Top Artists to Perform at Compton Gospel Fest
By Cora Jackson-Fossett
Praise and worship takes center stage as the country's top gospel artists perform this weekend at the Compton Gospel Festival 2009. The incredibly talented lineup features the legendary Pastor Shirley Caesar, composer and director Kurt Carr, The Soul Seekers, Bishop Hezekiah Walker and the Williams Brothers.
"We promise everyone will have a hallelujah, good time at this concert. Plus, all of artists are excited and can't wait to come to Compton," said Verna Porter, Event Coordinator.
The excitement has spilled over to the community as well. For the second year in the row, VIP tickets are already sold out, but general admission and lawn seating are still available.
"These artists have a great reputation for praising God to the highest and inspiring people to shout for glory at their concerts. So, it's not suprising that people throughout the Southland plan to come for the good music and good fellowship in the Lord," said Porter.
Among the headliners, Pastor Shirley Caesar is perhaps the most enduring performer. She began her career in 1951 and over the past 60 years, has recorded more 40 albums resulting in 11 Grammys, 13 Stellar Awards, 18 Doves, and induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
"I never dreamed the Lord would bring my ministry to where it is, and I feel that I have not yet reached the zenith because we've got such wonderful things planned," she said.
A native of North Carolina, Pastor Caesar started singing at 10 years old for family and friends. Eight years later, she asked her mentor, Albertina Walker, if she could join The Caravans, one of the premier early gospel groups. As a member of The Caravans, Pastor Caesar sang with future award winners Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington and James Cleveland.
Pastor Caesar launched her solo career in 1966. Since then, she has become known as the Queen of Gospel, but despite her busy schedule, Pastor Caesar found time to earn a business degree at Shaw University and receive honorary degrees from Shaw and Southeastern University. Also, she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
In 1983, Pastor Caesar married Bishop Harold Williams and she currently pastors a 1,500-seat church in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she continues to deliver weekly sermons. Also, a considerable portion of her cocert sales goes to her church's Outreach Ministries.
Kurt Carr is another icon in gospel music history. Born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, Carr's influence has spread throughout the world and his songs translated in several languages.
His gift of composing, directing and performing began to blossom as a teen. By the time he reached 17 years old, he was serving as Minister of Music at the First Baptist Church of Hartford under Archbishop LeRoy Bailey who allowed Carr to perform his own music during worship services. Next, Carr attended the University of Connecticut and received a degree in music.
He began his rise to national prominence via the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), where he interacted with the Rev. James Cleveland, Rodena Preston and Andrae Crouch. Carr's tremendous talent, coupled with those high-profile associations, led to the position of Creative Director at West Angeles Church of God in Christ. In this position, he worked with Gospel and secular music entertainers such as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Denzel Washington, Lynn Whitfield, and Kirk Franklin.
The Kurt Carr Singers were formed in the early 1990s, releasing several albums. In 1995, his song, "For Every Mountain," won a Grammy Award and went on to be recorded by more than ten artists. Also, he is the recipient of numerous Stellar Awards including two "Song of the Year" honors, as well as an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Aenon Bible College in Ohio.
Ever humble about his accomplishments, Carr said, "When it's all finished, and the Lord has called me home, there's just one thing I hope people will be able to say about me and that's, 'Well done, kid.'"
Bishop Hezekiah Walker also possesses a spirit of humility as shown by his often-stated commitment to the Three P's - prayer, preaching and praise. His devoted ministry to youth and young adults is renown as well with many referring to him as "The Pastor of Hip-Hop."
The Grammy-winning artist is the founder of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle - The Kingdom Church which has locations in Brooklyn, New York, and Bensalem, Pennsylvania. As pastor, he shepherds a multi-cultural flock of members of various ages and socio-economic backgrounds.
In fact, one year after Bishop Walker founded the church in 1994, ABC News credited Love Fellowship Tabernacle with the 30 percent drop in crime in the area and said many young young people turned from a life of drugs, crime, and sin because of Bishop Walker's ability to preach, teach, and "rightly divide" the Word of God. In recognition of his outstanding community work, Bishop Walker was honored by the 73rd and 75th Precincts, and the City Council of New York.
His musical achievements are heralded nationwide whenever he releases his spirit-filled albums. In 2003, Bishop Walker wrote his first book, entitled Destiny: Dream It, Declare It, Do It. He is also the host of his own radio show, Afternoon Praise, which airs during weekdays in New York City.
Bishop Walker's slogan is, "And Because God Is The Greatest Power, We Shall Not Be Defeated!"
The Williams Brothers can echo that slogan, too, especially considering their long popularity in singing praises to God. Currently comprised of Melvin Williams, Henry Green and Doug Williams, the trio was founded in 1960 by the late Leon "Pop" Williams, father of Doug and Melvin.
Over the years, they have performed in some of the nation's most famous concert halls including: Madison Square Garden, The Apollo Theatre, The Grand Ole Opry, The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and The House of Blues.
The Williams Brothers have three Grammy Award nominations and numerous Stellar Awards to their credit. In spite of the Williams Brothers' travels and success, the group continues to make music from its base in Mississippi.
Green, who joined the group when he was 18, said the Williams Brothers have placed God first in their efforts for nearly four decades, and have no regrets in doing so. "Down through the years, God has always blessed this group," Green said. "No matter what we do, we put God out in front, and when you put God out in front, there's no limit."
The Soul Seekers are eight young men who deliver "modern Gospel quartet" music. The group consists of front-man and primary lead vocalist, Teddy Campbell; bass guitarist and vocalist, Warryn Campbell; vocalist and founder, Nisan Stewart; John "Jubu" Smith on guitar and vocals; vocalist Gerald Haddon; Charlie Bereal, also on guitar; Craig Brockman on organ, and drummer Eric Seats. The members, five of whom are the sons of pastors, first came together in 2000. Over the years they grew in commitment and excitement and now perform a repertoire of original material in a style very reverential to tradition, but yet with a distinct signature of its own.
"We have the highest respect in the world for the great quartets. They're the ones who've set all the standards that we aspire to," said Warryn, who is president of his own label, My Block Records. The premier act of My Block is Gospel/ R&B sensation, Mary Mary; one of whom, Erica, is married to Warryn, and whose partner, Tina, is the wife of Soul Seeker Teddy Campbell.
When it comes to gospel music, the Soul Seekers sense both the joy and the responsibility of expanding upon their musical roots. "We truly love this music. It's in our blood, and we want to give something back to the Gospel community, and its musical traditions, that have given so much to us," said Nisan.