Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • 1999 11 Jan
by Barry Smades for Crosswalk Music

Take a group of 41 inner-city young adults from Chicago and mix in a commitment to Jesus Christ and a committed adult dedicated to reaching and ministry to inner-city teens and you have the formula for one of Christian music's newest groups - {{New Direction}}!

"I wanted to offer something that would draw young people into church," said Jeral Gray, founder of New Direction in addition to being music director, arranger and keyboardist. "A lot of kids have the perception that church is boring and has nothing they'd be interested in. I was intent on showing them it doesn't have to be that way."

Starting with flyers distributed in churches & radio stations, New Direction was founded in October of 1994 and word of mouth carried it from there. Ranging from age 13 to early 20's, New Direction crosses denominational lines and draws from churches throughout Chicago.

The group, which features teens who have struggled with the temptations facing urban young people, turned heads last year in Philadelphia at the annual Gospel Music Workshop of America convention. As a result, many opportunities opened up for New Direction and work began on the group's inaugural Myrrh self-titled release, which hits the street on March 2nd.

"What we're doing is very unique and different," said Emony Wilkins, one of the choir's soloists. "Over the last few years, we've really developed our own sense of style. Our music, our lyrics, even our choreography is very original. That's part of what makes it so fun to be a part of."

The entire project has been written by choir members, founder Gray or his older brother, Gospel music veteran Percy Gray. Percy joined with well-known producer Kern Brantley (Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige) in producing a strong, energetic and often danceable format to introduce New Direction.

The group makes the transition from rap-based ("Worship Christ") to the lush string and horn sounds ("God's Gift"). They even take an innovative step by covering {{Amy Grant}}'s "Lead Me On."

Urban, rap and R&B fans will find something in New Direction that will meet their musical taste while the lyrics leave no doubt that their commitment is to Jesus Christ and sharing his Good News.

With the program requiring each participant maintain at least a "C" average in school, the community ministry also offers Bible study, recreational and social activities, academic tutoring, rap sessions and prayer groups.

"I have three children of my own," said Jeral, "so I know firsthand the thing kids need most is love and positive attention. A lot of the kids we reach out to don't have any of that."

"I've seen some amazing transformations come as result of New Direction when young people get among a group of their peers who genuinely accept and are concerned for them. Once that connection is made on a friendship level, then they're ready to hear about and receive Christ into their lives."