James Hall is an innovative choir master, songwriter and arranger who is known for fusing contemporary choral sounds with intricate elements of jazz, big band and classical music.
“Now I’ve become a musical term,” Hall laughed. “I hear people say, “oh that’s that James Hall sound!’ I’m humbled by that!”
A mainstay in gospel since his debut in 1994 with his “God is in Control” CD, the New York-bred gospel star — once dubbed “The Professor” but now known as “The Duke of Gospel”—is having a resurgence of sorts because of his latest offering, “Trip Down Memory Lane.”
The appropriately titled album was done to commemorate Hall’s 25-year anniversary in the gospel industry and offers a modern interpretation of the hits that made him and his choir Worship & Praise popular.
“When I made the song list for ‘Trip Down Memory Lane,’ I compiled a list of songs that were most-requested when I’ve been on the road,” Hall told AlwaysAList.com. “People are always coming up to me saying: ‘You got to do my song tonight!’ Well we decided to take a trip to Canada and do all of those songs in one night, recorded them live and give the people what they wanted!”
The stylish performer, known for his high-end fashions and signature shades, said he chose Canada for his ‘Trip Down Memory Lane’ session because “they really do appreciate gospel music there!”
Released independently as a digital-only offering initially on June 26, 2012, ‘Trip Down Memory Lane’ had an impressive chart debut on Billboard and Hall began receiving offers from several major record labels. He’s now done a deal with eOne and the CD will be released in major retail outlets like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target, among others on Sept. 11.
The surprise success of “Trip Down Memory Lane” has shocked many industry types who have touted for years that “choir music is dead.” Such talk frustrates Hall, who believes that choir music is a staple of the Black church experience.
“Choir music dead? Never will happen! Choir music is still alive and pumping,” he offered. “The praise and worship movement has added a new dimension to the church experience, but while praise and worship has its place, there’s nothing like having a choir to electrify the church before the pastor gets up. That still works!”
But this classically trained, gospel enthusiast—who names Thomas Whitfield and Milton Brunson among his influences—plans to keep his choir alive and inspire others to do so too.
The Stellar Award-winning singer did explain that he understood why the music industry shied away from choirs after the record business took a financial hit several years ago.
“One reason we got away from the choir is because of the economy! It became too expensive to move a choir from city to city and event to event for record companies and promoters. It’s easier to travel a soloist or a smaller group,” he acknowledged.
Hall said “Trip Down Memory Lane” isn’t just a celebration of his 25-years in gospel music, but it’s also a keepsake for those who have ever participated in or sang with a choir.
“As listeners take this ‘Trip Down Memory Lane,’ I want them to remember their choir experience. Remember the songs that brought us over. Remember the joy you had singing back in the day. Celebrate that you’re still singing right now,” he concluded, before adding: “And thank God for Worship & Praise. Thank God that He’s given us longevity in this business, that people have been inspired by my musical style and that choir music never gets old! It still works!”
VIDEO: Watch the new music video for James Hall and Worship & Praise’s “God Is In Control II.”