A great deal of the popular music that we know and love can trace its origins to the church and to gospel music in some way or another. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and her daughter Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Teddy Riley, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, The Staple Singers and an incredibly lengthy list of others can claim that their start when they sang gospel and spirituals at their local church. Nor should it be surprising to recognize that many of the Mississippi Delta bluesman, who had influenced the sound and aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll had either played in a church, were inspired by gospel and spirituals — or were generally just intimately familiar with the music. Now while gospel and spirituals haven’t seen a whole lot of love across secular media outlets or the blogosphere, there have been a few gospel acts that have seen some level of crossover/secular attention — in particular Kirk Franklin, who landed a hit with 1997’s “Stomp,” Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, who received attention with 2014’s impressive Cold World and Joshua Nelson, “The Prince of Kosher Gospel,” an artist who ties together Jewish Temple songs with gospel in a way that’s incredibly soulful — and interestingly enough makes a lot of sense. Of course while each of those artists have a unique take on gospel and spirituals, there’s one thing they have in common — they believe in music with a powerfully uplifting message that will move audiences, whether you’re secular or deeply religious.
Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you may recall that I wrote about The Jones Family Singers. Comprised of patriarch, Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. (vocals), his daughters Ernestine (vocals), Sabrina (vocals), Velma (vocals), ‘Trelle (vocals), his sons Kenny (bass) and Fred, Jr. (guitar, piano), along with Matthew Hudlin (drums), Ezra Bryant (guitar) and Duane Herbert (percussion) have seen a rapidly growing national and international profile with the release of Alan Berg’s documentary The Jones Family Will Make a Way, which features live footage of their New York City area debut at Lincoln Center, as well as tour stops in Germany, The Netherlands and festival stops in Newport, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Monterey and others — thanks in part to a sound that while effortlessly meshing rock, the blues and gospel, manages to nod at the legendary Staple Family Singers.
Recently, renowned producer and guitarist Adrian Quesada invited The Jones Family Singers to take part in his “Live at Level One” cover series and their contribution to the series is a soulful cover of Johnny Cash‘s “All God Children’s Ain’t Free,” a single that manages to be as socially and politically necessary as ever, as the song reminds the listener that there’s much urgent work to be done to achieve the American ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity for all. As Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. explains of their cover in press notes, “No matter how high and mighty you think you are, never forget the people beneath you. Everyone needs an opportunity right now, and this song is a necessary statement for us to make at this crucial time in our nation’s history.”
The multi-generational family band will be touring across the Northeast next week as part of a series of shows to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Check out tour dates below.
Sat, Jan 14 – Hampton, VA @ The American Theatre
Sun & Mon, Jan 15/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kimmel Center (SEI Innovation Studio)
Thu, Jan 19 – Hanover, NH @ Hopkins Center
Fri, Jan 20 – Portland, ME @ Portland Ovations