Local gospel group releases first album

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The local contemporary gospel group Voices for Christ has been around for more than a quarter-century. In that time, the quintet has opened for some of the biggest names in Christian music and also sung overseas.

And now it is celebrating the Feb. 19 release of its first national CD, "More Like You," released by Tate Music Group out of Mustang, Okla.

What is now Voices for Christ started out as a secular a cappella oldies group in the mid-1980s that saw little success. Founder Linda Ross Brown then approached bass singer Wayne Walter, who was part of the original group, about restarting, but by that time Mr. Walker had converted to Christianity and had no interest in singing anything but gospel -- so they went in that direction.

And they haven't looked back.

Ms. Brown called in second tenor Henry L. Biggs and baritone William D. Hawkins III to join -- and away they went. They did their first service at Shiloh Baptist Church in Homewood in 1986.

"A year later we were invited to go to London," Mr. Walker of Wilkinsburg says. "We performed three weeks in a revival in London, Liverpool and Bridgewater -- 21 days." Although they were glad to get back to the States, he said, "We enjoyed it; we got a chance to see another part of the world [and] how they praised God.

"We have it so good here in America, sometimes we tend to take our God for granted."

In 1989, "We came home," Mr. Walter said. "We opened up for Larnelle Harris [then one of the big names in contemporary gospel] at Carnegie Hall."

But then they took a break. Mr. Walker developed colon cancer and Ms. Brown suffered from vocal problems, which eventually forced her out the group. Today, in addition to Mr. Walker -- who previously had recorded with a group called Leroy and the Chatmans and traveled with The Headliners -- Mr. Biggs and Mr. Hawkins, the group includes baritone Jonathan McMiller and first tenor Rick Young, who had worked with the secular group Pyramid.

Adding to its resume, in 2010 the group won the McDonald's "Pittsburgh's Got Spirit" Gospel Music Challenge. More recently, "We did an opening up in Wilkes-Barre for Crystal Lewis," Mr. Walker said. "She did a couple of things with Kirk Franklin."

All the members have lead vocal chops and attend different churches. The band rehearses at the Ammon Recreation Center in the Hill District.

Although Voices for Christ had done some recording before, this most recent project got started just before Christmas 2010, when Mr. Young decided to look online for a record company. Eventually the group sent a demo, including two original songs, to Tate Music Group, which liked what it heard and signed the group to a contract.

And then the pressure was on.

"We had to come up with the songs, material, plus we were still singing and doing [other stuff]," Mr. Walker said. Fortunately, "They gave us three extensions. We took our time."

The CD was recorded at Soundscape Recording Co. in McKeesport. "We finished in June 2012," Mr. Walker says. He and producer/keyboardist Earl Russell, the group's musical arranger, wrote all the music.

neigh_east

Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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