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VOL 3. NO. 17 Friday, April 27 - Thursday, updated on May 10, 2001
Grace Lifts Their Voice In Praise
By Avonie BROWN

Courtesy photo, Voices of Grace

In recent years gospel music has moved into the mainstream of our music culture in unprecedented ways. Thanks to artists like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and countless others, you will just as readily hear songs of praise in a club mixed in with all the other more typical bump and grind music. But the fact is gospel music/spirituals have been inextricably linked to cultures of African people in the Diaspora. And it continues to serve the same purpose, it uplifts the heart and soothes the soul.

Gospel music has always been a major part of Samuel "Eddie" Cromwell's life even before he taught himself to play the piano and organ. While he is quick to admit that he will never lead a song, Cromwell has been able to successful lead a variety of choirs in the metropolitan area. For four years he was the director of the EC Mass Choir as well as St Gabriel's Gospel Choir, Shiloh Youth Choir and Male Chorus and others.

"It seems like I've lead a choir pretty much all may life," said Cromwell. "But one day I realized that I never had a small group to call my own. So I called a couple of my close friends who I knew loved the Lord and could sing and introduced the idea to them." They liked his idea and very quickly the Hyattsville native had his group of 12 by March 2000. They are: Tedra Long, Kim Patterson, Dorothy Camp, Summer Scott, Bonita Spurgeon, Cynthia Tinsley, Verda Newton, Terrance McMillian, Peter Vanderberg and Kareen Williams. Members range in age from 22 to 40-something and come from a variety of religious denominations.

For a while this "no name" group was making a "name" for itself throughout the area. When a member of the group finally suggested the name "Grace," Cromwell said it instantly resonated with him and other members of the group. "That name clicked with me because I know I've been through my trials and tribulations but because of God's Grace I was able to over them and I'm still overcoming them. If it wasn't for His Grace I wouldn't be here. So that why I choose that name to identify this musical family."

Moving from a performing group to a recording group has come very quickly for Grace. "I've always had it in the back of my mind; I've always wanted to record," said Cromwell. "I tried to do that with a choir before but because of a range of issues that didn't work out but I still wanted that opportunity to try again."

When Jackie Smith became the manager for the group she asked Cromwell about his goals for the group and he told her about the ambition to record. But without money, the cost of recording made it prohibitive. "I wouldn't know where to begin to raise the funds," Cromwell admitted. He said they were extremely blessed when Smith told him to focus on the music and the group and let her get them the money. Their partnership has worked so well that Cromwell says he now heartily recommends that all performers - soloists, groups or choirs - find a manager that knows what they are doing and understands your objectives. You can then comfortable delegate to them those important responsibilities so that you can focus on your creative agenda, he explained.

Together Cromwell and Smith worked out a timeline for the group to produce two original songs for a demo-tape. This was to be their calling card. The response to those two songs was overwhelming and far-reaching, even getting strong airplay as far away as France. With a positive wind beneath their wings the group was spurred on to complete the self-titled 10-track CD on their independent label Grace Work. Most of the material was written my Cromwell with contributions by a talented group of friends he said.

Now that the CD is complete the group must now tackle the challenge of distribution. Cromwell explained that they will take advantage of internet marketing and sales and will gladly use other "guerilla" tactics like "selling out of their car trunks" and explore other opportunities that come along.

Like all recording artists, Grace will also hit the road to bring the music to the people. It's an often used method of operation because it gives the performer an opportunity to do just that, perform. In the process it introduces the new material to a wider audience and this typically translates into increased record sales. But Cromwell says their motivation transcends material gain and is focused on "sharing the message of God's Grace" with audiences. He said the experience will also allow the group to learn and grow. They begin their tour this September in Detroit, MI with plans also in place for international dates in France and England in December/January.

Area lovers of gospel music can catch Grace in action on May 5 at 6 p.m. at Shiloh Baptist Church (9th & P Streets, NW Washington, D.C.). This FREE show will officially launch the CD's release. Joining Grace will be the Capital Hill Mass Choir and the female quartet Promises. For more information about Grace, their new release and performances call 301-335-9329.

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