Vince Lawrence is stepping to a groove that he pioneered forty years ago, and a legion of artists have now joined the ride. In 1983, the native Chicagoan helped create House Music by recording the single, On and On, with his friend Jesse Saunders. This month, he premiered a video featuring his remix of the Gospel hit, Never Knew Love, by Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago, completed with help from director Paul Christopher Greene and Lawrence’s company, Slang Music Group.
The video celebrates community faith at an elegant ball organized by a group of young people. Boasting gorgeous aerial shots, live-action footage and performances by Lawrence and Jenkins, it has earned more than 100,000 YouTube views (and counting) in less than two weeks.
Production took place at the Wilson Theatre Building in Uptown where the Double Door music venue is expected to reopen in the near future. The action was captured by Slang’s Mobile Production Vehicle, a Mercedes van loaded with a RED Epic Dragon, a customized Infinity 360 steadicam, an FAA licensed drone pilot and more.
YouTube praise for the effort includes a comment from a 66-year-old Chicagoan who wrote, you snapped on this Charles, and another who noted, (it) sounds like club mix music gospel music has definitely changed dramatically.
The widespread appeal of Never Knew Love (Vince Lawrence House Remix) comes as no surprise to Lawrence himself. “House Music, like Gospel, is built on the spirit of unity and togetherness,” he says. “Both are created to lift people up and relieve despair. They have become the voice of the downtrodden, a rallying cry against oppression and hope for the hopeless. House and Gospel are love in musical form.”
Additional Chicago churchgoers inspired by Gospel’s elevating power include Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson and Reverend Thomas Dorsey, (aka “the father of gospel music”).
NEVER KNEW LOVE (VINCE LAWRENCE HOUSE REMIX) CHARLES JENKINS
HEARING THROUGH ANOTHER LENS
The music of Lawrence’s Never Knew Love remix opens with joyful horn bursts and violin responses on top of a bongo rhythm. The intro pauses momentarily for a bass and electric piano interlude. Then the horns are back, kicking off a reggaetón inspired rhythm with open high hat and rim clicks. A Hammond B3 weaves into the groove. It’s almost like Earth Wind and Fire teamed up with Maxwell, Booker T and Al Jackson Jr. to create a funky disco marching band.
“A remix is a reinterpretation of an artist’s song or performance through the lens of another culture,” says Lawrence. “We may create a House Music version of a Beyonce song so that it finds a home on House Music dance floors, or a UK Grime mix of a Jon Legend song, so that it can find listeners in that audience.”
Remixes also frequently increase the tempo and add new musical arrangements to the original tracks. For the Never Knew Love House cut, the horns blow courtesy of Tom Washington, who has previously worked his magic on a number of hits, including several Earth Wind and Fire songs.
But, according to Lawrence, “it all starts with the vocal performance.” In that respect, he says that the material supplied by Charles Jenkins is “some of the best I’ve ever heard.”
THE PROLIFIC PASTOR
Pastor Charles Jenkins is an Award-winning vocalist and leader of Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. As a performer who has earned stratospheric popularity on YouTube — including 65 million views for a 2012 performance of My God is Awesome — he is also quite possibly the most prolific artist in Chicago.
A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the Pastor delivers lyrics with authoritative reassurance, combining the command of a preacher with the warmth of a friend in a contagiously joyful tone. “Love — It means to hold one in the highest regard,” he sings. “The highest form of love is not affection, it’s sacrifice.”
Fellowship Chicago’s ongoing community activities reinforce that declaration. Among them are the Fellowship Bible Academy, the Black Business Directory, Online Wellness Sessions and the Baby Dedication Program, which offers classes to parents of newborns.
The Never Knew Love video is a celebration of these efforts. The young people who organize the festivities negotiate with Double Door owner Sean Mulroney at the beginning of the sequence. A miniature orchestra, a clapping choir, rollerbladers, swirling fog, colorful lights, break dancers, haute couture and multiple generations of attendees come next. Lawrence and Jenkins drive there in a mint condition 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport.
In Lawrence’s opinion, that’s how it was always meant to be. “Everybody’s talking about how House Music is becoming so intersectional, but it’s been that way since the beginning,” he says. “I was melding cultures in 1986.”
MOVING THE BEAT FORWARD
Since creating On and On, Lawrence has journeyed from a South Side bedroom to multiple west side recording facilities and, presently, to the home-based, state-of-the-art Highland Park facility that houses his company, Slang Music Group. He and his team have remixed hundreds of tracks by a variety of artists including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, the Pet Shop Boys and Simply Red. On the advertising side, he recently created the soundtracks for a trio of 30-second Nissan spots by multicultural agency Fluent 360.
Slang’s current workload includes a number of jobs in the modern surround-sound format, and it has added an Atmos-equipped workspace to meet the demand.
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