DONALD LAWRENCE REVIVES GOSPEL ICON EDWIN HAWKINS’ MUSIC & ARTS SEMINAR
Choir music is as popular as ever. The world watched on television as London’s Kingdom Choir sang at Prince Harry & Meghan Markle’s royal wedding. South Africa’s award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir has performed on the Academy Awards. The USA’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir lifted their voices during Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony. Today, choir music is not only sung in churches around the world. It’s featured in TV commercials and films, sampled by pop artists, and played in dance clubs on six continents. It’s against this backdrop that GRAMMY® Award winning choirmaster Donald Lawrence is reviving his mentor, the legendary late Edwin Hawkins’ annual Music & Arts Seminar that was birthed in 1979 and reimagining it for the 21st century as a bi-annual conference, Music + Arts Global.
“I want to see young people really benefit from the art…,” Hawkins said of the Music & Arts Seminar in a 1987 interview with Totally Gospel Magazine. “I don’t want it to be just another social affair. …I’d like to eventually take the convention out of the states…just to keep it fresh.” While that hope didn’t materialize during Hawkins’ lifetime, it’s happening April 27-29, 2023, when Lawrence will present the newly renamed conference Music + Arts Global at the Gaumont State Theatre (197-99 High Road NW6 7HY) in the Kilburn district of London, England.
“Choir music is everywhere, and music is a universal language,” Lawrence says. “A lot of people in the Baltic states can really sing well. I’ve visited many countries and worked with their choirs. I conducted a 500-voice choir at Duomo Cathedral in Florence, Italy with 30,000 people in attendance. A lot of the leaders in different cities asked for me to come and teach their choirs. Instead of me going to all of them, I said why don’t we all meet in London for this first year and then I’ll come to you the next year. So, we’ve got choirs coming from Sweden, Latvia, Denmark, and so many other places.” Bazil Meade MBE (the pioneering founder of the 40+ year old London Community Gospel Choir that’s given royal command performances and performed with a who’s who in music) and Ayce Oyerinde, are handling on the ground promotions for Music + Arts Global through their London-based firm, GloFest International.
Lawrence’s plan is to expand upon the rich legacy of the Music & Arts Seminar. Each day there will be educational courses on topics such as vocal blending; incorporating spoken word, dance, and theater into a choir’s stage presentation; and how to dress a choir and create its fashion imprint. Audio Sound Designer Armando Fullwood will join 7x GRAMMY® Award winning engineer Danny Duncan (who’s worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Israel Houghton) to introduce VenueFlex/ChoirFlex, a new technology that enhances audio clarity for an immersive acoustic listening experience. On Friday night, Volney Morgan of the MOBO Award winning gospel group Volney Morgan & New-Ye, will host a showcase of dynamic choirs from throughout the European continent and the United Kingdom.
There will also be guest appearances by music veterans such as Anthony Brown (of Anthony Brown & group therAPy), William Murphy, Ted Winn, Vincent Bohanan, Rodney Posey, and Derrick Starks. Songwriter Jeffrey LaValley will not only share his musical knowledge with attendees, but he will also tell the story behind his song “Revelations 19:1.” It was originally recorded by the New Jerusalem Baptist Church Choir in 1985. Over the years, the song has become a staple in church worship services. However, it became a TikTok and viral hit after the Sunday Service Choir recorded it and made it popular with a new generation of fans in 2022.
Music + Arts Global concludes with a big Saturday night concert. An international mass choir will pay tribute to singer LaShun Pace and to the Hawkins Family’s longtime bassist, Joel Smith, who both passed away in recent years. The choir will perform songs from the vast musical catalogues of Donald Lawrence, the Music & Arts Seminar, The Hawkins Family, and the guest choirmasters. GRAMMY® Award winning producer Cedric Thompson will serve as Music Director alongside Edwin Hawkins’ longtime Music Director, Derrick Hall. The sterling band will also include The Isley Brothers’ drummer, Calvin Rogers. Singer DeWayne Woods of “Let Go, Let God” fame will be on hand as Lawrence’s Assistant Vocal Director.
In his career, Edwin Hawkins earned 19 GRAMMY® Award nominations and four wins, including one for the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ million-selling single, “O Happy Day,” which peaked in the Top 5 on the Billboard R&B and Pop singles charts in 1969. The Oakland, CA-based choir was one of the leading acts of the music industry for two decades with other hits like “To My Father’s House,” “God Will Take Care of You,” “Worship the Lord,” and “Let Jesus Love You.” Hawkins launched the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar in 1979 as an annual gathering for professional and aspiring singers and musicians to congregate for classes in vocal technique, songwriting, the business side of music, and other matters. Each conference closed with a live recording session that produced over a dozen album releases over the years. Artists such as Yolanda Adams, John P. Kee, Daryl Coley, and LaShun Pace all got their early start as soloists on the projects. The conference has been dormant since Hawkins’ death in 2018.
In his career, Donald Lawrence has earned 18 GRAMMY® Award nominations and wins for producing The Clark Sisters’ 2007 album, Live – One Last Time, and Tennessee State University’s 2022 project, The Urban Hymnal. As a music director, vocal coach, or producer, he’s collaborated with Stephanie Mills, Mary J. Blige, and En Vogue on the R&B side. In the gospel world, he’s risen to prominence singularly, as well as the leader of the Tri-City Singers, and Donald Lawrence & Company. In the various pairings, he has placed 22 songs on the Billboard Gospel Airplay charts, including eight Top Ten hits and five number one smashes such as “Encourage Yourself,” “The Blessing of Abraham,” and the gold-certified single, “Deliver Me (This Is My Exodus).” Lawrence’s name is synonymous with choir music. From 2007-2013, he served as host for Verizon Wireless’ How Sweet the Sound choir talent competition in television commercials and on the road. In addition, Lawrence has either composed or produced classic songs on artists such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Faith Evans, Lalah Hathaway, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Bebe Winans, and even Hezekiah Walker’s No. 1 hit, “Souled Out.”