Finding Your Voice and Feeling the Vibes: An Interview with Kierra Sheard

Finding Your Voice and Feeling the Vibes: An Interview with Kierra Sheard



Kierra, you are also one to speak into young women at the same time too. Does that come from the family?


I think it does. And just from what I’ve seen, my father and my mother, they are spiritual leaders, spiritual advisors. And my mother, like it’s funny you’re asking that because I just got off the phone with her and we’re planning our women’s weekend. For my mother, I think it comes from her sisterhood. We’ve seen the Clark sisters do their thing musically. But I think her bond and her desire for, you know how you are about your siblings, I want my sister to win. She has one brother as well, but he’s much older. So having that connection and always wanting to see your sister win and seeing what you and your sisters can do together and how you can empower other women and then me seeing what my mom and my aunts have done. And then here I am. I’m like, I have a brother, but I can make a community of sisters and I’m important to them. So I absolutely think I draw that from, I can call my family, my bank, I draw that from that bank as well. I think just from my personal experiences with relationships and having best friends. I’m sure you’ve probably heard it where women will say, “Oh honey, I can’t get along with women.” And then “all I can get along with is men.” And then it’s like, well, if you find the right woman that you connect with, you really can get some answers. And we even see it biblically, where we see women drawing from the well, we see both Mary’s coming together from different aspects of life. And then we saw what they did with Jesus. We see Esther, we see Ruth and Naomi, so when you read that and you believe God’s Word and also you experience a liberating relationship from a sisterhood that may not be biological, but it could just be covenantal. If you know what I mean? You just want to give [it to] the world that so that they can see it, because the world has kind of demonized relationships and they’ve put so many labels that are associated with toxicity. And it’s like, if only you’d get in touch with the God ordained relationship, you’d see how powerful it is. I think I’m pulling from the familial bank, but I’m also pulling from my spiritual bank to create these things that are women’s empowerment.



And your newest book, Kiki Finds Her Voice, how did you find your voice?



I found my voice again from my family. So I’m going through school and I’m talking about it in the book. I wanted to sing an R&B song and I was trying to fit in with the girls there. And I knew if my mom or my dad found out that I was trying to sing, you know, an R&B song about getting weak in the knees or the boy being mine, I knew they would have just, you know, shut it down. And my mother surprised me and she said, girl, you ain’t singing that song. This is inappropriate. You know, and I talk about it in the book. And just going through that journey…it felt like I was being embarrassed. For adults, it feels like an attack when it’s actually accountability. And I think that is what my mother was doing, holding me accountable and redirecting me to purpose. And literally that day changed my life. It set me up for my debut. And I found my voice and became a voice for a generation and connecting so many listeners to the Gospel by way of singing. And that’s how I found my voice.



Your last book, The Vibes You Feel, where were you at when God told you to write the book?


Oh, man, that’s a good question. So the vibe you feel is actually just from everyday kinds of situations. I don’t even know how to explain it. That’s such a good question. Where was I at? I was everywhere. I was just living if I could just say that.



Why has it resonated so with girls and women?


Yeah, I don’t know what the call is. I know it’s a call. It’s a heaven call. Because I know that I have a responsibility to the age group that are in their 20s. I don’t know what that is. But so what’s funny is that I went through a space where they annoyed me so much. I was just so annoyed with ages 20 to like 30. And I’m only 36. And I think it went, I think the frustration came from me wanting to pour into young women as I’ve been poured into. And I saw how helpful it was for me. And I remember myself in my 20s, where I was on the brink of knowing it all, but also honestly saying in myself, you don’t know it all. But I found those advisors that I could connect to and relate to that I felt comfortable with being a student and didn’t feel like I had to do a match with them if that makes sense. It was that and then all of the wrong decisions that I made in my 20s. I made some bad decisions in relationships. And then being a PK (Pastor’s Kid), they say they’re like the worst kids. It’s like you got some PKs who are that kind. But you have some who are like, “well, actually, I really do want to live like Jesus.” But I do have a side to me that I think everybody else may have as well. So that’s where I was in that place, though. It’s a conglomeration of those experiences of me, you know, just kind of walking through life and then seeing the essence in valuable and God ordained relationships versus relationships that I was trying to make work. And I often ignored God’s voice, but also would say, I don’t hear God. And it’s like, no, you hear him, you just don’t hear him the way that you think you’re supposed to hear him. And so that’s what you get from the book. It’s literally me evolving in my relationship. And over the course of time, just collecting data like; “my gift of discernment is actually far more on than I thought.” And it was like that in my 20s. But I just kept doubting myself. But that’s where I was. And that’s why it’s a book. But even with me then growing to love the generation that I’m responsible for that are in their 20s; it’s like, this is why I connect with you so much because I know it. I get it. I’ve been there. And I know how it feels to feel like you have so much to do, but you don’t know which steps to take and you’re brilliant.



When you hit send on The Vibes You Feel, did you feel like you said it all? Did you feel like, okay, this is ready?


Yes, I did feel like it was ready. The only challenge that I honestly faced was trying to make sure it didn’t sound so much like another memoir. Because I still wanted to give God and his scriptures. So yes, though, because it is so many good moments in there that really happened. Even with my working relationship with me trying to find like a personal assistant, it was like, this person is good, but they’re not called to be your personal assistant. They’re not bad. And it was things that I could pinpoint. If you know what I mean. And I just kept misplacing people. It was like, you’re called to be in their life before a season and not for this space. And I couldn’t play victim because I knew. So, the book is basically me, talking about my work choices. It’s me talking about my relational choices when I was dating. It was like, you knew this guy was no good, but you kept trying to make it work. People prophesied to you, and you even saw bad habits. So those stories were true, and it actually happened. And that’s when I saw God talking to me. So that right there was when I was like, “yeah, this one is the one.” And I really hope more people get a chance to read that book because I really think it is a blessing for a lot of young people, for sure.


So Jordan [your husband], can we talk about him for just a minute? What is it like? You guys are definitely in love. So how do you find a Jordan?


That’s a good question. I remember a lot of people saying marriage takes work. And I heard them. I’m a good listener. Like I listen and I take the note. But when I got in it, I said, oh, baby, this take work. I don’t know if you can put that in writing. It takes work. And you know, I think it also takes even a village for the married couple. I always say the village is not just for the child, it’s for the adult too. And you got to have people around you two who can even see sometimes what’s going on. They can even see your bad days, but they don’t charge it to your marriage and what your entity is called to do in the earth. And that contributes to the days when you must choose to love, if I can say it that way. But Jordan is amazing. He’s an outstanding man. And I think what makes what makes marriage possible with this man of valor is his heart. His heart is always what push through. So if I were to tell [a young woman] what to look for, it is to do what my mama told me, make sure that man loves God more than he loves you. Because when you can’t get them, God’s gonna get them. And literally, when I couldn’t get certain memos to my husband, I just say, “you know what, you get it God.” I go in my room right here in my office, and I would cry and say, God, I need you to do it. And I’m sure [my husband’s] done the same for me. And then I think to just making sure you have a friendship. So, I also tell young women, I’ve done it both ways and not with my husband, but I’ve done it both ways as in I was out of the will of the Lord. And then I did it God’s way. And I saw why he says don’t have sex before marriage, because it’ll blur the lines and you can’t see what you need to see to make a good choice for marriage. You’ll just make a choice off of an attachment and how you feel. Jordan and I, we went through a process of abstinence, and we lived before the Lord, we prayed, and that made all the difference. So that’s what I would tell a young girl, make sure you get his background too, you know, and pray and ask the Lord, give me somebody that loves [God] because I need them to be convicted if ever they decide to do something that ain’t right. And so that’s how Jordan and I are doing. We’re doing really well though, we’re loving each other, we’re growing together, and we’re willing to just love each other and have fun. The other day we were arguing, we just started laughing like, this is stupid. So, we’re even growing to laugh and argue.




Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

UrbanFaith Editor, Allen Reynolds, sat down with Gospel artist, entrepreneur, and new author Kierra Sheard-Kelly to talk about her new book Big, Bold, & Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to BeThe book shares Kierra’s experience, wisdom, prayers, and insights in conversation with her faith as she has journeyed from being a young woman to adulthood. Her book is available everywhere books are sold and can be found here. The full video interview is above and excerpts are printed below which have been edited for clarity.



Good morning, everyone. Again, this is another awesome opportunity for UrbanFaith. We are excited to have with us today an absolute gem in Christian life, gospel music, and just our space. It’s an honor to have Mrs. Kierra Sheard-Kelly with us. We’ll be able to talk to her about her new book called Big, Bold, and Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to Be. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.

So I know that you just have so many things that you’re doing. I mean, what a year for you. To be an artist, an actress, and you have gotten married–you just have so much going on in your life. What made you decide to take these thoughts and share them in a book, as opposed to sharing your message some other way?


Yeah, well, first, thank you, Allen, for that warm introduction and the warm welcome. Why did I want to put it in a book? Actually, I’ll say this: it was unintentional. The book was unintentional. This was really a God thing. For me, I was only journaling as a form of therapy, just my way of life. That was my way of seeking the Lord: diving into Scripture, studying Scripture, and learning the depths of what I was reading. And it came out this way.

I find myself just kind of getting answers when I write down things. Sometimes you have a whole bunch of things going through your mind. And so I’ve just trained myself to not miss those moments. Because we believe the God we serve is a Spirit. So sometimes He’ll communicate from within. So that’s literally what I did. And I said, I want to share this with the world. HarperCollins Zondervan gave me the opportunity. And it was an opportunity that was in an email account that I hadn’t been checking. And something told me to check this email–it had to be the Lord. And so now they’ve given me this opportunity to share my story and my therapeutic process that just so happens to have some answers. All along, God had been writing a book through me, and I didn’t know it. So that’s really how it came about. And then I was just able to show [my life from] being single to dating to becoming a wife. We will see if there’s another book that I got to share with y’all.



Wow, for you to be able to take what God was downloading over time and turn it into the book is phenomenal. So you just brought up that journey that you took from dating to singleness to being a married person. And of course, there are a whole lot of young women thinking and wrestling with that, so what would you say helped you prepare to become a married person? Now, on the other side of that journey, which of those lessons was really key?


That’s such a great question. It was learning to just be me, learning how to live with just myself. When you’re able to live with yourself, then that means that you’re compatible. But when you have a problem with yourself all of the time, and it’s always something to do or something to fix, you can’t be still. That is what I had to learn about myself. And [if that’s you], you’re gonna make it hard for anybody to live with you. It was also the conversations with my mother and my grandmother. I spoke about them in the first chapter.

I think, just taking trips on my own, not waiting on anyone–of course, being safe–but not waiting on a man or putting all of it on a man if he’s there or not. And that’s not me being a man basher or anything like that. But it is me just saying that I had to learn to become secure with myself and with the Lord.

God will mold you into this proverbial woman so you’re able to build your home, you’re able to be a companion, you’re able to know when to stop talking. Like this morning, I wanted to respond a few times with something to say to my husband, but I just let him have the last say. I’ve learned to submit or to hold your tongue. It doesn’t make you weak–it actually makes you very strong. It’s almost like strength behind the veil.

So those are some things that I had to learn while I was in my single space. But also, establishing the things that God has called me to do is the long, long answer, and I could go on and on about the preparation that got me to this point. But I can say in a nutshell, it was me just being and trusting God in that process. And then I developed into this woman who could be a wife.

But enjoy. I enjoyed my days, and I had a good time. You know what I’m saying? I even played the game. My Nana told me “Baby, you can date.” Even my dad said, “Don’t put down makeup.” That’s one thing. And I said it in the book. Don’t make a boyfriend a husband if it’s temporary. Don’t try and make a lifetime thing out of that if he’s not in agreement with you. And that was a mistake that I was making, which caused a lot of heartache and heartbreak. So those are some things that I did to prepare.



Well, the presence of [mentors] in our lives makes such a difference. And that’s such a theme that you came back to in your book, talking about how to choose the people around you wisely. And I just kept hearing boundaries. What is one of those key ways that you can distinguish or discern how to draw that boundary?


I had to learn that at a young age, because I couldn’t do what a lot of my friends wanted to do. And I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this–especially as believers–when we’re growing from high school to college, college to grad school, or just college and out. There are some sifting seasons that we go through naturally in every season. And I like to acknowledge the fall season because the leaves have to fall for the new to come. But after fall, there’s a cold season. So I’d like to highlight the fact that it’s not always the summer of everyone’s life. I mean, I know there’s Cali and I know that there is Florida, but you have earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes there. So there are some challenges that we have to go through.

But to answer your question directly, I think the way is to acknowledge that boundaries is a part of our reality, both naturally and spiritually. And when you see those signs, don’t ignore the red flags. I’ve had a tendency to ignore the red flags because I wanted to be a loyalist, but there’s a way to be loyal and to learn to compartmentalize relationships. And that’s what I’ve had to learn to do. Because if I can’t exist with people, then I won’t know how to exist in heaven, because I’m not the only one who’s going to heaven.

So that’s how I see it: how can I love people, but re-adjust and say: okay, you know what? This relationship has depth to it, but that relationship is one where we can go to lunch and just laugh, but we don’t need to go no deeper than that. And if there is a moment, I go by God’s leading when He’s authorizing me to go a little deeper.

So  I think designing is just having that on, and not ignoring what you feel. There was a chapter that I was going to write in the book, and it was called “The Vibes You Feel,” but we took it out. I don’t know if that’s a book that the Lord is having me to wait on. But we call them vibes. Now in the church, they call them a spirit. And in the street, they call it something else. So I think it really is, when you feel something, understand that it’s the Holy Spirit helping you to navigate through life. He’ll be a GPS for you. And if that is a roadblock, then acknowledge that. I hope that answers your question.



Absolutely. I think that answered a lot of things, and it brought up another good question for me. I know you’re getting your master’s degree in clinical psychology, which is just amazing that you’re doing that kind of work. What are some of the ways, and why is it important for us to maintain good mental health? Whether we’re successful or whether we’re at our low points–a lot of people think it’s only in low times that we need to be concerned. But really, you’ve made it a holistic thing in this book. So why is it important to you to maintain good mental health?


It’s so important because first the Bible mentions it. Whenever the Word mentions something, I’m like, “Alright God.” I take it [because] it’s almost like He’s speaking to me. And there’s a Scripture that we often highlight the latter part of the clause, where it says the prayers of the righteous availeth much, but before that, it says, confess your faults one to another, that you may receive healing. Then it says, the prayers of the righteous availeth much.

When I broke down that Scripture, it was letting me know that confession is a form of therapy. You’re confessing your issues, you’re confessing your challenges, the things that may lodge in your mind–confess those things. And then it says, as you confess them, you’ll receive healing. So sometimes talking about these things and really dealing with them with a valid person, if I can say it that way, because it says the prayers of the righteous. So I like to use that as identifying a therapist, because the Bible also authorizes physicians–people who have studied the science. So, seek professional help. But maybe you’re seeking professional help from someone who has a faith-based background.  They will tell you that you need to pray about this, or that’s a spirit you’re struggling with versus a mental disorder you’re struggling with. But I think it’s so important, because the Bible also talks about the emotions that have an effect on our body like jealousy.

So the Lord lets us know that these emotions that have to do with our mental housing can eventually wear and tear on our bodies. And it can overflow into our lives with how we treat people. When we’re tired, some of us get antsy, and we get snappy. We’ll say things with our tongue, because the Bible talks about how the tongue can be like a fire that just hits a tree and it sets a forest on fire. I think it all goes back to mental health.

And then I think, if the Lord speaks to us, and He’s an invisible being, and if your mind is always clouded, and you’re not there mentally, then your judgment and your discernment can be clouded. So that’s why mental health is everything to me, because the enemy will use that against us. And [the enemy] can just weigh us down and keep throwing stuff at us to where we’ll become more anxious. The Bible talks about being anxious for nothing. So if the Word is speaking about it, then I think it’s something that we should pay attention to. And that’s why it drives me. I also have family members who have wrestled or struggled with mental health. So that’s [another reason] why I’m an advocate of mental health. I could go on and on and on.


Yeah, and I love how you connect your faith in the Scriptures to that, because so many people don’t get to hear that we read the Bible, and we may not see it, or we may not hear it spoken about enough. But it’s living in you, and you talked about that so much in this book. And so one of the things that I really like about the book is that in each chapter, you had those Scriptures and those prayers. Why did you decide to do that?


In the dedication, I said something like, I hope that this book blesses other people [like] the book Nana gave me did for me. And that book was Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, which she gave me when I was 18 or 19. I read it at least two or three times, and it just changed my life. It transformed my way of hearing, listening, living. And [because of it] when I went to Bible study, I was more attentive to what my father was teaching. So me seeing what that book did for me [inspired me]. And it has Scriptures in there. I don’t remember if it has prayers in there, but I was happy to dive in deeper into God’s word and really elevate in my relationship with the Lord.

So that’s why I wanted to put those in here. Because we think that, as you mentioned, we think there’s a disconnect when it comes to the faith way of living [versus the practical way of living]. And it ties in together, So that’s why I wanted to give Scriptures, because sometimes we don’t know where to start. We don’t know how to tie these Scriptures to our everyday life. And I wanted to give basically a dose of what my father, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, gives me in a week–and I wanted to give a dose of what I got from Pastor Rick Warren. And then I wanted to give a dose of the home girl approach that I get from my mother, my Nana, and my home girls. So that’s why I wanted to give that, because I felt like it was more digestible.



Yeah. And I think that one of the impacts that it has, as I was reading through, is that it helped us to ground ourselves–not only in who God is–but to see your groundedness. You’re not just up somewhere in a tower sitting there reading your Bible, but you’re living this thing–you’re living out God’s word. And so I want to know, what’s one of the most important memories that you have as you navigated? What are your favorite memories that you have from this book, or that you shared? Something that you had to overcome, or something that really struck you?


I think one of the challenges that I had to navigate–and I spoke about it, I don’t remember what chapter it was – was being young in the recording industry. They only wanted to take pictures from the waist up. And I was like, you know, I want to show who I am. There’s no such thing as me being a big girl and still being fly. And I was younger, but I was also bigger. I think even talking about the experiences with former relationships, where the first thing that they could do was call me a “fat B” or just go like ham with names and words.

The Lord just assured me and had me to see if that’s all you have on me–my  look– then I have a reason to celebrate myself. You have nothing to say about my character. And we forget to celebrate those beautiful parts of ourselves, because the world is so locked in and zoned in on what you look like externally. But how do you look internally?

I think that even goes back to the mental health piece. There’s a peace that I have about myself now that no man can move or shake. And that’s not just speaking to men, but that’s man as in humanity in general. I used to be ready to go off, and now I’m just ready to move differently. Like, my father taught me something. He said, Kierra, if people can get you to step outside of yourself, and to step out of what you really want to give in that moment, then they have control of you. And I was like, oh, then that means I don’t have control of myself. So those are some things that I had to get over. Whether people say you are beautiful or not, how will you live your life?

And then me learning to speak up for myself. Like, when they would say, oh, you’re going to just get pictures from the waist up, I had to eventually say, No. I want a full body shot. This is who I am. And it was a challenge. But out of that challenge came peace, security and audacity. And I think that that is so important for us to have, especially because the enemy will use any and everything against you. And if you’re operating with a spirit of timidity, he’ll walk all over you. You’ll just be somewhere stuck in the dark and that’s it. But I made it up in my mind, like, no, yeah, I’m not gonna do that to me, period. That’s it. So that’s the challenge that I had to get over.



Absolutely. And you know, we’re talking so much to young people and young women, especially, [as well as] young men. I as a man was just impacted. I have three daughters, and I’m just thinking about the lessons that they can learn from this book and from your work. And I want to know, what is a message, what’s a takeaway that you would want to pass down for those younger generations and even the young girls?


Man, it is to stand up for yourself, but remain a student [of] who you can trust  and know that the village is not just for the child, the villages for you, too. So don’t get so grown for your own good to the point where you can’t listen to anyone. In the Bible it says that there is safety in the multitude of counselors. I think I flipped it, but you get what I’m saying. And I think it is so important that we bask in that part. The Lord speaks through people, and the enemy uses people also. So I would tell them to not be too grown for their own good, because even the Word says that in order to enter into the kingdom, you have to take on the disposition in the heart of a child. [A child’s heart is] innocent, but if I know it all, “can’t nobody tell you nothing.” They can’t even tell you the truth about yourself, because you’re just always on the defense. So that’s what I would tell a young woman.

And I would tell her, “You’re beautiful, and a relationship does not validate that.” A relationship does not give you your identity. You go with your identity to that relationship, and you empower it. You make it into what you want it to be. But I would also encourage young women [by saying] that whoever you connect with is almost a preview of your life. You know, your conversations are almost a preview of your life. So don’t waste so much time. But listen. There are some things that I wish I had listened to that my parents told me as I look [back on] it now. And it’s like golly, I could have saved so much time and so much money. So those are some things that I would tell young women.



Wow. So, this is your opportunity. Is there anything else you want to leave with our audience, Christian young adults all over the country and across the world? Is there any last thought that you want to share from this book or your work? We want to hear from you.


Yeah, I would like to say, as young believers, we kind of feel like outcasts. But remember that we’re living for life after this one. And I know, it can be hard. I know it can be a challenge, especially if we’re single. And [if] we’re, you know, dating and if he’s fine, if she’s beautiful, I’m sure we can get [tempted], I understand. But I want to encourage you that there’s more to life than just that moment. And remember, our goal is to make the Lord smile. So do what you need to do to uphold your standard, to say no. Not just in those sensual moments, but even saying no for your sanity. Like, I’m not even gonna deal with this. I can’t deal with it. You can’t afford to deal with it.

So I’ll stop there. But really download what heaven is saying to do with your life, because tomorrow isn’t promised. And I think when we get that understanding that the carnal man doesn’t understand what the spiritual man understands. I think there’s more to life than bliss, if you understand what I’m saying. So hopefully, that is something.

Why Should Christians Have Churchwide Conferences?

Summer is in full swing, and people all across the country have fired up their grills, purchased their summer wardrobes, and started traveling. For Black folks, summer often means family reunions (especially after the pandemic lockdown), barbecues (cookouts/kickbacks/get-togethers/BBQs), and finding things for the kids to do (like sports, activities, or playing outside). We all look forward to summer vacations, summer hours, and summer…denominational general conferences?


For whatever reason (probably the pandemic), 2021 has been the year of many denominational general conferences when the saints of God have gathered together to elect new leadership, hear inspiring teaching, and debate church policy. Some people are not looking forward to these conferences every few years, and many believers don’t even know they are happening. A lot of us don’t even have denominations to host conferences, and we’re fortunate if our church leadership gets together with other leaders to decide how to more effectively love God and love people.

But more than ever, people are actually hearing about these conferences, usually because of controversy. We have heard everything from debates about same sex marriage to whether systemic racism is real. We have seen rejoicing and anxiety over the appointment of new leaders, reports of how to handle abuse and instructions on how to handle finances. And many Christians ask, why are we having these conferences? Why are these issues being debated? Why aren’t we just doing what the Bible says?

Well, we are actually doing exactly what the Bible says. The Bible is where we find the church resolving debates over contemporary issues and developing administration together in Acts 6, the commissioning of Barnabas and Paul (Saul) in Acts 13, and the first church-wide conference at Jerusalem in Acts 15. At that conference, the Gospel was articulated for Gentiles. Plus, we see Apollos teaching right doctrine after meeting with Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18. There is no law in scripture for every situation, especially as the world changes and God continues calling us to follow Him. We need a relationship with God and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they could keep the letter of the law perfectly and had no need for God’s Spirit to lead them.

In the Old Testament, we read that before any major decisions were made, the kings of Israel sought wise counsel–not just as advice–but as wisdom from collaboration. The prophets, priests, and advisors would weigh in, and they would all pray to receive God’s wisdom for leadership. In the New Testament, we read that the apostles and elders were accountable to the community of believers and met together to pray and seek God’s guidance and receive instruction for the churches they led. None of these people were perfect.n the contrary, God met them with wisdom in the midst of their flaws.

We should continue to value church conferences and approach them with honor and hope. We cannot take for granted that many believers across the world cannot gather together publicly in general, let alone in large conferences. We should embrace and celebrate our opportunities to do so. If God was able to show up with wisdom for believers in the Bible, we know that despite our flaws and problems, God can show up for us with  wisdom as well.

How Eddie Cotton Jr. and Jarekus Singleton found the blues

How Eddie Cotton Jr. and Jarekus Singleton found the blues

Video Courtesy of wwozneworleans

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Today

Growing up playing music in the Church of God in Christ isn’t the only thing Clinton, Mississippi-bred bluesmen Eddie Cotton Jr. and Jarekus Singleton have in common, but it might be the most significant.

“When other churches were conservative, not letting people bring in drums, not letting people bring in guitars, at the COGIC church the lid has always been off,” says Cotton, whose father was a preacher at Christ Chapel Church of God in Clinton.

The weekly free-form church services were a training camp for both musicians — Singleton’s grandfather led the True Gospel Church of God in Christ in Jackson — challenging them to keep up with all manner of instrumentation and tempos while honing their improvisational chops.

“Anybody could get up and start to singing,” he says. “If people wanted to shout, they shouted. And being a musician, you had to put music behind what they were doing. If you couldn’t catch them, you were accused of not being able to play.”

After church services, though, Cotton turned his attention to the blues in the historic Sarah Dickey neighborhood where he grew up. That was the music he heard on 90.1 FM while riding around in his uncle’s car, from old schoolers like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Albert King to “southern soul” blues artists Tyrone Davis, Elmore James and Little Milton, who recorded for Jackson’s Malaco Records.

“Blues was played all the time around the neighborhoods, and the music fascinated me,” says Cotton. “It had a certain feel to it that I just loved even as a youngster.”

Cotton understood how the music of his church related to the music on the block. Even though the songs played in the Church of God in Christ were gospel, he says, they still used blues-based chord progressions and scales, which gave him a feel for the blues. At Jackson State University, he expanded his knowledge base and began experimenting with other kinds of music, but blues was always his foundation, and he sought out likeminded artists.

“King Edward was the first that I ever saw, that I could put my hand on, that was playing the blues like I’d never seen it before,” he recalls. “That encouraged me more than anything, because it was like I found a new home.”

Cotton struck up a friendship with Edward and began sitting in with him on guitar at live performances. “Hearing blues on a radio is one thing,” he says, “but to see somebody play it live is another. I’ve heard guitar players all my life, but they didn’t play with the mastery of lead that I saw King Edward play with. And he was doing it for a living.”

Video Courtesy of The Media 4 Change

Despite being born half a generation apart, the lives of 50-year-old Cotton and 35-year-old Singleton intertwined through church, music and familial bonds.

As leaders of neighboring churches of the same faith, Eddie Cotton Sr. and Jimmy Lee Shearry, Singleton’s grandfather, preached and led revivals together. That’s how Honey Emmett Shearry, Jimmy’s brother, came to teach Cotton how to play guitar. Later, as Cotton’s popularity grew, he paid that mentorship forward by teaching Singleton’s uncle, Tony Shearry, who then opened his world to the blues.

“We all looked up to Eddie coming up,” says Singleton, who remembers seeing Cotton perform at the Alamo in Jackson while in high school. His uncle Tony would bring him to hear music at the old 930 Blue Café on North Congress Street, too, even though he was underage. “I couldn’t get in, but I’d sit outside and listen to the bands.”

Cotton and Singleton share an independent streak, and not just in their commitment to the blues. Both artists put in the work to have it their way, building their audiences and running their own businesses while continually investing back into it and becoming savvy marketers.

Although they’ve both recorded for prominent record labels, they currently maintain control over their own recording and performing careers, while others choose to work within the traditional network of booking agents, managers and publicists. Their method is becoming more common in the age of streaming, where consumers listen to music through platforms like Spotify and Apple Music instead of owning physical CDs distributed by a label.

“I wanted to do it a certain way,” Cotton explains. “I wanted to make a certain amount [of money].

And you’ve got these people, the movers and the shakers so they think, and if you don’t do it they way, they try to make it hard on you. So, I always was, ‘If you can’t get in the niche, you have to create your own.’”

As Cotton and Singleton have established themselves as popular blues musicians on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean through touring clubs and the European and U.S. festival circuit, their friendship and mutual respect endures.

“I go to his house every now and then,” Singleton says. “He’ll just grab a guitar, he’ll tell me to pick one up. He’s a phenomenal musician. He plays organ, drums — and he might can play more instruments than that.”

The artists were scheduled to perform together at the city of Clinton’s 31st July 4th Family Fireworks Extravaganza until the continued spread of COVID-19 led the city to cancel the event. Instead, Singleton has been working on his fourth album at Brudog Studios in Pelahatchie.

“The pandemic is holding us up for sure, as far as playing live,” Singleton says. But considering more recent events, he has heavier things on his mind these days.

“This racial issue we really have to address, and it’s getting out of hand. I’m just thinking about how we have to speak to this racism and this police brutality, and this unwarranted behavior toward blacks and other minorities,” he says.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of policemen or private citizens acting in that capacity this spring have made those issues a global conversation once again.

“A policeman should be a friend of the people,” says Cotton. “He should be someone who I can trust to uphold the law. If you check history, that kind of authority is always being abused. What I think is going on now is with social media, you can’t get away with stuff you used to get away with.”

As statues and symbols honoring the Confederacy began to come down around the United States, Mississippi legislators voted to remove the state flag, which flew for 126 years with the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. Gov. Tate Reeves signed the legislation to retire the flag on June 30.

“[The flag] shouldn’t even be an issue,” Cotton says. “I hear people talk about their heritage. I can understand that, but on my side, being an African American, it didn’t work for me. I don’t need to be reminded that this is what it’s about — white supremacy. That part I don’t agree with. That’s what it means.”

Black church leaders urge churchgoers to continue to ‘tele-worship’

Black church leaders urge churchgoers to continue to ‘tele-worship’

The virtual choir of Grace Baptist Church performs ‘I Am Thine,’ which was included in the April 19, 2020, online service from the Mount Vernon, New York, church. Video screengrab

Top officials of seven black Christian denominations have joined civil rights leaders in calling for people to stay home until it is safe in states whose governors are lifting shelter-in-place orders.

“We regard this pandemic as a grave threat to the health and life of our people, and as a threat to the integrity and vitality of the communities we are privileged to serve,” they wrote in a statement released Friday (April 24). “For these reasons, we encourage all Black churches and businesses to remain closed during this critical period.”

The signatories include leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Church of God in Christ; National Baptist Convention of America, International, Inc.; National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc.; and Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.

Some of those denominations have tallied or been the subject of reports of COVID-19 deaths among their clergy and members.

“The denominations and independent churches represented in this statement, which comprise a combined membership of more than 25 million people and more than 30,000 congregations, intend to remain closed and to continue to worship virtually, with the same dedication and love that we brought to the church,” they added.

The denominational officials and faith leaders, including the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Conference of National Black Churches and the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, joined presidents of the NAACP, the National Urban League and other groups as signatories.

They noted that an April 21 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 20% of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States were of African Americans. In comparison, blacks constitute 13% of the U.S. population.

“Across the country, we see the same disproportionate impact,” they said. “Our families need us. Our communities need us. We must continue to telework wherever possible, and to tele-worship for however long it is necessary to do so.”

The letter comes in the same week the conservative law firm Liberty Counsel has organized a “ReOpen Church Sunday” initiative, encouraging clergy to begin in-person worship again on the weekend of May 3. That Sunday falls in the same week as the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer.

According to The Hill, some governors have never issued stay-at-home orders, others’ mandates are expiring within days, and still, others stated no end date.

Likewise, states have varied widely in their decision to have or not have religious exemptions in their orders about staying at home.

The black church officials and civil rights advocates said they understand some people may believe they need to be involved in public life. The leaders urged those who do to follow precautions about physical distancing and wearing masks.

“We do not take it lightly to encourage members of our communities to defy the orders of state governors,” they added. “But we are compelled by our faith, by our obligation as servants of God, and by our commitment as civil rights leaders, to speak life into our communities. Our sacred duty is to support and advance the life and health of Black people, families, and communities in our country.”