Those time-honored words have emanated from the pews of black churches in America for decades. They are often uttered by the congregation in response to what is being presented from the pulpit or the altar. Depending on the deliverer, the inflection of his voice, and the temperament and maturity of the one for whom the words are meant, the phrase can take on a couple of different definitions.
The first part — “That’s alright now” — can either be considered a show of affirmation (a sort of verbal cosign), or it can come as an encouraging, nonjudgmental admonishment.
The second part — “take your time” — can either be a plea for one to slow down so that the congregation can savor what is being offered or it could be a gentle nudge coaxing one to slow down and take corrective measures as they may indeed be heading in the wrong direction.
One part of the church service where these words are often heard is the music ministry. From the first note belted by their beloved black church soloist, parishioners can be heard heralding choruses of “that’s alright, nows” and “take your times,” reveling in the sweet spirit that the note is invoking. The phrase can also be heard when the children come forth to make a joyful noise that is sometimes as equally proportioned with noise as it is with joy. When a young soloist or instrumentalist comes to present their weekly or quarterly musical offering, their presentations are usually far from flawless. To these young pieces of artistic clay, the choruses of “that’s alright nows” and “take your times” are welcome words of encouragement.
The youngster is usually keenly aware that their offering isn’t the most polished or pristine, but after hearing those words they are encouraged to not only continue but to persevere and strive to get better. These youngsters and their accompanying church families aren’t the only ones who have benefited from these words as it relates to the ministry of music.
The Crisis in American Music
Historically, the music charts have reaped the rewards of musicians who have cut their artistic teeth in the black church. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and countless others got their start singing and playing before a black congregation. As a matter of fact, a significant number of black musicians have received part if not most of their early music training in the church. The black church has traditionally been both a training and proving ground for musicians. I would go so far as to say that all American music can trace its roots to the Negro Spiritual, and as such all American music and musicians in essence owe an artistic debt to the black church.
Let’s be honest, the majority of artists that occupy the top of the R&B and hip-hop charts today are not musicians at all. Most can’t play an instrument, and in the unusual case that they can, it’s often mediocre at best. A computer program, not a human being, is producing most of the music that we hear today. Why is this?
One of the main reasons is a lack of training. I believe that the lack of music training and the resulting lack of trained musicians in the black community today can be traced back to the failures of two institutions: public schools and the black church. We are painfully aware of what has transpired in American public schools. Dwindling resources, lack of funding, and shifting priorities have all but removed music and instrumental training from many public schools, especially those located in under-resourced urban communities.
And what does the black church have to do with the lack of trained musicians in the black community today?
Aside from the obvious benefits of exposing young people to a variety of different musical styles in worship, the church also can provide young musicians with the opportunity to hone their craft on a weekly basis in a nonjudgmental environment that offers unconditional encouragement. But sadly, today’s churches are offering fewer opportunities for young people to develop their musical skills.
Look around your average black church today and count how many “musicians” are actually playing on Sunday morning? Of those musicians, how many are under the age of 18? How many are playing traditional acoustic instruments where the musician himself is instrumental in making the sound? In fact, how many of today’s churches even have an acoustic piano?
Are you getting the picture? Now contrast that to a picture of the black church of yesteryear that spawned Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
Technology, the changing landscape of popular music, and the scarcity of qualified musicians coupled with supply and demand are responsible as well. With the advent of digital music technology record companies and churches alike have found it economically advantageous to pare down the size and scope of “the band.” In the digital realm, one person can now do what used to take a team of people. Churches are now able to get the same sound from fewer musicians or no musicians at all through the use of digital instrumentation or digital tracks. This pervasive digital sound that permeates the R&B, hip-hop, and now the gospel music scenes can place a tremendous amount of pressure on churches to acquiesce to this standard in an attempt to stay relevant and meet budget.
Adherence to this new standard is not necessarily conducive to the development of a high level of musicianship and has resulted in fewer qualified musicians with the chops necessary to be effective in a dynamic church-music environment, which is why many of these coveted few musicians are being constantly shuffled from church to church, usually to the highest bidder.
The Church’s Responsibility
Now, let’s make it personal. Does your church provide opportunities for young soloists to share their gifts during the service at events other than the annual Christmas program?
When the black church gets back to its roots and recommits itself to sowing the seeds of training young musicians vocally and on traditional instruments, then I assure you that the church, the black community, and even the music industry will reap the benefits. No other institution can do a better job of providing children and teenagers with an opportunity to develop artistically, in an environment that gives them the foundation of encouragement needed to foster greatness.
We would all be closer to achieving greatness in whatever our particular pursuit in life may be if we had a regular opportunity to practice it and if we heard the words of folk who love us encouraging us when we mess up.
“That’s alright now, take your time!”
For the sake of today’s youth and the generations to follow, we should relish the privilege of sharing that advice every chance we get.
As you probably know, American Idol is back for its 9th season, and every year the show loves to showcase auditioning performers who have absolutely no chance of making into the competition, but who are incredibly entertaining nonetheless (think William Hung). This year’s leading candidate for top prize in that category seems to be General Larry Platt, the 62-year-old spoken-word performer (you can’t really call him a singer or rapper), who had the AI judges falling out last night with his original composition “Pants on the Ground.” It was evident from the outset that this one would go down in AI history as one of the most memorable auditions. Top judge Simon Cowell even remarked, “I have a horrible feeling that song could be a hit.” And, as might be expected, Platt has created quite the stir on Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks. (Check out a “remix” version of the tune below.)
Here’s this week’s rundown of pop-culture stories. Lots to talk about, so let’s get started.
BET Gives Us “A Time” to Let Loose
Even though comedians like Katt Williams, Chris Rock, and Cedric the Entertainer keep us laughing on their popular HBO or Comedy Central stand-up specials, we’re hungry for some clean comedy we can watch with the whole family. Thankfully Vickie Winans, who has long been a successful gospel music artist with No. 1 hits like “As Long As I Got King Jesus” and “The Rainbow,” is bringing family-friendly comedy to BET with her new show, A Time to Laugh. Set to debut in January 2010, the show has already begun filming a scheduled 30 episodes. BET, which has found recent success with gospel-influenced programming such as the hit show Sunday Best, describes A Time to Laugh as gospel stand-up with dynamic dancers, musical artists, and fast-paced Bible story improv from a fresh urban contemporary perspective.
It certainly will be good to see more of Vickie Winans. After an extended absence from the music scene following the death of her mother, Mattie Bowman, and a difficult exit from the Verity Records roster, earlier this month Winans released How I Got Over, her first album in three years (see video for the first single below). We’re not sure yet whether A Time to Laugh is exactly what we had in mind when we said we wanted “Christian comedy,” but we’re still looking forward to seeing what Sister Winans has to offer on BET.
‘Act Like a Lady’ on the Big Screen?
When Steve Harvey released his dating book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, it seemed like the world couldn’t stop talking about it. Tyra Banks invited him on her daytime talk show to share his relationship revelations, and Oprah brought him on her show twice, including an appearance before an all-female audience where he counseled various women on the ways of love. UrbanFaith even offered its more skeptical assessment. With insight into the male psyche like “Men are driven by who they are, what they do, and how much they make” and hints on what men want (Harvey claims it is “support, love and ‘The Cookie'”) the comedian-turned-pop-relationship-expert found instant success with his book. Now BV Newswire reports that filmmaker Will Packer (This Christmas and Obsessed) is adapting the book into a full-length film. It’s too early to even begin discussing the plot, but we hope they’ll turn it into a documentary. Steve Harvey is so hysterically funny, and with the number of women at their wits end as to what men want, it would be great to see him set loose, training a group of women to think like men.
‘Idol’ After Paula
Now that Paula Abdul is officially stepping down as a judge on American Idol, we’re kind of looking forward to what’s in store for the new season of the show. Without Paula’s positive and, let’s be honest, generally unintelligible commentary, how will the show survive? We doubt she’ll be easily replaced by just another “nice female” voice, as fans might be suspect of a judge who’s already been pigeon-holed into the canned role of good cop. On the other hand, a stronger, more critical voice may feel too harsh against the biting words of Simon Cowell and the “yo’ dawg” musical analysis of Randy Jackson.
Until Fox can find a permanent replacement for Abdul, they’re temporarily filling her chair with a slew of celebrity guests like Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham, and even a rumored appearance by new Real Atlanta housewife and singer Kandi Burruss.
One thing we know for sure is that the American Idol formula for success has been compromised. If the dispute was really over money, Fox may regret failing to move some of Ryan Seacrest’s $45 million over to Abdul, if only to keep the show interesting.
Life After ‘Purpose’
It may be no surprise to you that Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life has sold over 25 million copies, making it by Publishers Weekly‘s count the best-selling hardback book in American History. Since its debut in 2002, it has been a must-read for a global audience of believers and non-believers alike when trying to make sense of their lives and come to terms with their faith.
Now Warren is ready to piggyback on nearly a decade of success with plans to release a new book, just in time for the 30th Anniversary of his Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. In a recent video to his church members, he explained, “I’m in book writing mode right now. I’ve gone back into hibernation to write the follow up to Purpose Driven Life now, eight years later. It’s going to be called The Hope of the World, and my plan is to release that on Easter Sunday.”
The new book is set to focus on the church and its role in contemporary culture, elevating the purpose-driven “what do I do with my life?” philosophy to a broader “how do I engage with the culture around me?” level. Warren, who also launched the Purpose Driven Connection magazine with the Readers Digest Association in early 2009, has increasingly been practicing what he preaches in terms of engaging culture. Last winter, he had a highly publicized conflict and eventual reconciliation with musician Melissa Etheridge. The two made headlines when Etheridge, known for being outspoken about gay rights, criticized the President Barack Obama for including Warren in his Inauguration plans, despite his criticism of California’s Proposition 8. The singer later apologized for her negative reaction to Warren’s role in the ceremony, saying her assumptions about the megachurch pastor’s character and prejudices toward Christians were reinforcing the exact type of behavior the homosexual community is trying to undo.
That’s it for this installment of Pop & Circumstance. Until next time, please leave your comments below and let us know what pop-culture stories you’re most fascinated by this week.
The children of America’s greatest peacemaker, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are once again squabbling over the rights to their parents’ estate. Following DreamWork’s announcement that Steven Spielberg would produce a biopic of King’s life, it came to light that only one of the three surviving siblings, Dexter King, actually gave permission to the studio. The others now say the sale of these rights is invalid. What a shame. As of now, DreamWorks says it will not move ahead with the project until all the King siblings are on the same page.
If the film does actually make it into production, we’re curious about who Spielberg will get to play the starring role. Sean Smith at Entertainment Weekly is throwing Jeffrey Wright’s name in the ring. You’ll remember him from Casino Royale (Felix Leiter), Cadillac Records (Muddy Waters), and W (Colin Powell). He delivers strong performances in all of his flicks and even played King in the 2001 HBO movie Boycott. He could be a great choice, but to be honest, the pickings are slim. All of the standby black male leads like Denzel Washington, Will Smith, or Forrest Whitaker aren’t right for the role, either due to age or body type. Perhaps this will be the career-making breakout role for an emerging black actor with little notoriety. We want someone who can allow us to sink into King’s life, evoking the aura of the great preacher, without the ghosts of his previous roles haunting the screen.
By now, you’ve probably heard about 23-years-old church worship leader Kris Allen’s win on American Idol. Though he clearly lacked the crowd appeal of competitor Adam Lambert, past crowd-pleasing winners have taught us an important lesson: American Idol viewers don’t always translate into CD buyers. Last year’s winner David Cook has experienced only minor success despite his popularity and talent. The question now is what kind of album will Kris Allen make? Will the support of Christians that likely pushed him to the top on Idol ultimately help or handicap Allen artistically as he goes to work on debut album? Time will tell.
In case you’d forgotten how old you’re getting, this past week marked the 25th anniversary of The Cosby Show. Most of the cast celebrated with a reunion on the Today Show on Tuesday. However, celebration over the inroads African Americans have made on television was short-lived for some fans as news surfaced Thursday of the CW network’s cancellation of The Game and Everybody Hates Chris. While the content of both shows lacked the strong moral character of The Cosby Show, sometimes reinforcing negative stereotypes of the black community — The Game‘s Wendy Raquel Robinson’s colorful “ghetto hustler” persona and the ongoing baby mama drama storyline between Tia Mowery (Melanie Barnett) and Pooch Hall (Derwin Davis) are examples — many African Americans were just happy to see black actors on television in lead roles that offered realistic portrayals of African American life. UrbanFaith’s own Nicole Symmonds broke down the lack of multi-dimensional black characters on television for us at her Loudmouth Protestant blog, saying she doesn’t think the CW is prejudiced, just shortsighted. The network “does well at depicting the many faces of white America while giving black America short shrift. We exist!” Is there any positive urban programming left on television? What are you watching these days?
Ciara’s ‘Mama’ Drama
The drama surrounding pop and R&B singer Ciara’s controversial change in management has extended to the release of her film debut in the gospel movie Mama, I Want to Sing! Back in 2007, websites like BlackVoices were buzzing about Ciara’s starring role opposite Patti LaBelle and Lynn Whitfield. But since the studios originally had hoped to piggyback off of Ciara’s album promotion, when the record label delayed Fantasy Ride‘s release the studios were forced to push back the film as well. Now FoxFaith and CodeBlack have scrapped plans for a movie theater release, sending the film straight to DVD this August or September. We sure hope the movie’s worth all the trouble. Mama, I Want to Sing! is the longest-running off-Broadway black theater musical in history, about a preacher’s daughter who leaves the church choir to become an international pop star. The original stage play was written by Vy Higginsen and loosely based on her sister Doris Troy’s rise to fame.
From Beyoncé to Smokie
BET has released the nominees for the 2009 BET Awards, set to air live on June 28th at 8 p.m. ET/PT. We’re sure all the usual suspects will appear, like Beyoncé and Kanye West who are both scheduled to perform. But we’re more interested in the gospel music category, as its always telling to find out who’s garnering the most attention in the secular music arena. Nominees for Best Gospel Artist include Regina Belle, Smokie Norful, Shirley Caesar, Trin-I-Tee 5:7, and Mary Mary. It’s nice to see Smokie Norful and Trin-I-Tee 5:7 getting some love, as both were passed over for Dove Award nominations. Who do you think should win the category?
DMX the Televangelist?
While finishing up a 90-day jail sentence for drugs, fraud, and animal cruelty, rapper DMX told reporters about plans to start his own Christian TV show called Pain and Perseverance. He said, “It’s about how I can reach people that the average person can’t reach because I’m grounded. I’m going to give my first sermon, in the church. That’s going to be incredible for me and hopefully the congregation of that church.” This isn’t the first time DMX has talked about going into ministry. Back in March 2003, he toyed with the idea of retiring from rap, but eventually decided to continue his career after seeking advice from born-again rapper Mase. “I talked to Mase. I said, ‘Dog! I’m fed up with this rap sh–. I know the Lord. I know my true calling is to preach the Word, where do I go from here?’ He was like, ‘As long as the Lord gives you the talent to do what you do, do it. He’ll call you when he’s ready.'” Fast forward a few years and X was back to battling the demons of drug use and other criminal activity from his past. But maybe now DMX is ready. God’s clearly had a hold on his life for some time, as X often talks about his strong desire for a deeper relationship with Christ and a hunger for his Bible. We want to give him grace and trust that he’s serious this time. But we’ll believe it when we see it.
When I was growing up as a little black girl in California, the closest thing I had to an African American Disney princess was Cinderella. She seemed like a girl from around the way. You know what I mean — her daddy wasn’t in the picture, and she had a crazy godmother, or “Big Mama,” who always made somethin’ out of nothin’, turning rags into a flawless gown just in time for the ball. So when I heard Disney was releasing The Princess and the Frog, starring Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as Princess Tiana, I was thrilled. Finally, little black girls will grow up seeing themselves as princesses, without having to superimpose their culture onto someone else’s fairy tale. But my excitement over the film was diminished when I heard about the controversy over Disney’s decision to cast Brazilian actor Bruno Campos as the prince (instead of an African American actor). I’m not sure whether to be discouraged over the casting or to just be grateful the movie is being made at all. I’ve found some comfort from Keith Josef Adkins, over at The Root, who is telling people to relax — Disney had to make the film appealing to everyone in order to make it profitable. What do you think? Is the casting a commentary on America’s receptiveness to black women versus black men, or am I being hyper sensitive?
Smearing Miss California
We may need to start an official UrbanFaith Pageant Patrol to keep track of the crazy scandal around Miss USA loser Carrie Prejean. Every time we turn around, there’s a new bit of drama with Prejean’s name front and center. It all started a couple of weeks ago when we were moved by the story of the young Christian woman’s courage to stand up for her beliefs on the nature of marriage, despite the fact that doing so likely cost her the crown and won her the ire of an entire movement of people. Then last week the story took a turn for the worse when pageant officials started throwing slanderous blows at Prejean, exposing her cosmetic surgery and publicly decrying her involvement in the National Organization for Marriage’s television campaign. Now the situation has gotten completely out of hand as photos have been leaked to the press showing Prejean, the reigning Miss California, posing partially nude. Even though she’s owned the fact that taking the photos was a bad move on her part, the old photos, taken when she was a naive 17-year-old trying to land a modeling gig, are potentially a violation of the contract she signed when entering the Miss USA pageant. She currently awaits a ruling from the Miss California pageant authorities as to whether she’ll get to keep that crown. Though I think it would behoove Carrie to lay low for a while, isn’t it interesting how certain folks from the usually open-minded progressive community have gone after Prejean? One of the more interesting commentaries on the subject this week came from the left-leaning political site Talking Points Memo, where blogger Eric Wattree posed the question, “Are Progressives Becoming As Intolerant As Conservatives?”
Mormons Baptize Obama’s (Dead) Mother
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) just found one more way to give America the heebie-jeebies. Rumors were confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the Mormon Church did indeed baptize President Barack Obama’s mother last June 2008, thirteen years after her death. The church just can’t catch a break with the bad publicity. Who could forget last year’s media frenzy when polygamist compounds of a fundamentalist sect of the church were raided in Texas? A spokeswoman for the church claims there will be an investigation into how the baptism happened, as it’s against Church policy to submit the name of a non-relative for the sacrament. However, baptizing the dead without the consent of the deceased person’s family has long been a controversial practice of the church. The White House has no official comment on the matter. However, we can assume President Obama knew nothing of his mother having any unusual sympathy toward the Mormon faith. Throughout his campaign, he often shared stories of his mother’s religious skepticism. We just wish there was more noise being made about the living Presidential family’s faith. We know they profess to be Christian, but we’d love to see them finally settle in at a solid Washington, D.C., church.
Michelle the Influential
Michelle Obama ditched her duds from J. Crew on Tuesday night to slip into a stunning gown by Azzedine Alaia for Time magazine’s event honoring 100 of the World’s Most Influential People. Last week, we mentioned that the First Lady had been named one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People of 2009. And though we fully stand behind her beautiful biceps and recession-chic style, “influencer” is a much more appropriate title for this Princeton University graduate. I can’t get enough of Barack’s sweetheart. As eager as I am for President Obama to lead America successfully through the next four years, I’m more excited to see the impact Michelle Obama will have on the United States. Whether she is planting a garden on the White House grounds or inspiring American women to pay renewed attention to their families, Mrs. Obama is reinventing our society’s concept of what it means to be a black Christian woman.
Idol’s Got Competition
Has anyone actually been watching American Idol this season? I haven’t watched the show steadily since Fantasia won season three years ago, but I hear we’re down to the final three: Danny Gokey, Kris Allen, and Adam Lambert. And though it seems like the men are running things over at Idol, it’s a ladies’ game on BET’s Sunday Best. After a sing-off of “Jesus Loves Me” between the three finalists last Sunday, the judges narrowed it down to Y’Anna Crawley and Jessica Reedy. We’ll see what goes down this Sunday when viewers decide the winner.
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