Before there was Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond and Mary Mary, there was the Rance Allen Group, which introduced the world to an irresistible brand of sacred soul with inspirational songs such as “Ain’t No Need of Crying” and “I’m Thankful.” Allen and his brothers Thomas and Steve will bring their uplifting musical message to Bridgeton, N.J., when Mount Hill Missionary Baptist Church presents “Thanksgiving Praise,” taking place at Bridgeton Senior High School, 111 N. West Ave., at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19.
The inspirational afternoon will also feature the Golden Spirit Singers, Simpson Men’s Choir, Inspiring Hank, the Mighty Spiritualaires, Bran Stratton, Diva Redemption, Gospel Soulettes and the Inspirational Praise Dancers of Wesley.
Now pastor of New Bethel Church in Toledo, Ohio,” Rance Allen is a gospel pioneer who paved the way for artists such as Kirk Franklin, Smokie Norful, Mary Mary and Fred Hammond, whose success is on par with many R&B and hip-hop artists. In the 70s, Allen’s bold vision and an inspiring single titled “Ain’t No Need of Crying,” began, in part, the evolution of gospel as we know it today.
“It goes all the way back to the late ’60s when I first started,” said Allen, whose soft speaking voice is in sharp contrast to his robust lead vocals. “I lived in a town called Monroe, Michigan. It was right next door to Detroit, and at that time in Detroit, Motown was the thing. I loved the music — I loved the way it was structured, the way the band played. So I wanted to do some of that music, but I didn’t want to do anything that would displease God, or my grandparents in particular, so I started putting lyrics to that well-structured kind of Motown-sounding music.
“All of a sudden, I saw how people outside of the church could be reached if you packaged it a certain way. I also found out that everybody is hurting for some reason or another, and what all of us need is a message that will heal us, pick us up, change our minds, touch our hearts — whatever. A lot of my music then turned toward a message – still Jesus — maybe not calling his name all the time, but the message of the Lord, and that’s kind of how that got started. All of a sudden you’ve got songs like ‘I Belong to You’ and ‘Ain’t No Need of Crying.’ That was the approach that we were taking at the time, and that’s still part of my music.”
The multi-talented Allen, who recently appeared in the feature film “Blessed & Cursed” starring gospel sensation Dietrick Haddon, is faced with the challenge of balancing his responsibilities as pastor of a thriving congregation with his recording and performance schedule.
“I have to go back to that favorite book of mine in Psalms 118:23 that says, ‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it’s marvelous in my eyes,’” he explained. “I honestly don’t think that I, if I tried to, could work a schedule like mine the way that I do if I did not have the Lord’s help.”
In recognizing the lucrative, radio-friendly business that gospel music has become, and acknowledging his place in its history, Allen said. “I’m happy about it because actually, when you talk about Fred (Hammond) and John P. Kee and Mary Mary and others like them, while I didn’t know it, they were the future that I saw in 1971. I saw gospel music doing what they are doing today, back then, and I’m just happy that I’m still around to see it and actually be part of it.
“Back when I came along, if you missed gospel music on Sunday morning from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., then you had to wait a whole week before you could hear it again! One guy asked me back in the day, where did I see gospel music going, and my prophecy to him was that gospel music was going to one day be heard everyday, 24 hours-a-day. He looked at me kind of strange too, but here we are! I even told him that there would be a gospel music that God’s people could dance to. We haven’t really gotten there yet, but it’s on the way!”
Still feeling the joy of sharing his music with others, the congenial and compassionate Allen is excited about the upcoming holiday concert in Bridgeton, New Jersey. “I love to be happy and be around happy people, so I’m coming with enough inspiration to spare,” he said. “We’re going to sing a few old songs and some new ones, and maybe one or two that they haven’t even heard yet. I love the element of excitement, and I am coming with the anticipation that we are going to find us some joy in the music and in the Lord, and hopefully when I leave, everybody’s going to be stronger for it.”
To me, that in itself seems worth a trip across the Delaware River, and in parting Allen had a message for those seeking the joy, solace and inspiration that gospel music provides.
“With my new elevation in the Church of God in Christ — I’m being elevated to the position of Bishop — I am in hopes that my name, my music, my influence will somehow or other touch the hearts and change the minds of people who may be confused or have no direction in their lives, and someway, some how turn them in the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Because if ever there were a time that people need a goal and something to work for — a plateau to try and reach, the time is now. I’m noticing too many young kids today, especially in the Black neighborhoods — we’re hurting and so confused until we’re doing things that were unheard of in our communities when you talk about decades ago. So I’m hoping and praying that my music and my influence will have a great deal to do with turning some lives around.”
Contact Tribune entertainment reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.