Twenty-six years ago, the Philadelphia Tribune named Gordon Brown Jr. the youngest gospel music promoter in Philadelphia. As minister, label executive, producer and award-winning songwriter, G. Brown (his stage name), is rebranding himself for a new role in the music industry.
Brown will release the single “Love is Coming Back” on iTunes on August 1.This urban gospel song is remake of the classic McFadden and Whitehead song “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Described as a mixture of traditional gospel, a pitch of rhythm and blues and a tossing of what Brown said is God’s anointing, the track is geared to youth and urban communities.
“It’s kind of like Kirk Franklin, that’s the demographic that I’m looking to gravitate to, but my style is more like Hawkins, Smallwood with a little bit of Donny and Boys II Men blended all in together,” Brown said.
Along with the single, Brown has written 48 songs — about three CDs worth of music — that he plans to release as an artist until 2018.
Helping to produce the single with Brown are his nephew, Antonie McRae and producer and keyboardist Christopher Weatherbe. He has worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, Vivian Green, Floetry, Jaguar Wright and Kindred.
“Whatever his vision is, I just want to bring it to life. I don’t have any self-ambition. He wants to give an inspirational song out with a message about love,” Weatherbe said.
Learning through experience
The South Philadelphia native began his music career as a teenager deeply rooted in gospel music. As a student at Vare Edwin H. Middle School, Brown’s physical education teacher was Gabriel Hardeman — leader of Gabriel Hardeman Delegation whose record, “Feels Like Fire” gave them fame. Several weeks into the school year, Brown attended his aunt’s wedding. Hardeman was one of the ushers and the groom was the drummer for the Hardeman Delegation.
After this interaction, Brown persisted to get involve with the band. In 1982, Brown became the band’s stagehand. Through the mentorship of Hardeman and his wife Annette, Brown learned how to write songs that later won Brown five American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
At 16, Brown created a group, The Gordon Brown Singers, and was a music promoter for the Wynne Plaza. There, he was responsible for booking gospel acts at the Wynnefield venue. Brown then worked for Tony Beck, owner and president of MeeSiah Records — an independent gospel label. Also, Brown was an executive assistant for music producer, Nick Martinelli, and served as Martinelli’s manager for a brief period. In 1991, he received more industry experience under gospel legend, Dr. Edwin Hawkins.
Despite the mentorship and success he was receiving, Brown’s career was interrupted.
In 1998, Brown was imprisoned. While serving a 14-year sentence, he earned a doctorate in theology. Six months ago Brown was released, and he plans to continue to his career.
“Instead of being bitter, I feel blessed. I got great vision from God,” Brown said. “When you spend 14 years in prison you get a lot of ideas that God has time to give you great vision.”
Bringing a rebirth to Philadelphia
Using vision and revelation, Brown also works as the creative director for Philly Style Studio.
“It’s in the community. You don’t know it’s a studio, and you’re not abandoning the community. Every community has a local rapper or local singer and they can come right here and get a nice demo,” Brown said.
Located on 18th and Morris streets, Brown said he wants Philly Style Studios to create resurgence in Philadelphia.
“I just love Philly, but we have nothing going on musically in the city. In the beginning it was Motown, then Philadelphia International,” Brown said. “We have Jill, Musiq and Tye Tribbett, but I just want to bring that attention and that draw back to the city. Basically putting Philly back in its place.”
And with help of PSS owner, Henry “Bubby” Nicholas, Brown’s vision is beginning to come to fruition. Currently, Nicolas is gathering talent for The Entourage — a collective of musicians, dancers, R&B singers and rappers.
“He’s got so much energy. He’s my favorite,” Nicholas said.
“When I came on board here, his vision with the studio and the Entourage verse my vision on a creative level and an artist level was just a perfect fit,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like what Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff did in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s kind of what he and I are trying to do now.”
In mid-August, PSS and Zoah Music Group Worldwide (Brown’s music label) will have an Internet talent search of gospel, R&B and hip hop artists.
“It’s basically going to be American Idol online, but for those genres,” Brown said.
Fifty submissions will be chosen to participate. With the public’s help, 25 acts will be chosen. Of those, 15 will be eliminated and the remaining 10 will face off for the final phase of the competition judged by PSS and ZMGW.
First prize will be a recording contract with ZMGW, second prize will be a recording contract for a single with ZMGW and third prize will be a production video at PSS.
There are singers, there are musicians and then there is veteran singer, writer and producer Jaguar Wright. With a voice that speaks directly to the soul, Wright is a presence in music that can neither be ignored nor denied. For nearly 20 years, Jag has been tearing down stages and offering food for thought nationally and internationally while lending her voice to songs by artists such as The Roots, Al Green, Blackalicious and Femi Kuti. But it wasn't until she sang background with The Roots for Jay-Z on MTV’s “Unplugged” that Wright's vocal prowess reached the mainstream. Delivering a version of “Song Cry” that left those unfamiliar with the Philly native’s spell-casting range and vocal ability asking one question, “Who is that?”
As such a profound talent, it's hard to fathom that the world may never have received Jaguar's gift of song. Reared in the church, she had staunchly religious parents who did not initially support their daughter's dream of becoming a "secular" singer. But the R&B dynamo knew she'd had tapped into something powerful when she managed to convert the most unlikely of converts – her teacher mom and drug counselor father.
"My parents wanted me to take the more traditional route ... by becoming a litigator, doctor or a practitioner; a professor or a psychologist," said Wright. "My father hated that I was singing. It drove him insane, and now he is my biggest fan because I earned his respect. I proved that this is not a dream, this was not a fantasy – this is my life. Singing was my destiny, even before I was born."
Wright's first album, “Denials Delusions Decisions” (2002), received rave reviews and was named #1 Best Album of the Decade by the Associated Press. The title of her 2005 release “Divorcing Neo 2 Marry Soul” addressed her concerns about being pigeonholed as a neo-soul artist. Although her first album yielded a commercial hit ("The What Ifs") which was featured in the Coca-Cola's "Nu-soul" advertising campaign with The Roots, Wright has learned that industry partnerships aren't everything.
After reviewing the explosive R&B duo Ike & Tina Turner, and especially Tina’s eventual solo success, Wright has decided to embrace and incorporate rock & roll into her own passionate performance style.
“I'm taking on a bold new concept, a bold new idea – What does Jaguar Wright sound like singing in stadiums for thousands upon thousands of people rather then collapsed into this realm we call soul?” pondered the chanteuse. “So, I started studying Tina Turner, and I started looking at her career. You know, there was always an edge to her – there was always an edge to me – even though the soul was more rhythm and blues when she was dealing with Ike, when they would kick it up a notch she was totally a bad-ass rock chick. So when she made that plunge and she took that step to go over into the popular rock world, what she ended up making was pop rock. She did not change at all – from the way she delivered a song or nothing – what changed was the backdrop, or canvas. From ‘What's Love Got To Do With It’ all the way until she took her hiatus. It was a canvas that included everyone: young, old, white, Black, Latino – everyone could be a part of it.”
Wright is known as a passionate performer who can corral the stage with an intimacy that makes it seem as if she is having a one-on-one conversation with the listener. The feeling that Wright is the type of person you can find around the way on any given day is undeniable. Nowadays she wants to expand her voice to another level of global reach. She’s deemed it “Rock & Soul.”
“A lot of the music we make – and when I say ‘we’ I'm talking about us neo-soul kids who have been forced into being considered urban adult contemporary artist – we’re…,” she sighs deeply, and continues: “We’re pigeonholed. You'll never see Kindred: The Family Soul open up for U2. You'll never see Marsha Ambrosia opening up for the Kings of Leon. And, for that part, you’ll never see any of us opening for Lady Gaga. So, I started really looking at ticket sales. And since all of my friends who are artists complain about promoters and everyone is fighting for the same gig and everyone is fighting to work with the same promoter, it's only but so much food on this little table and everybody is not going to eat. But then you just look across the hall at this pop rock world over there and the bounty over there is overflowing, and I’m going to go where there are second and third helpings.”
“A Family Affair”: An Evening with The Wright Experience featuring Jaguar Wright, Jim Stephens and his full band and the legendary Chuck Treece takes place on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at World Cafe Live. Tickets are $18. For more information, call (215) 222-1400.