Interview: Angela Hall

Angela Hall (2008)Brooklyn, New York has earned its indisputable reputation as one of America’s preeminent centers for Gospel music. Legendary figures such as the late Benny Cummings, Rev. Timothy Wright, PastorHezekiah Walker and Professor James Hall – all products of New York’s infamous borough – have each served the region well as torchbearers and emissaries of the Gospel for over a generation.

The Monument City is also well known for its tabernacles of worship.  Historical Gospel landmarks such as the Church of God In Christ International and the Love Fellowship Tabernacle are just two of numerous ecclesiastic centers that have all served the dual purpose of being spiritual lighthouses and praise workshops for literally thousands of Brooklyn natives.

A new bi-product of this dynamic Brooklyn Gospel scene is the gifted psalmist and devout servant of God, Angela Hall, a remarkable woman whose spirit bears the tried and tested trademarks of a soul that’s gone through the fire and been purged by the blood.

From her rearing days at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York to her stint on Broadway’s coveted stage to her sacred rebirth into the family of believers, Angela Hall has an incredible testimony that will certainly add to the mystique and legend that belongs to Brooklyn, New York. On the heels of her debut album, Beautiful God, featuring an array of Brooklyn’s legendary minstrels, we spoke with Angela about her borough, Broadway and the beautiful God she now serves.

Christopher Heron:  Angela, let’s begin with the word of God. As a bearer and minister of the Word, is there a particular scripture from the Bible you’ve always had on your heart, to remind you of His strength and His promise to His children? And why does this scripture hold such value to you?

Angela Hall:  Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the thoughts I think toward you saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  This scripture reminds me that God is cheering me on!  How fantastic is that?!!!  God doesn’t want me to fail. Knowing that helps me to be strong in the Lord and to encourage myself when I’m going through.

Psalm 91:1-10 talks about how God’s promises are conditional.  This passage of scripture is so valuable because it helps me to remember that I have to hold my end of the salvation bargain (so to speak).  If I dwell in the secret place of the most High, the Almighty God will shadow me.  So, in other words, I can’t do what I want to do and live any old kind of unholy way if I expect to see the promises of God fulfilled in me.  This is a humbling scripture.  I need to stay in the will of God so his shadow covering does not leave me.

As saints, we must remember that you do not get the blessings of God “Anyhow” or “Anyway”.  Deuteronomy is also a dose of reality for promise seekers.  More than one person is involved when it comes to promises being kept. My scriptural lesson learned about promises?  “Don’t get it twisted.”

CH:  Before we discuss your ministry and album, I’d love for you to share what your childhood experience was like, growing up in a big family in Brooklyn, New York.  How did this type of atmosphere foster your love for artistic expression and for ministry?  And what was the defining moment or experience, like an epiphany, that brought you to the realization that you had sufficient talents and gift to own a stage and captivate audiences?

AH:  I grew up in Red Hook Projects in Brooklyn, NY.  Although I grew up jumping over urine in the elevator to get to my 5th floor apartment, those were some of the best years of my life and I would not trade them for the world.

You see, I grew up in the Hall family household at 124 Bush Street.  Although we were financially poor, life was rich.  The housing authorities had to break down the walls and turn two 3-bedroom apartments into one because my family was so big.  There were ten of us; six boys and four girls.  With ten kids, there was always noise in the house.  As a matter of fact, if it was too quiet, my father couldn’t sleep.  We always got lots of toys and instruments for Christmas.  (Our house was like a store at Christmas time.)  On any given day, you could hear us harmonizing through the house or banging on the piano, drums, guitar, or anything we could get our hands on.  This planted the seed for my passion of the performing arts.

My mom (Mother Josephine Hall) and dad (Elder Bobby Gene Hall, Sr.) made all of us go to church.  Calvary Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY (under the pastorship of the late Rev. Arthur Crayton), was a pleasant refuge for the Hall children.  We had Youth Fellowship, Bible Class, tarry services, Saturday choir rehearsal, trips, and fellowship with other churches.  This laid my foundation for my love of God and the things of God.  I got saved when I was 9 or 10.

The defining moment that brought me to owning the singing gift within me was probably when I received a tape recorder on Christmas when I was about five years old.  I did a recording of The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.  I think I still have that tape somewhere.

CH:  The loss of life, especially within a family, is always a tragic and defining experience. For some, it’s a turning point or a new chapter in a loved one’s life.  How did the premature death of your anointed brother – Kenneth Hall – affect you, both spiritually and professionally?

AH:  Brother Heron, even though I know that saints don’t die, I mourned deeply inside my heart when my brother Kenny went on to be with Jesus.  You see, Kenny instilled the spirit of music excellence in me all through grade school and junior high school.  He had a group at the time called The Gospel Euphonics.  He made me sing with the group and although I was an alto, he put me in the soprano section.  I thought he was crazy (Lol!), but he is one of the reasons I sing soprano today.  Kenny received a degree in piano and trumpet and I followed in his footsteps when I received a BFA in Music Theatre from the Boston Conservatory.

Kenny also took my brother Johnny and me to The Institutional Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn, NY as young children.  We would go to Sunday morning service at our church and head to the radio broadcast on Sunday night. The Institutional Radio Choir and The Gospel Expositions became part of my gospel music heritage at a very young age.  My brother Kenny introduced Johnny and me to his music mentor Butch Heyward back then.  (Kenny) would be godly pleased to know that Butch, Angie, and Johnny have now collaborated to make God’s music together.

Kenneth lived out the last years of his life serving the people of God and pressing his way to church even though he could barely stand when he got there.  His example showed me how to be faithful unto death.

CH:  You’ve had enormous success both as a vocalist and as an actress.  Could you share with us a little about your experience as an actress both on Broadway and Hollywood?  And how did these special experiences strangely enough lay the groundwork for your role in ministry today? 

AH:  I got my first professional gig as a freshman in college.  It was a Motown review called Dancin in the Street. I worked with musical director, Michael Rafter in a production of Lil’ Shop of Horrors and we worked together again in a touring production of The Tap Dance Kid.  After touring with Big River, I landed a featured role in Broadway’s Black and Blue, which ran for 2 years.  While doing Black and Blue, I filmed Mo’ Better Blues with Spike Lee.  The late Robert Altman was secured to direct the PBS Great Performances made for TV version of Black and Blue.  After working with Bob on that gig, he gave me a featured role in the Academy Award nominated film, The Player alongside Tim Robbins.  Tim then hired me (ironically enough) as a gospel singer in his film Bob Roberts: A Documentary.

I backslid my junior year in college, but while I was on location in California filming The Player, God began to beckon me back to ministry.  Strangely enough, it was at a party at Bob Altman’s house.  Bob asked me to sing.  So of all songs, I chose to sing His Eye Is On the Sparrow.  The Spirit of the Lord came in that party and the room “went up!”  It scared the living daylights out of me, because I wasn’t thinking about Jesus!  But we all know that gifts and callings come without repentance and God using me like that without any permission from me helped to trouble me and was the impetus behind me coming back to God.

CH:  You’re now totally sold out for God, serving an integral part in the ministry of St. Mary Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn, New York. What is the difference today of serving and praising God in church versus when you were a child?  And what is the difference and the distinction in your relationship with God, when you compare it to your childhood days?

AH:  When I grew up at Calvary Baptist Church, the seed for holy living was planted.  I was trained as a child in the ways of the Lord, but now I know God through my own experience.  Now I have the testimony that God can reclaim the backslider and keep you if you want to be kept!

CH:  Your album – Beautiful God – is finally here.  What does this album represent to you, as an artist and as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  And what is your hope and intent for those who will be introduced to your music ministry for the first time?

AH:  Chris, Something happens to my spirit man (and the spirit man of others) when I open my mouth to minister.  I know I get a little more saved and delivered every time I sing.  My prayer is that everyone who is introduced to this ministry for the first time will have a life changing, soul-saving, Holy Ghost experience.  I pray that my ministry compels others to draw closer to their calling and election sure.  You know what I am saying?   That’s what it’s all about.

CH:  I would be remiss not to speak on the special anointing that accompanies Brooklyn live recordings…from Rev. Timothy Wright to The Institutional Radio Choir…from James Hall to Pastor Hez…Brooklyn brings such power and presence to their recordings…the lyrics, musicianship and vocals are so firmly planted in sacred praise…and you’re definitely from the same school of thought. Do you believe the album captivates the spirit and sound of Brooklyn?  And what was your ultimate goal and vision with the recording of Beautiful God, as you assembled so many of New York’s finest songwriters, musicians and vocalists?

AH:  New York’s finest is well said.  The sound of Brooklyn Gospel is absolutely captivated on this project!  Professor Melvin Crispell (who has written for Pastor Hezekiah Walker, Juanita BynumYolanda Adams, and others) is featured on two God-moving selections on theBeautiful God CD Project.  Melvin was also the musical director.  I sing a song written by (Uncle) Butch Heyward of Institutional COGIC renown and he also plays some right-churchy organ on the CD as well.  His nephew Eddie Heyward (drums), Isaiah Johnson (drums), Min.Justin Cunningham (bass), Jayson Holley (percussion), and ElderJoseph Thompson, Minister Gary McClellanAaron Shields, andMartin Christy (keyboards) round out the musicians responsible for that anointed Brooklyn sound you hear on this CD.

My brother Elder Jonathan Hall (the CEO and founder of IMOK Gospel Music) was responsible for compiling this bevy of instrumental experts.  I’m still trying to figure out how he got all of those bad cats together in one room!  Nonetheless, I know God had a hand in it because the ultimate goal was for us to minister skillfully and with a loud noise while displaying that good-old fashioned soul saving church still works.  God is truly glorified in this project.  I pray that peoples’ lives are touched the way that God has touched mine when they hear it.

CH:  And finally, what do you believe God has in store for Angela Hall, as far as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is concerned?

AH:  I believe eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, and my heart can’t conceive what God has in store for me and those that love Him.  Brother Heron, I just want to be saved and make it in.  That would be enough for me.  The rest is icing on the cake!

For more information on Angela Hall, visit www.imokgospelmusic.com. To contact Angela Hall, send your emails to songstresshall@aol.com or call 718.662.6661.   

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