For gospel singers, money takes backseat
Lekan Oguntoyinbo / Special to The Detroit News
David Coates / The Detroit News
- Leon Jones and Robert Evans first met each other in prison in Ionia nearly 30 years ago. Jones was doing time for armed robbery; Evans for second-degree murder, a conviction that was later overturned.They soon discovered they shared a love for gospel music and a strong desire to transform their lives. They also shared something else: a dream to form a business, a gospel singing group and ministry that reaches out to a wide variety of people, especially prison inmates.
That dream gave birth to Resurrection, a gospel singing group ( www.theeresurrection.com). Since the founding of the group in 1986, Resurrection has released three albums. A fourth, titled “Nothing New,” is due out this month
Resurrection is a different kind of gospel group — all the members are either ex-convicts are or one-time substance abusers. Mark Walker is a recovering cocaine addict, while Horace Willbanks, the newest member, is a recovering alcoholic. When they are not performing at churches, concerts or community centers, they are doing outreach work in a variety of settings, particularly prisons.
“What we set out to do in prison we’ve done,” said Jones, 49. “We have given people in prison and out of prison a sense of hope. To me that’s success.”
Success has come in other forms, too. In addition to selling more than 10,000 records, the group has worked with high-profile artists and preachers, including mega gospel stars Kirk Franklin and Bobby Jones. They also teamed up with Fred Hammond, another gospel superstar, on a song that was nominated for a Grammy.
The group has worked extensively in prison ministry with Chuck Colson, the former Nixon administration official who spent time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal and is now a prominent preacher and broadcaster. They’ve also worked with Bill Glass, a former NFL player who takes a keen interest in prison ministry.
But in the fiercely competitive business of gospel music, fortunes have been elusive for this gospel group — and that’s just fine with Jones and his cohorts, who support themselves with daytime jobs.
Money, he said, takes a back seat to a love for the music and the regular opportunities to share their experiences with people on the fringe, particularly those in prison.
If money was the motivation, Jones said, “we would have stopped a long time ago. The experiences we have had in life have helped us keep our feet on the ground.”
Gospel music writer Anthony Howard said one of Resurrection’s biggest strengths is its determination to remain consistent in a rapidly changing market.
“We are more into the hip-hop generation now and they’re not gospel hip-hop,” said Howard, whose work appears in detroitgospel.com, and thegospelzone.com. “They have maintained who they are and still get picked up for important engagements. That’s very difficult when people are trying to make gospel their livelihood.”