Kevin Turner (Music) is the director of the internationally renowned UAB Gospel Choir, a 150-voice ensemble that sings contemporary and traditional American gospel songs and has performed with Stevie Wonder, Ruben Studdard, Lee Greenwood, and a host of other artists.
The choir’s first CD, UAB Gospel Choir—Live! (1997), was the first offering on the UAB Entertainment! record label. It received extensive airtime on Black Entertainment Television, and singles reached number one on Canadian gospel shows. A follow-up effort, Lessons for Life (2002), was played on the Myriad Gospel Countdown. The choir was also featured in the Henry Louis Gates documentary Black America in the 21st Century on PBS and the BBC.
With their latest CD/DVD, Gospel 101: Go Dominate!—released this spring—the choir has raised the bar, adding dance, mime, and spoken word along with its traditional numbers. The album includes songs written by Turner and choir members, with a tribute to Bishop Robert W. McMurray and a song written for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. Singles from Gospel 101 have received airplay on XM Radio and gospel stations across the country.
ON THE RECORD: What does Gospel 101: Go Dominate! mean?
TURNER: “Gospel,” in its simplest terms, means “good news.” The lesson you’re going to learn here is don’t copy anybody, don’t try to duplicate, and just don’t settle. Go for the gusto. Go dominate. In whatever field you decide to work in, armed with your degree, armed with the support of your family, armed with good news, dominate. The theme of the CD is celebrating college life and American gospel music. So the whole angle is to encourage some college students not to give up.
ON THE RECORD: You added dance, spoken word, and even mime to your performance for the DVD. Why did you make that choice?
TURNER: On just about every college campus in the United States you will find dance teams, mimes, spoken word, and step teams at probate shows. This recording celebrates college life and the diversity and inclusive components of American gospel music. The UAB Gospel Choir has so much talent that we could feature on the DVD, and this is also representative of the inclusiveness of UAB. When you watch the DVD, you know immediately that this isn’t just a show—these students are as serious about their gifts and talents as they are about their grades.
ON THE RECORD: This is your first album unsupported by record labels and distributors. Why did you choose that route? What has it meant for you and the choir?
TURNER: This was our opportunity to shine and wave the UAB flag as best we could. After we celebrated our 10th-anniversary concert, the level of performance seemed to rise exponentially. Everything I threw at the choir, they mastered—ultratraditional, contemporary, Negro spirituals, anthems, six-part harmony. Then the lead vocalists started maturing, and it just seemed like the right time to make the move.
If we had gone another route, I am certain that other producers would not have been as flexible. They would have wanted to bring their staffs and their executives to the table. But that would have negated the spirit of the project. It was my desire for each student participating—whether in a lead role or a supportive role—to have the opportunity to learn while working on the project and to have a demo CD to help them land professional opportunities. And that has happened.
ON THE RECORD: You’ve written a lot of the music yourself, and your students have contributed. What does it mean to you to have that intimate involvement with the music the choir performs?
Director Kevin Turner cites some of his inspirations
TURNER: Whenever a composer shares a piece of music, there is a sense of transparency that is found in each song. I know what it’s like to succeed, to fail, to lose loved ones. So when one of my songs encourages the listener to be strong, not drop out of school or drop out of life, you can take it to the bank that I have practiced what I’m preaching. I know that a kind and encouraging word can make all the difference in someone’s life.
ON THE RECORD: The CD includes a tribute to Bishop Robert W. McMurray, the song “Trust Him.” Why was that important to you?
TURNER: Bishop McMurray was a pioneer of gospel radio for over 30 years in Los Angeles. His church opened up their radio broadcast with the same song every week, encouraging the people of L.A. to “Trust Him.” Bishop McMurray was a friend to college choirs on tours and to upcoming artists. Many times he opened the church free of charge to those wanting to record their first CD or first good CD. What a man! What a kind and generous man. His church, Bethany Community Church, was a place where you could hear recording artists from all over the United States for free. In return, so many young musicians got the boost they needed from this icon.