The man who
many musical colors
Those seven words eloquently capture the multifaceted
essence of Donald Lawrence. Songwriter. Producer.
Composer. Music/choir director. Recording artist. The
guiding force behind such No. 1 hits as Encourage
Yourself, Back II Eden and The Blessing of
Abraham. Equally at home in both the inspirational
and contemporary arenas, the multiple Grammy and Stellar
Award winner has collaborated with a diverse roster,
including such marquee names as Karen Clark Sheard,
Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, En Vogue and
Mary J. Blige.
"It's said that the music you do is where you've
lived," says Lawrence of his creative journey. "What I
do isn't contrived. I don't think in terms of genre or
religious perspective. It comes from being honest. I
just honor the gift and purpose I was given to touch the
world and inspire. And people have paid attention to
Indeed they have - to the tune of 20 years and counting.
His current hit, Deliver Me, from the Goshen album is
already in Billboard's Top 5 on their Gospel Music
After scoring his second No. 1 gospel album with 2011's
YRM (Your Righteous Mind), Lawrence is
commemorating his anniversary milestone with the first
of two albums featuring live re-recordings of select
songs from his vast catalog complemented by several new
tracks. Released in fall 2013, the first QWE/eOne
volume, titled Best for Last, was recorded
primarily in Chicago with longtime
songwriting/production colleagues Daniel Weatherspoon
and Percy Bady.
Also joining Lawrence for the two-volume series is a
host of special guests, many of whom have played
important roles in his career. The list includes
Karen Clark Sheard, Kierra Sheard, Kelly Price, Lalah
Hathaway, Hezekiah Walker, Stephanie Mills and
Yolanda Adams. Adams' bring-the-house-down vocals on
volume one's title track kicked off a rousing
celebration 20 years in the making. Yet its chorus also
hints that Lawrence doesn't plan to rest on his laurels
anytime soon: "Although you may think that your time has
passed \ God only saving the best for last \ Your future
greater than the past."
"I don't know why it's said that your best days are your
youth," explains Lawrence of the song's message. "The
Scripture talks about your latter being greater than the
former. I wanted to speak to people who feel it's a
wrap. It's never too late to dream."
Additional standouts include "The Gift Looks
Good on You" and "Hebrews 4:9." Both are
spirited lessons revolving around Lawrence's central
theme of grace. In this instance, he is talking about
grace as talent; that people should stop looking across
the fence at what others may possess and instead honor
their own gifts.
"Most people think grace is covering sins, but it's also
an area of divine enablement," he says. "Some people
have the grace to write or sing. I do music. Don't covet
someone else's grace; honor yours. And if you honor it,
God will allow you to take it to a broader arena."
Lawrence began taking charge of his grace while growing up in Gastonia,
NC. Raised by a gospel-loving aunt and influenced by
gospel pioneer Andrae Crouch, he taught himself
the piano at 15. From there, Lawrence put himself
through the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
as a musical theater major. He and Worth Gardner,
one of the school's professors, later wrote the 1986
musical revue "Sing Hallelujah!," which toured
across the country and played off Broadway.
After a stint on the he was asked to become
vocal coach for hit-making R&B/pop female group En
Vogue. The early '90s found him integrating both
worlds. That's when he began an eight-year tenure
musical staff of the TV series "PTL Club,"
Lawrence trained his sights on secular music whenas
music director for Broadway/R&B star Stephanie Mills
while also working as part of the urban inspirational
group Company, a seven-man R&B group. Providing
backing vocals for Stephanie Mills, Company was also
signed to Irving Azoff's Giant Records, and
released its debut album, Devotion, in 1993.
Concurrently, Lawrence started sending songs to
a North and South Carolina-area group called the
Tri-City Singers. Stepped to succeed the act's
former musical director, he helped the group claim a No.
2 debut on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums chart with
1993's A Songwriter's Point of View. The set,
melding hip-hop and other contemporary rhythms, featured
guest turns by Peabo Bryson and Mills. Over the
next 12 years, Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers issued a
string of top five gospel albums, including No. 1
Bible Stories, tri-city4.com and Go Get Your Life Back.
These releases sported such memorable hits as
"Testify," "Message to the Saints" and "The Best
Is Yet to Come." The albums also boasted an array of
guests, including Clark Sheard, Ann Nesby, Kelly
Price and Kim Burrell.
Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers retired in 2006,
culminating their run with a cross-country, sold-out
tour and a live recording, Finale.
Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers
lyric video of "Deliver Me"
project spun off the hits "Encourage Yourself" and "The
Blessing of Abraham" with the latter spending 18 weeks at No. 1
on Billboard's Hot Gospel Songs chart.
years prior, Lawrence stepped out with his first solo album, the
Donald Lawrence & Co. - headlined I Speak Life, with
cameos by Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Faith Evans, Lalah
Hathaway and jazz icon Ramsey Lewis. Featured hits
included "You Covered Me" and the anthem "Healed." He
followed that with a second No. 2 album, 2009's The Law of
Confession, Part I, and the hit "Back II Eden." He then
scored his second No. 1 with YRM (Your Righteous Mind).
musical passion continues to manifest itself through various
pursuits. He has written and produced for the legendary Clark
Sisters, Clark Sheard, Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker
(including the No. 1 single "Souled Out"), among others. He
has taught at Chicago's Columbia College. And in September, he'll
celebrate his sixth anniversary as host of Verizon's national gospel
choir talent competition "How Sweet the Sound," working
alongside Walker, Yolanda Adams, Tamela Mann and other
special guests. Future plans include expanding into TV, film and
After a 12-year hiatus, Donald reunited the Tri-City Singers in
commemoration of their 25th anniversary, releasing the
highly-anticipated album Goshen. Using Old and New
Testament stories to reinforce the need for a spiritual exodus from
modern-day anxieties, Goshen is the first big gospel release
of 2019 and could well take its place among the best gospel albums
of the year.
Goshen, taken from references in Exodus of "God's promised place"
where one can find joy in the midst of troubled times, is a
compendium of worship songs, declarations of personal empowerment,
rages against the machine, and shouts of ultimate victory, through
God, over personal pain.
What sticks out immediately about this thematic project is how steeped it
is in musical theater. Like Thomas Dorsey did ninety years
ago, Lawrence employs theatrical techniques to tell the story. He
studied musical theater in college and uses his learning to maximum
impact on Goshen. For example, the spotlight shines on
the complex "Let My People Go," on the toe-tapping beat of
the title track, and on the cacophony of voices and samples of the
Rev. C. L. Franklin lining out on "He Heard My Cry."
Lawrence's dramatic exhortations preceding many of the songs bring
to mind the Reverend James Cleveland and his penchant for
setting up a song with a sermonette. It's a technique Cleveland
likely learned from Eugene Smith of the Roberta Martin
Singers who may, in turn, have learned it from the Reverend
Glenn T. Settles of the Wings over Jordan Choir.
The lush, cascading harmonies emblematic of the Tri-City Singers are on
full display during the melodic "Jehovah Sabaoth (God of Angel
Armies)." The song is rendered in turns gently and demonstrably
by lead singer Brittany Stewart. This austere and
breathtakingly beautiful hymn oozes with the influence of
songwriters Richard Smallwood, Andrae Crouch, and Kirk
array of gospel talent on Goshen makes it an all-star
package. Each artist brings his or her top game, from the
Murrills and Arnetta Murrill-Crooms - alumni of the
Tri-City Singers - to Sheri Jones-Moffett, Jason Nelson, Lejeune
Thompson, Blanche McAllister Dykes, and Le'Andria Johnson
among others. Jekalyn Carr revs up the onomatopoeia of the
breathy worship ode, "YHWH (The Sound of My Breathing)."
Sir the Baptist infuses elements of hip hop on "He Heard My
NPR Tiny Desk champions Tank and the Bangas join the ensemble on
"Let My People Go," the album's most explicitly political
selection. It likens wage inequality, human trafficking, racial
prejudice, police brutality, the corporate power elite's
mistreatment of its employees, and other forms of systematic
oppression to how Pharaoh treated the Hebrew slaves. Everyone is
equal under God, the ensemble sings, with the line "you cannot box
with God" a sly reference to Alex Bradford's gospel musical,
Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
Goshen is a majestic musical portrait of the struggle to break
free from personal suffering in all of its manifestations, and an
ode to the soul's ultimate victory through holding on, with
confidence, to God's unchanging hands.
"New ideas and concepts for songs, new talent, more knowledge ... the
more creative I can be is what keeps me excited," says the
indefatigable Lawrence. "You reap what you sow."