Longevity as an artist in the music industry today is a peculiar phenomenon, particularly in this era of social media platforms, digital music and the disintegration of the music industry. For an artist to find his or her way through a very complicated maze to success that’s characterized by multiple albums, a fan base and a respectable earning, the artist must be able to endure personal hardships, professional setbacks and sometimes even unforeseen tragedy.
However true those cliches may be, recording artist and charismatic director, Ricky Dillard, is bucking all conventions and experiencing a sort of renaissance at this stage in his career, with a chart-topping album – Amazing (Light) – to his credits and a popular Gospel song (Amazing) that’s resonating around the country.
Ricky Dillard‘s musical career spans over 25 years and includes 10 amazing albums, primarily featuring one of America’s most beloved community choirs, The New Generation Chorale, fondly known as New G.
It’s a beautiful thing to see a talented artist like Ricky Dillard endure the toils and tribulations of the music industry, only to emerge in later years as one of the most respected and highly demanded personalities in Gospel music. BlackGospel.com recently spoke with Minister Dillard about his amazing life journey that’s led him to Ebenezer AME Church in Maryland, some of his musical mentors over the years and how he accounts for his amazing success in 2014.
Christopher Heron: First, how do you account for the success of the album,Amazing? Is it the label – Entertainment One – is it the songs or is it just a season of favor?
Ricky Dillard: I would say it’s just my season. I count it all to grace. That’s all I can say. It’s been grace, the unmerited and unearned favor of God that has been placed in the earth for all, not just me, but for all and I’m just trying to take advantage of His amazing grace.
Then secondly, He has surrounded me with a great team at Light Records, and Entertainment One. It’s a whole new team that’s position around me and all of the artists at Entertainment One. It’s been overwhelming to see what God has done with the success of this project, getting to #1 on Billboard Gospel Charts for four weeks, #1 radio song. I attribute it all to the amazing grace of God and then having an awesome team positioned around me.
Christopher Heron: It’s remarkable to know that you’ve had a rich career that has allowed you to record 10 albums. When you think back to that Ricky Dillard that recorded – Let The Music Use You – back in ’89, 25 years ago, what’s the difference between that Ricky Dillard who debuted on Jack Trax and today’s Ricky Dillard on Entertainment One?
Ricky Dillard: Well, the one back then, he was a little anxious to record music. Gospel was always my heart, and that seems to have grown stronger. You know when you’re young, you want it now. I was able to bump elbows and meet great disk jockeys, club D’J’s back then.
Of course back then I also was a clubber and dancer and all of that kind of thing…but the difference between that Ricky Dillard and today’s Ricky Dillard is the grace of God bringing me from then and carrying me through till now and I have had life experiences. I’ve had God experience that has gotten me to here and now. I now sing about how amazing God is. He is grace.
Christopher Heron: You’ve earned the reputation of being perhaps the most dynamic choir director of our time. Where did your style and stage presence come from?
Ricky Dillard: It came from a few places. I had great influences in my early years. When I was a child, I started directing at the age of five. I had some directors in my community that were very good directors. Pastor John R. Rice was a pastor who had some great directors. There’s a young pastor, his name is Ronald Baker. There’sDarnell Hopkins. and then there were a couple of female directors as well, Jenna Harris who was a finalist in the Verizon How Sweet The Sound Choir Competition. There was also Tyrone Block from the Thompson Community Singers and Allen Cathey from the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer.
I’ve had those influences all around me through the years as I watched and I picked little bits and pieces from all of those directors, and I ended up creating my own vibe. When I did get on the stage, the joy of the Lord would overtake me and I just praised God. I took on the spirit of Jesus. His presence brought so much liberty to me that I didn’t care what others thought. I’m just me and this is what being in the presence of God made me feel like.
It was like David, when he brought the Ark of the Covenant out from the house of Obed-Edom. He was bringing it back to the City of David. The Bible said that David was so blessed that he heard about Obed-Edom being blessed he went and got the arc and brought it back to his house and when the presence of God is in your house you can’t help but sing and praise God and that’s the spirit that takes over me and helped me to create the style that I have today.
Christopher Heron: You’ve always paid homage and showed so much respect to Chicago pioneers like the Late Rev Milton Brunson and the late Rev Charles Hayes. What did these two legends in Chicago Gospel music mean to you?
Ricky Dillard: Let me begin with Rev. Charles Hayes. It was in 1975 that I heard RevCharles Hayes on the radio playing Gospel music and he had a record out called, Well Done Servant and on that record there was a song called Nobody Can Turn Me Around and the style and sound of choir music, it was amazing from this man.
On Sunday mornings, there was a television show called Jubliee Showcase. It came on every Sunday morning at 8am and I woke up one Sunday and Rev Charles Hayes was on the show with his choir. After I the chance to see them sing on TV, I was sold. It was the whole presentation, they were very different, innovative, creative, out of the box with their robes, colour, style, vocals, songs, music, performance, it was just the whole package and I was overwhelmed.
I got a chance to visit the Cosmopolitan Church Of Prayer in 1976. My mother took me there and I got a chance to see the choir live. My mom also took me to their first live recording called Heaven Is My Goal. and I became a fan from there. I got a chance to rub elbows with Dr. Charles Hayes. When I started my own choir, he took me under his wings, and before we recorded any albums, he would allow my choir to travel out of town on engagements and do the music for his radio broadcasts.
Rev. Hayes would also allow the choir to sing at his big concerts, when he would invite people like Rev. James Cleveland and Dr. Mattie Moss Clark or the Institutional Radio Choir Of The Church Of God In Christ. Since then, so many gospel greats have invited me and my choir to be guests on those major events and for that reason, I feel that Rev. Hayes is the seed planter for what I am doing today.
Rev. Milton Brunson is someone who has been around for a long time. We’ve been singing his songs for many years. God allowed me as a teenager to join The Thompson Community Singers. This was in the time of all of those hits, Safe In His Arms andLord, I’m Available To You. Under his tutelage, I learned what it is to be a leader, I was not called there to lead songs or to direct the choir. I was there to sit and get an impartation of Rev. Milton Brunson, and I feel like today I am standing in his shoes.
Christopher Heron: You speak so fondly of your days in Chicago and you continue to hold very strong ties to the Windy City. It begs the question, would you be the same Ricky Dillard we’ve come to know had you not been raised in Chi-Town?
Ricky Dillard: I don’t know, but you know that God does all things well. We know that all things work together for the good to them that love Him who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). He gives us a spiritual GPS, that if we follow it, we will get to our destiny, and it doesn’t matter if I’m in New York, if I’m in Mississippi or if I’m in California, whatever the plan of God is, if you obey the plan, you will get to where you need to be.
So I can’t say that if I were not in Chicago would I still be the same Ricky Dillard. I probably would. Maybe I would have rubbed elbows with James Cleveland in California, maybe I would have rubbed elbow with Frank Williams in the Mississippi Mass Choir in Mississippi, whenever the Lord has a plan He’s going to manifest His Glory, and it’s going to fall on you like dew.
Christopher Heron: It’s wonderful to see the longevity, particularly of personalities that come out of the 90’s like Hezekiah Walker, Donald Lawrence and you. How do you attribute to the longevity that you all experiences, particularly continuing to foster and promote choral music?
Ricky Dillard: Actually, I can only say that it is the call from God to this assignment and that His grace has followed us the whole time, all three of us including those whose names you did not call. When God calls you, He’s says whom is predestined to be also called, and who He calls He justifies, and whom He justifies He glorifies. If God is for us, who can be against us? I attribute all of this to the grace of God.
He has called us into this assignment. He has seen us through this assignment and while in this assignment He has given His word. He’s invested in us enough of a Word to survive the darts, the hatred, the bigotry, the jealousy, all the evil things that could have stopped us. His grace shielded us, protected us, held us, covered us, and pulled us right to where we need to be and where we are today.
Christopher Heron: You’ve been an East Coast personality for a few years, working at Ebenezer AME Church. How rewarding and educational has it been for your spiritual growth and your ministry to be a part of a dynamic church family?
Ricky Dillard: That is a great question you asked. I did an interview earlier and I spoke about going to Ebenezer AME Church in 2009. Before then, I had just returned to Chicago from Atlanta to serve in a church in Chicago and I had stayed at that church for about two years, but I saw myself repeating what I had been doing in Chicago as it relates to church ministry and how much you value your worth. I was dealing with those issues going back to Chicago and I got a little frustrated and I called Byron Cage who happens to be one of my Minister of Music mentors. We all need somebody who mentors us, who has been in the game maybe longer than us as a minister of music and Byron was one of those individuals, another is Walter Owens who is at Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.
I called Byron and I said “Do you know of any churches in the country that are looking for a Minister of Music? I am willing to move.” He said “I don’t know anybody right now, but I’ll call you back.” He called me back in maybe an hour and said, “You know what? I have a position here at Ebenezer if you’d like that, I would love to have you.”
The church flew me down. I had meetings with the pastors and Byron. They all agreed to bring me on and I feel that it was one of the greatest moves of my life, to be sheltered and brought off the battle front. I have given so much service to the Gospel industry as well as the Kingdom of God, the local church assemblies. I was bruised, stabbed, stepped on, overlooked, mistreated, just a lot of church hurt.
Pastor Grainger Browning, Jr. pulled me off the battle front. For the wounds, he got some spiritual alcohol and rubbed me down and Pastor and co-pastor patched me up, and they preached this Gospel of love and grace to me that I am now restored and rebuilt and here I am four years later, sitting under that umbrella to have the persons of Byron Cage and Tye Tribbett serving alongside me in music ministry at Ebenezer. We were all on the battlefront, wounded, and brought into that house and as you can look at the careers of the other ministers.
Byron Cage has had a #1 album since coming to Ebenezer, with that song, The Presence of the Lord Is Here. Tye Tribbett was wounded, went through some issues, was rejected by the saints, the church brought him in, patched him up, he came out with a new record called Greater Than, which was #1 and earned him two Grammy awards. Now, here is the third party, Ricky Dillard, brought in, patched up, preached a Word to him, healed him and now at #1 on the charts with Amazing.
So Ebenezer A.M.E. and Pastors Grainger & Jo Ann Browning have been such great overseers, pastors and coverers of our careers as well as our souls, to preach, to lead, and to cover, to father and mother us to a healing place. Ebenezer has been an overwhelming transition for me. I know I am in the right place and in the right season to receive what God has for me. I knew I need covering so that I could be shielded from the darts that was getting ready to stop me, getting ready to tell me to go have a seat because choir music is over, or that was in the past, or that nobody listens to choir music any more, but look at how God has come with his amazing grace, gave me a revival and a fresh wind under my wings, and now I am flying again. Thank god for grace.
Christopher Heron: Let me end on this note. For those who have yet to experience it, what is that testimony, that lasting impression that you want to leave with the listener when you created this album, when you released it to the public, what kind of impact where you praying that people would receive?
Ricky Dillard: We’ve been taught the covenant of Moses for so many years. The covenant of Moses was an agreement with God and His people. The people wanted a type of covenant from God that said, “we do good, we’ll get good, we do bad, give us bad.” That wasn’t the plan of God. His grace was always there. So in this season, the message of this project is all about grace, His unmerited, unearned, favor for his people. Some say, “when you fall into sin you fall from grace.” I beg to differ. His love and his finished work on Calvary has stated that when you fall into sin you actually fall into grace because what grace does is it picks you up after you have fallen or while you are falling.
Now onto Him who is able to keep us from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy (Jude 1:24). This is an example of His grace. It was done on Calvary. We are working too hard for grace. You can’t work for grace. Grace is given. It is unearned, it is unmerited, it is not by any work that any man could boast about this. It is given to you and it is not because of what you did on Calvary. We have to decide whether or not the blood worked or it didn’t work. We’ve always believed it will never lose its power, it reaches to the highest mountains, it goes to the lowest valley.
The blood that gives me strength from day to day. It will never lose its power. What he did on Calvary, it was over the top, it was great news. Paul said he was not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel was described as good news. Not everything in the Bible is good news. What was the good news? the good news is that this Jesus laid down his life and He gave us ours. That is grace.