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The Integration of Urban and Praise & Worship Music

  • 1999 10 Sep
The Integration of Urban and Praise & Worship Music
by Scott A. Shuford for the Music Channel at
(To see more about any artist mentioned, just click their name!)

Urban music has been an integral part of American music history as far back as American history goes. Most of us are at least familiar with textbook history from grade school regarding "negro spirituals" and with the some of the latest developments in gospel, R&B, hip-hop, rap and other urban music styles.

Gospel or Black Gospel music has been the focus of well deserved (if not overdue) coverage from the mainstream media. Artists like {{Kirk Franklin}}, {{Fred Hammond}}, {{T D Jakes}}, generations of {{Winans}} and others have secured a new focus on the long and vibrant history of gospel music and the Gospel in our culture, but there is an undercurrent flowing through the river of our church culture that has not yet received all that much coverage.

The undercurrent is the integration of Urban music into modern Praise & Worship. God set the stage with many little steps and they are still being taken. We are just beginning to see what He has been doing in this area. Some of the larger steps include the Promise Keepers movement and its focus on racial harmony, the urban music explosion in our culture, and the success of a person who might be considered a father of this movement: {{Ron Kenoly}}.

Only God knows exactly where this river is going to flow, but I can come up with some "fun" ideas myself and I'm sure God can out do me! How about a racially integrated Church? (then we can work on a socio-economically integrated church) I can see massive evangelism through exposure to mainstream American culture. Maybe the MAJOR revival that so many are praying and hoping for (did you know that most great revivals have been accompanied by musical revivals as well?) What can you think up?

With that I mind, I asked for input from a few of the folks who are participants in and documenting this trend. I hope you enjoy these discussions with {{Alvin Slaughter}}, Jerrel Gilliam and {{Keith Staten}}. Let's get to know these folks.

A former member of the {{Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir}}, {{Alvin Slaughter}} has been leading worship for almost 10 years. His music ministry as a worship leader and songwriter has taken him around the world, with stops in over 150 churches in the U.S and over 20 other countries. In addition, he has recorded several albums including two Hosanna! Music albums - - "God Can" and "Yes." Alvin and his wife Gloria have three children ranging in age from 19 to 23. They reside in upstate New York.

Jerrel Gilliam currently serves as the manager of Urban Praise for Integrity Music. Previously, he served as the National Manager of Worship for the Promise Keepers organization. Jerrel, his wife and four children reside in Mobile, Alabama, where Integrity is headquartered.

Stellar and Dove Award nominee {{Keith Staten}} grew up in Gospel music, performing with several ensembles including {{Commissioned}}. Today, Keith leads worship in churches around the country, bringing an urban relevance to contemporary praise music. His unique style of worship can be heard on two of Integrity Music's urban praise albums - - "Worship In The House" and "Glory In The House." Keith, his wife Marketa and their young son make their home in Orlando, Florida.


Tell us a little about what you've been up to and seen over the course of your ministry.

For the last eight years, I have been privileged to minister in concert and lead worship in hundreds of churches throughout the United States and around the world.

My greatest desire is to use my music to worship God, build faith, and preach the gospel. Keeping this as my focal point, I minister at churches of various denominations and ethnic backgrounds. Most of these churches I return to every year and they are as diverse as First Baptist to First Assembly of God, to the Church of God in Christ.

The whole black vs. white, and gospel vs. praise & worship wall can really come down when we truly decide to embrace others who are different than we are, while still appreciating diversity.

How do you see integration happening in music and in churches?

If you listen to secular top 40 radio, or read Billboard or other major secular music magazines, you see various races and hear everything from Lauryn Hill to Sheryl Crow. Christian radio, on the other hand, for the most part is segregated. Many Christian bookstores have black gospel sections in the stores and you can be a praise & worship artist or sing country, or Christian rap, yet if you are black, your music will be in the black gospel section.

I am honored to minister at so many interracial churches around this country. If you ask the pastors how this happened, they will tell you that they publicly welcomed people of all nations, and made a conscious effort to reach other communities.

How does Praise & Worship fit into that conscious effort to reach out?

Black people have traditionally been a people who love passionate, rhythmic music. Yet there are many of all races that love the same style. The key is to get Praise & Worship music of all styles to people in the city, in the country, and small towns. We must open up our publications, radio frequencies, our websites and our churches to people of all nations, and God will draw all men unto Him.


Do you think Praise & Worship music is helping to break down some of the racial barriers that have existed within the Church?

One of the most enjoyed experiences at Promise Keepers event was the worship. As the National Manager of Worship, I witnessed first hand many times, how God uses worship to bring His body together. When our focus is horizontal we tend to cluster around our racial and denominational comfort zones but when authentic worship happens our focus turns vertical and our petty walls fall down. We actually begin to mirror what Heaven will be like when every tribe and nation will combine their praise to God, Who is SO worthy!

Do you see a hunger for Praise & Worship growing within urban and black churches?

Definitely, the Black Church in America began with worship. Slaves who authentically loved God would "steal away" to a remote place to worship God, oftentimes risking personal harm or death. It is from this vibrant relationship that the ultimate strength to endure and eventual change came. Every major social change for African Americans has been birthed and sustained in the church. It was during the 60's and 70's when there was a shift toward social/political answers separate from the church. Some of our music began to shift from worship and praise towards entertaining soloist and attention-getting choirs. Yet, there has always been a remnant of true worshippers who have always longed for the presence of God. Today there is a fresh resurgence of urban praise through worship leaders like {{Keith Staten}}, {{Motor City Mass}} and the {{Tribe of Benjamin}}. It is about to explode into revival throughout our cities.

Can you give examples of 3-4 major urban churches that are really into Praise & Worship music? Are they giving the songs a more urban/gospel sound?

Church Of The Harvest in Los Angeles
West Angeles COGIC in Los Angeles
Covenant Church of Pittsburgh
Straight Gate Church in Detroit
Cornerstone Church in Toledo
Church In The City in Denver

Each is cultivating a distinct sound and an authentic worship expression of their body. The other healthy dynamic is that each church encourages diversity. They can not be pigeonholed as a "black" church because the truth is, the Urban church is as diverse as the people that make up the cities. Their musical styles are just as diverse.

What do you see Integrity's role as being in the growth of Urban Praise & Worship?
We have a platform that allows us to share with the world the new sounds and songs that are being birthed in the Urban Church. We also have many resources that can assist the church in equipping the saints as worshippers. Our strength is our ability to serve what God is already doing in the Urban Church.


Currently, do you find yourself ministering through worship in primarily black, white or mixed churches?

Right now, I minister primarily in black churches. But, more than ever, I'm getting involved with white ministries and I'm seeing more mixed churches and ministries.

Do you think Praise & Worship music is helping to break down some of the racial barriers that have existed within the Church?

I definitely feel that it (Praise & Worship) is breaking ground. The sound of the music that we're (himself, Alvin, {{Fred Hammond}} and others) giving is crossing boundaries. It's a sound that all people enjoy because of the anointing. That's the reason that Praise & Worship music is becoming more popular. People want to enter into the glory of God. In the past, I think people were mainly looking for entertainment. But, they're hungry for more. They want to experience God's presence, His glory. It's that hunger that is breaking down barriers. Whenever people - no matter what their race or background - get together and seek the glory of God, the barriers are gonna come down.

Would you say that you have a vision for drawing together the gospel and contemporary Christian music communities? Or, an even larger vision for drawing black and white communities together?

That truly has been my vision over the last 3 years... the challenge of going into more traditional gospel areas, and exposing them to Praise & Worship. A lot of churches are already there. Some churches know a little bit about Praise & Worship and are hungry for more. Sometimes, I'll go into a church and they'll expect a concert, some entertainment... they won't be expecting such a move of God. They come for a concert and end up on their knees. That's what I enjoy.

I want to get involved with more white ministries... but, there shouldn't be any striving for this kind of thing. That's for God to work out and He's doing it without our efforts. God is moving. We just have to sing music that is anointed and be obedient. He'll use us.

Praise & Worship is not one sound, not geared to one race, it's for all God's people.

How do you prepare for a worship concert? What do you do to prepare for the ministry time that happens?

Oh, I like to watch a good game right before. (Big laugh from Keith here.) No, seriously, my preparation time starts days before. First, I try to live life as a worshiper. I feel that all Christians are, or should be, worshipers. Getting before people (in a worship event or concert) is a demonstration of our lifestyles. I study the Word. I like to get alone and pray, prepare myself. You can't pour out anything that isn't already in you. What comes out of your mouth is an overflow of what's in your spirit.

Related specifically to Urban Praise & Worship, do you see a hunger for Praise & Worship growing within urban and black churches?

Like never before. There are some churches that say, 'we need our own music... music that demonstrates our sound.' A lot of black ministries are saying 'your ministry brings us into the presence of God.' The majority of churches are realizing that you have to go a step further than singing songs, or just playing music. It's time to understand that the words out of our mouths should be from the Word of God. We need His Word coming out of our mouths at all times.

What, if any, roadblocks have you experienced along the way?

In the past, I guess the biggest roadblock was that people wanted to sing songs in a style that was comfortable to them, that they identified with. Now they have that (through urban Praise & Worship). But, right now, I don't see any - - other than spiritual roadblocks. Whenever people want to get into God's presence, the enemy will always come against us. People are hungry and God has the door wide open. People are embracing what they hear. They may not know how to respond right away, but they sense the presence of God and know it's time to move.

Read more about {{Alvin Slaughter}} and {{Keith Staten}} now by clicking on the links.

Special thanks to Shannon Walker at Integrity Music for making this possible!