The Gospel Guru Interviews Donald Lawrence
Grammy-winning producer, composer and recording artist Donald Lawrence is one of the most influential figures in Gospel music.
Known for his signature approach to music, Lawrence has worked with some of the best in music such as Stephanie Mills, The Clark Sisters, Ann Nesby, and more. But most recently we’ve heard Mr. Lawrence on “Bill Winston Presents Living Word: Released“, in which he is featured on the LP’s lead single, “Released“.
The Gospel Guru recently caught up with the award-winning maestro, who dished on new music, a new project, and much more!
TGG: Lets dive right in; I recently heard the new single “Released” from Pastor Bill Winston’s project, what inspired you to write such a powerful song?
DL: Well, I think I’m just inspired to write just in general, I can’t say one thing. I just write what I hear and feel, definitely God inspired. But I just feel like it’s a lyrical content for now, for a lot of people to remind them who they are, and remind them that their best days are right in front of them and it’s starting now.
TGG: How important was it for you to be apart of Living Word Christian Center’s first album?
DL: Well I think that more than anything, Pastor Winston came to me and said, “Ok the Church’s music department wants to do a record, I need you to come in and guide them because you’re out there and you know what you’re doing with it. I want to make sure they don’t make any bad steps…” So that’s my tithe for my church, I tithe my talent as well. I came in and rolled up my sleeves and dug in with everybody. It’s not a project that I feel like I produced, they produced it. I just kinda mentored them through the process, actually Ed Tucker really produced the project. The whole music teamed worked it as a collab.
TGG: “Released” embodies such a powerful message, and it’s working its way up the charts. What is it about your music that you feel makes listeners/consumers gravitate to it so quickly?
DL: I think that I’m honest when I write, when I say honest I mean I write what I hear. I don’t let style or music trends dictate to me what I write. I write what I feel like I should write in a moment. That’s probably the winning thing for me, just being honest and writing what I feel. And usually when I write what I feel it’s a lot of people that needed to hear that. When I’m really honest with it and don’t let the newest freshest thing change what I would write it tends to be something that everyone needs to hear. I’ve just learned to be very honest with that.
TGG: You mentioned music trends. How important do you feel it is for an artist to stay true to who they are and not attach themselves to the current trends?
DL: Well, if current trends are who you are then yea…But if you have something that you are true to…I just always like organic, i like people being just being there authentic self. But I understand the music business and the music industry, and if you feel like you have to add trends to your record I would add some of it, but I would still let the record show who you are.
TGG: With you being the musical genius that you are, who does Donald Lawrence listen to for inspiration?
DL: Um. Well, when it comes to lyrical content I’ll always say Pastor Winston. Great speakers, great philosophers, great spiritual teachers they inspire me to write, and dig a little deeper. Musically, when it comes to Gospel music my mentors are still – I love Andrae Crouch, I think his last cd is brilliant beyond brilliant. I listen to Richard Smallwood, I listen to… a lot of 80’s music. I’m a big 80’s gospel music fan. So I listen to old Hawkins, old Thomas Whitfield, old Clark Sisters. I loved music from that era. There are urban people I listen to. I think with urban music I’m more of a 90’s, early 90’s guy. I was a huge fan of Teddy Riley, he inspired me as a producer. I was a big Luther Vandross fan, so that’s the 80’s.. I loved his vocal arrangements, how he approached his music, his sensitivity to lyric, tone and melody. So it’s a lot of people I pick things from, and that’s not my theater side.
TGG: So you draw a lot of inspiration from different places.
DL: I think we draw inspiration from our journey that we’ve traveled. I’ve studied musical theater, grew up in the church, and was around a lot of the other people that I mentioned. So It’s just a conversation of every place I’ve been.
TGG: You’re a busy guy! You have your hand in a lot of different projects. How was it working with Bishop Morton for his forthcoming album?
DL: It was a great. He’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. He goes in and does what he has to do, he’s really a one or two take singer. He just sings. And I like that, because I work with a variety of people and younger people are always so picky about “let me do this”, “let me try that run” he just sings what he feels. I’m so much about the way a song feels. As much as I’m familiar with him and his voice, I still wasn’t familiar with his brand. So it took me a minute to study it, and make sure I did the right thing with him or created a template that was right for him. So it took me a minute to figure it out, but I’m happy with what we’ve got.
TGG: Awesome. When I heard the new single I said wow I have a new favorite to add to my list of favorites from Bishop Morton.
DL: I’m really really happy with what we’ve got. I really pushed him in some areas that he wouldn’t go normally, but he did it! And he made it work too.
TGG: I remember when you first started on his project you tweeted about the Thomas Whitfield remake with Karen Clark that he’s doing, I’m looking forward to hearing that.
DL: It turned out really good too! It’s different from the original, but It still has the same feeling. I changed the tempo to more of a ballad.
TGG: From what I understand you’re also gearing up for a Tri-City reunion ?
DL: No it’s not a reunion. Well, it is but it ain’t, it’s not a reunion of the Tri-City singers. What i’m doing is a 20 years in the business Donald Lawrence cd and they’re coming to celebrate with me. But it’s gonna be music that I’ve wrote for everybody not just TriCity. So it’s Faith Evans, Lala Hathaway, Coko, The Clark Sisters, Vanessa Bell, Bishop Morton, Hezekiah, Tri-City, Donald Lawrence & Company, Anita Wilson, Dewayne Woods,…etc. It’s just a really big undertaking.
TGG: So this is a new project or..?
DL: It will be a new live cd/dvd with new music and old music. But not old music meaning just Tri-City music, it’ll be music from all of those people…I’ve even got Ted & Sheri coming back together.
TGG: I’m a big Karen Clark fan, and I knew of you and your music before “Finally Karen”, but after that project I paid closer attention to you and your music. How did your hand in that project change or affect your career?
DL: I don’t know if it changed my career, but for me I’ve always been the only Clark Sister fan, and anybody that knows me knows I’m like that. It was just great to see Karen get that moment. We did a thing called Island Inspirational All-stars, we did “Don’t Give Up” and they were looking for a female vocalist for that and I was the one who said get Karen Clark, and they were like can you get her? And I said yes I can find her. When she came to do that, that’s when the conversation started. They said you know you should do a solo record, and she said I’ve been thinking about doing one but I don’t know if I’m ready to do something without my sisters. Island president, who was Hiriam Hicks at that time, Stanley Brown, and myself just all talked about that…it just kind of evolved. So they said this is what we’re gonna do…. should it be studio or should it be live, and I said why can’t it just be both? And they were like people don’t do that, and I was like well just because they don’t do it doesn’t mean we can’t do it. So that was the best thing, and it was kinda the birth of live and studio on the same thing. I was like just go with it, don’t think about it just do it. So that’s what we did.
TGG: I love it! You guys changed the way Gospel artists record music.
DL: I said just do it. And everybody went in their corners and to do what they did. They let me handle that part of it…I said I want to do it with Tri-City backing you, because she was asking who was going to sing back up, and I said I’m going to bring my choir and have you up front as the soloist That’s what we did, and then she went in the studio with Stanley Brown, and J Moss who was very new then. We just all came together and did that project.
TGG: You’re an artist, songwriter, producer what is your favorite role?
DL: I love songwriting, that’s my favorite.
TGG: With you being so busy, how do you find balance?
DL: I think balance for me is taking a vacation. I enjoy just chillin’ at home watching watching TV. I love to travel, especially out of the country it helps me disconnect. I don’t really disconnect if I stay in the country, but if i travel out of the country I kinda let everything sit there until I get back. So that definitely is the best thing for me if I want to disconnect and clear out my head.
TGG: Lastly, how does Donald Lawrence define or determine success?
DL: Had you asked me this 10 or 15 years ago my answer would be totally different. But now that I’m older I define success as really learning to love who you are and the purpose of you being here, and being able to live inside that. That’s really what I define success as.