique content and teaching people another way of looking at life and living, based on scripture and spiritual wisdom. So those two albums to me are very special.
Christopher Heron: Your Gospel recordings today and over the years has included scriptural references. Why do you take that initiative?
Donald Lawrence: The reason is because I like to write music that helps people get through life. The Bible is a wisdom book that teaches us how to get through life. We need to understand it and apply it Monday to Sunday and not just as a religious experience. My music has always been about what I call “song spiritual psychotherapy” and what better way to use this book? There’s so much content there and so many stories that can teach us about how to get through challenges in life. That’s why I go there.
The reason is because I like to write music that helps people get through life. The Bible is a wisdom book that teaches us how to get through life. We need to understand it and apply it Monday to Sunday and not just as a religious experience.
Christopher Heron: On your new album, is entitled, Goshen. From what I understand, Goshen was the land, where the Israelites would call a place of refuge.
Donald Lawrence: It’s a little deeper than that. One Pharaoh, who favored Joseph gave Goshen to Joseph. God blessed the land. The scriptures say, you shall live in the land of Goshen and you shall be near me. So it was God’s protected place; that’s really the deeper meaning for it.
There’s another story about Moses and the exodus. There was trouble in Egypt but there was no trouble in Goshen. So Goshen can also be a mindset. When Egypt was dark, Goshen had light. When Egypt’s economy was falling due to the plague Goshen remained prosperous. So to have a Goshen mindset, it’s a place of peace and contentment where you are surrounded by God’s protected hand.
When Egypt was dark, Goshen had light.
Christopher Heron: The last time that you recorded with the Tri-City Singers was 13 years ago. Why was the time now to resurrect Tri-City?
Donald Lawrence: Well, this album marks 25 years. It’s a commemorative album. I wanted to get everyone back together. I wanted to celebrate with all new music because people didn’t want the choir to retire. I felt it was time. The same people that we knew when we started are still here. I think consistency makes for our sound, chemistry from growing up as kids together. We know each other, it’s a family and community choir. We have history. So we came back to do this album. It’s a commemorative celebration.
Christopher Heron: Could you distinguish the sound between the Company and the Tri-City Singers?
Donald Lawrence: I think there’s a bigger sound with the Tri-City Singers because there’s more people. The Company is a big family with a small ensemble and the Tri-City Singers is like a big sound and large ensemble. There’s content that we do differently too. Tri-City is more choral than The Company and I do more group-like things songs The Company. They’re a small version of the Tri-City Singers.
Christopher Heron: You’ve always been one of the great ambassadors for choral music. But we see music transitioning. There’s a predominance of Worship music, which is fine, but it’s come at some cost to choral music. What do you foresee will be the future of choral music?
Donald Lawrence: I don’t think the church will get rid of the choir. I tell everybody to pay attention. Choirs are everywhere; it’s in rap, it’s in trap, it’s on the Oscars, on the Grammy’s, it’s in every award show in Europe. Denmark has 40 to 50 community choirs. They’re everywhere. Gospel has for some reason forgotten the power that comes with a body of people coming together and singing. I don’t think there’s anything like 20 or 30 or 40 people coming together.
I don’t think the church will get rid of the choir. I tell everybody to pay attention. Choirs are everywhere; it’s in rap, it’s in trap, it’s on the Oscars, on the Grammy’s, it’s in every award show in Europe.
I don’t think choirs are just for Gospel music. I think we saw a choir at the royal wedding, the Kingdom Choir. They’re a community choir in London. It’s not everywhere. Choirs are catching on fire.
Christopher Heron: Do you see any emerging choirs maintaining the sound for years to come?
Donald Lawrence: Around the world, yes. They’re everywhere. Africa, Brazil, they love it. I think that choirs are going to finally find its way back here. I live in Chicago and this city is a little different. There’s lots of choirs. That hasn’t changed. Everywhere else maybe. Sometimes, things stop for a minute and then they realize, “oh, there’s something beautiful here let me grab it before somebody else claims it.” I do feel like choirs are coming back. I think we should have both praise teams & choirs. I don’t think we should one or the other. There’s still significance with the choir. I think within African-American culture, when it comes to the Gospel choir it’s important. When you get rid of the choir, you get rid of some part of history.
Christopher Heron: On Goshen, I’m hearing a lot of interesting sounds on the album.
Donald Lawrence: The album is about storytelling. The story dictates the sound and so the story that I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell, dictated the way I produced the sound. When you’re true to a story then things become timeless. When you’re timeless you’re always relevant. Timeless is the same thing as eternal. I’m always trying to produce something from an honest space that is timeless. And for me timeless will always be permanent.
When you’re timeless you’re always relevant. Timeless is the same thing as eternal. I’m always trying to produce something from an honest space that is timeless. And for me timeless will always be permanent.
Christopher Heron: Is there one song that you would like to introduce to the public on Goshen?
Donald Lawrence: I’ve been telling everyone to take the journey on this album because I created it to be a body of work. I find this generation to be extremely talented. I want to encourage this generation to take risks to be innovative, to get back to being creative, and to be brave by being original and not being a clone. I’m encouraging everyone to listen to the whole album, not just one song. The whole body of work makes it worth the listen.