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UNITED TENORS: Hammond, Hollister, Roberson, Wilson

 In a music business full of inflated egos, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get four of the biggest names in their musical genres to collaborate on a project, but that’s just what Fred Hammond, Dave Hollister, Eric Roberson and Brian Courtney Wilson have done. The Grammy Award winning, platinum-selling urban contemporary Gospel pioneer; the R&B crooner who wailed on 2 Pac’s classic “Keep Ya Head Up” and as Blackstreet front man on “Before I Let You Go”; the Grammy Award nominated Indie Soul King and the urban inspirational vocalist with the crisp rasp in his tone have united as the United Tenors. This unique unit has created an album that will not only appeal to the church world’s predominant audience - women - but it’s also a work that will resoundingly connect with men. “I want them to experience a brand new fresh anointed sound or feeling,” Hammond says of the music’s future listeners. “I want them to have a ‘WOW’ moment."


Who better to usher in the WOW factor than the man who co-founded Commissioned, the groundbreaking `80s Gospel band that brought funk, lyrical poetry and a lot of unprecedented punch to the Gospel idiom?  It’s the same man who, through his `90s ensemble Radical for Christ, introduced the praise and worship genre to urban praise teams with modern day chants such as “Let the Praise Begin” and “Glory to Glory to Glory.” The idea for this new group has been germinating in Hammond’s mind for a couple of years. "It was something that I heard internally,” he adds. “It was a male group sound, similar to what I heard when I heard Commissioned's first sound, so I knew I needed to move in that direction.”


The sound is an Urban Adult rhythm that recalls `70s soul music without an iota of nostalgia. They take from the past but transform it for the future.  “I think it will remind people of a lot of the old throwback great R&B groups like Heatwave, the Dramatics, the Chi-lites and The Stylistics,” Hammond says. “It's a brand new sound that still feels familiar.  When men sing together it's a very powerful moment, and we have that moment."


Indeed, they have several of those poignant moments here. Hammond wrote three of the fourteen songs and co-wrote the remaining tracks with a variety of musicians -mostly friends with whom he’s collaborated with over the years. They showcase a muscular vulnerability of submission to God on the first radio single, “Here in Our Praise,” a mellow sing-along in which they sing in unison: “With our hearts Lord, we worship you and we won’t be the same. In your power O Lord, we are changed! As we lift up your name let your presence reign over us as we worship you.”


A Quiet Storm aura permeates the smooth jazzy “Never A Day,” and “My Heart is Yours” is an urgent declaration of divine fidelity.  It’s not all ballads though. The United Tenors boldly proclaim their faith in bass-heavy jams like “Love You Like That;” “We Worship You,” and “Unshakeable.”  They rock the building on “I’m Reminded;” infuse “That’s the Only Way To Love” with a step groove, and tweak “Come On Let’s Pray” with subtle elements of electronica.


So, how did this incredible project come together? "I called Dave first because we've been friends for over 20 years.  We talked and brainstormed for a year,” Hammond remembers. “When I began thinking about all of the components of the group, I knew I wanted a fresh voice, a fresh name, and fresh face.  I thought about quite a few R&B cats that would have been great, and then Eric Roberson came to mind.  Dave and I agreed he would be a good fit. I initially was only thinking about a three-man group, and then someone mentioned Brian Courtney Wilson.  When I met him, he was just such a cool guy and great spirit, I knew it was God's will that he be in the group and I'm grateful to have him as part of the United Tenors."


All of the men bring deep and varied musical roots to the ethos of the United Tenors. Fred Hammond entered the music business as bass player for the iconic `80s Gospel quartet The Winans and then co-founded Commissioned in 1982. Throughout the `80s, the band revolutionized Gospel music with urban beats and their unique vocal blend on signature cuts like “Running Back to You;” “Cry On” and “Ordinary Just Won’t Do.” In 1991, Hammond launched his solo career and became a leading pioneer of urban praise and worship music. It’s a move that has earned him six R.I.A.A. gold or platinum CD certifications and scores of Gospel radio hits such as “No Weapon,” “We’re Blessed” and recent #1 hits such as “They That Wait” and “I Feel Good.”


Dave Hollister started his career backing artists ranging from Father M.C. to Welsh sex symbol Tom Jones to Patti LaBelle before joining the New Jack Swing quartet Blackstreet, circa 1993. He remained with them through their biggest, chart-topping hits.  By 1999, Hollister had gone solo and released his debut CD, “Ghetto Hymns,” which featured the Top Ten R&B hit “My Favorite Girl.” He went on to turn out a string of solid R&B standards and then, in 2004, accepted the call to ministry that he’s said he was ducking since the age of 17. “I ran from it for a long time,” he adds. “I finally decided to accept it once I came into the full knowledge of my relationship with God.” He then released the acclaimed Gospel CD, “The Book of David: Vol. 1 The Transition” on Gospo Centric Records in 2004 and served as a staff minister at New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, TN for a few years.


Eric Roberson isn’t a minister but he was spiritually touched by Commissioned’s music when he was about 11 years old. “Commissioned is the reason why I write songs,” he says. He was in the basement ironing clothes for school and ran across a cassette of the group that his father had won at a family reunion. “I saw it and just put it in,” he recalls. “It was some young guys and they looked kind of hip on the cover. And the music was just so beautiful, so cutting edge. The lyrics were so heartfelt and piercing that I found myself getting emotional. Musically, the lines - I couldn’t duck it. I was relating to what they said so much. So I asked myself what do I want to do with my life? I said I want to do that. I want to be able to move people the way they moved me.”



Roberson’s wish has been fulfilled. The Rahway, NJ native has worked with or written songs for DJ Jazzy Jeff & Will Smith, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Dwele, Carl Thomas and Vivian Green.  He was a musical theater major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. when he snagged a recording deal with Warner Bros. Records.  His 1994 debut single, “The Moon,” hit the Billboard Top 100 R&B singles chart. After college graduation, Roberson worked with a who’s who of the neo-soul movement and launched his own record label, B.L.U.E. Erro Soul in 2001. He’s released seven albums through the company with 2011’s “Mr. Nice Guy” being the biggest one yet – reaching #14 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. In both 2010 and 2011, Roberson earned Grammy Award nominations in the category of Best Urban/Alternative Performance, an amazing accomplishment for an independent artist.


Brian Courtney Wilson is an independent artist with major label success. The Chicago native was reared in church and sang in the Rock of Ages Baptist church adult male chorus, but drifted away from church life after graduating from the University of Illinois. He took a pharmaceutical sales job at Johnson & Johnson that led him to Houston, TX where his faith was revived after a visit to Windsor Village Church. Eventually, he became immersed in the local Gospel scene and was signed to Matthew Knowles’ Music World label. His 2009 debut CD “Just Love” debuted at #2 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart and remained #1 on the Christian Music Trade Association’s Inspirational Album chart for 52 weeks.  The set was propelled by the Top Ten smash, “All I Need,” which spent an astounding 92 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart. It was followed by other Top Twenty hits like “Already Here,” “Awesome God” and “Just Love.”  His 2012 sophomore CD “So Proud” debuted at #1 on Top Gospel Albums chart and spawned the radio singles “So Proud” and “He Still Cares.”


All four of the United Tenors gel well together and are excited about working together. “There was total peace while recording this project,” says Hammond.  “Everyone was very supportive and just loved being in the room together.” 


"When assembling the group, I didn't just listen to voices, but I also looked at character,” Hammond says.  “I wanted to work with men who would work well together and complement each other.  Personally, I have to put Fred Hammond's solo career and solo personae on hold for the sake of making this group successful.  This is a bigger cause, so I have to step back now and sing background...and I'm happy to do it. And these guys feel the same way...they play their parts. There are no egos.  I try to distribute the time people have on the mic equally, and it has worked.”


“Working with the United Tenors has been a total joy. The bottom line is, none of us need this to survive.  We are doing it out of love for God.  We are all united in this, but our lives and livelihood are not dependent upon it.  I think that makes the biggest difference."  


 March 2013




UNSHAKEABLE (Written by Fred Hammond, Ira Dean and Nicholas Humes)

This simple declaration of “unshakeable” faith in God opens with a dancehall rhythm before morphing into an in-your-face jumble of ferocious percussion, thumping bass lines and wailing electric guitars. In it, the foursome sings of the earthly exploits of Jesus Christ and how they created the, “unbreakable, unshakeable kingdom of God.”


LOVE YOU LIKE THAT (Written by Fred Hammond, Phillip Feaster, Lawrence Jones and Calvin Rodgers) Keyboardist Phillip Feaster and drummer Calvin Rodgers are alums from prior Hammond projects and helped him craft this aggressive R&B-flavored pledge with guitarist Larry Jones.  It’s a thrust your fist in the air track that celebrates a man’s love for God with a virile and spiritually confident assurance.


HERE IN OUR PRAISE (Written by Fred Hammond, Michael Bethany and Derek Clark)

A warm and welcoming song of praise, this tune opens with the quartet singing in unison about the power of worshipping God to transform the mind, body and soul.


WE WORSHIP YOU (Written by Fred Hammond and Derek Clark)

Boasting a mid-tempo Chicago steppers groove, this track is a simple assertion that can easily find a home in an upscale nightclub or a church’s Saved & Single Friday night get-together. The bridge boasts a passing reference to the hook of The Isley Brothers’ 1975 classic, “For The Love of You.” Derek Clark, who has previously worked with R&B star Omarion as well as Hammond, helps compose a solid “holy’ dance track.


I’M IN THE MIDST (Written by Fred Hammond and Charles Bethany)

“In the midst of my struggle, as I face down the storm,” Brian Courtney Wilson testifies in his emphatically sandpapery notes on this smooth track. “You are here,” the group echoes in a dynamically encouraging call and response that reminds the faithful that God is with them throughout life’s ups and down.


I’M REMINDED (Written by Fred Hammond)

“I’m reminded how much you care for me,” they passionately sing on this super-charged Latin pop beat. “I’m reminded how much you’ve done for me, O Lord. When I think just what you done on Calvary, I am reminded of your love.” By the time the song climaxes, the guys are spitting guttural Sunday morning church styled adlibs over DJ vinyl scratching sound effects and a blistering percussion breakdown.


NEVER A DAY (Written by Bobby Sparks and Fred Hammond)

A wistful smooth jazz breeze blows over this mellow eight minute track that was penned by Fred Hammond with organist Bobby Sparks (who’s played on sessions with Kirk Franklin, Lalah Hathaway among others).  It expresses a man’s need for God 24/7 and 365 days a year. The comforting ballad is on par with classic late night slow jams such as Quincy Jones’ “Secret Garden” or Con Funk Shun’s “Love Train.”


 EVERYBODY GET UP (Written by Fred Hammond and Jason Robinson)

A punchy grand piano serves as the backdrop to this scintillating urban-ready push to “get up” and Give God the praise. “Everybody get up and give Him the praise for the mighty love of God is in this place,” they sing on this song crafted for audience participation.


COME ON LET’S PRAY (F. Hammond, Derek Clark, David Hollister, Eric Roberson and Brian Courtney Wilson)

Here we have a sweeping, up-tempo Top 40-styled call to prayer. “Call on him, he’ll see you through you and I know he’ll do the same for you,” the chorus chimes in. “That’s why I pray when I can’t find my way.”


THAT’S THE ONLY WAY TO LOVE (Written by Fred Hammond and Harold Martin)

This catchy, mid-tempo urban track echoes the Biblical theme of The Golden Rule with a balmy summertime, cruising-with-the-top-down swagger. “From your heart just give it up,” they sing. “Do it just like God above because that’s the only way to love.”


MY HEART IS YOURS (Written by Fred Hammond, Phillip Feaster, Lawrence Jones and Calvin Rodgers) With an ethereal, acoustic-guitar footing, this soothing ballad of divine devotion recalls the smooth yet soulful vocals of `90s era R&B acts such as Shai, Jagged Edge and Mint Condition. “Receive my heart, receive my heart,” Brian Courtney Wilson pleads as the guys sing, “I surrender all.” It’s a beautiful addition to the canon of all the all-time best love songs.


WHAT IS THIS? (Written by Fred Hammond)

This is a humorous blooper or outtake that lasts only twenty-three seconds. In it, Fred Hammond jokes around with the other tenors in between song sessions and asks, “What is this?” and answers his own question with a chuckle of “foolishness.”


MY GOD IS REAL (written by Fred Hammond)

This engaging, piano-based rhythm celebrates the relationship between God and man with a subtle old school soul motif. Through the prism of vocoder (the sound distorting engineering technique popularized by R&B singer/producer Roger Troutman in the `80s and recently re-popularized by T-Pain), the gents trade lines about “feeling” God in their soul. “Let me tell you what I’m smiling about because in my heart there is no doubt,” Roberson sings. “I want the whole world to know so I tell it, I tell it wherever I go.”


I NEED YOU (Written by Fred Hammond, Phillip Feaster, Lawrence Jones and Calvin Rodgers) “You know as I get older, I come to realize that I can’t do this on my own,” one of the tenors says on an opening that echoes Isaac Hayes or Barry White’s `70s era spoken word intros to their romantic songs. The most earnest of love songs, the gentlemen pour their hearts in the words of this soul-stirring love letter to God.



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