The big bang of Pentecostalism occurred in 1907 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles when William Seymour held multicultural services in a warehouse there. Attendees of Seymour’s services became filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke in tongues, and some sang songs written on the spot. The spontaneous spirit-songs were among the precursors of the lively congregational music for which Pentecostal and Holiness churches became known.
To harness that spirit for the 21st century, choir veteran and Grammy Award-winner Hezekiah Walker has released his fourteenth album, Azusa: The Next Generation. Walker tapped some of today’s top talent, artists such as Deitrick Haddon, Donnie McClurkin, John P. Kee, and Brian Courtney Wilson, to assist with the effort. Donald Lawrence, who produced Walker’s last project, was also at the helm on this one.
“This is the first time in the history of my career that I’ve done collaborations with so many artists,” Walker noted. “That’s what it’s all about in this season, us coming together and letting the world know that it is possible for us to stand together as one.”
The mix of familiar and new songs are underpinned by an expanded Love Fellowship Choir–the 500-voice Azusa Mass Choir–lofting rich, round harmonies into the atmosphere. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Every Praise,” the mid-tempo single.
Opening with a war cry, the high-spirited “I Feel Your Spirit” comes as close as any of the ten tracks to the original Azusa sound, although several evoke the unbridled Pentecostal music lyrically and melodically. For example, “Break Every Chain,” the “it” song of 2013, possesses the easy melody and uncomplicated lyrics that mark the sanctified style.
“Breakthrough” and “Work in Your Favor,” led by McClurkin and Kee, respectively, are about the good that is coming to a troubled people. Wilson delivers “Grace” in his characteristically satisfying gospel croon.
Azusa: The Next Generation is worth the listen just to hear the star-studded guests on the list, but choir enthusiasts in particular will groove to the music.
Walker, Lawrence, and Ricky Dillard team up as the “Brat Pack” to close the 28thChicago Gospel Music Festival Sunday, June 23 on the Ellis Park Main Stage.