Indianapolis native and perennial Gospel recording artist – Lamar Campbell – has blessed the body of ‘believers’ over 20 years, with a ton of music that’s become standards. Selections like Hymn Of Praise, More Than Anthing and I Love You are all distinguishable songs that have stood the test of time.
Home / Artists / Interviews / Lamar Campbell talks hobbies, crossing cultural lines & lessons learned | @LamarCampbell1
His latest release, Open The Sky, is another project that pushes the proverbial envelope, both artistically and stylistically, with a variety of genres represented throughout the album. In a recent conversation with BlackGospel.com, Lamar speaks frankly about valuable lessons learned over his time in ministry.
Christopher Heron: Lamar, what’s your favourite restaurant in Indianapolis, a joint you would recommend to anyone coming to your town?
Lamar Campbell: There are two. If we’re going to a soul food restaurant, we would definitely go to Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place. Kountry with a K. My other favourite restaurant in Indianapolis is Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Christopher Heron: What’s one of your favourite hobbies or past-times you enjoy doing?
Lamar Campbell: When I want to be good to Lamar, I actually like to go to a barbershop. I hang out with my barber and we do the barbershop thing. I also like to get a good massage.
Christopher Heron: A massage? Okay. You’ve been sporting the dome for a few years…
Lamar Campbell: I know I’ve been doing it for a while. I have a very sensitive head, so I can’t use a razor on it, or anything. So I go to the barbershop a lot. I actually get it cut with clippers.
Christopher Heron: Finally, what city would you consider your home away from home? A place you love to vacation or kick it for a few days?
Lamar Campbell: Well, I lived in Houston for five years, so one of my favourite places to go back to visit is Houston. And I guess I also enjoy California, hanging out in LA and those surrounding cities too.
Christopher Heron: Did you grow up with a nickname, whether at home or at school?
Lamar Campbell: Okay, here we go. Actually, no. The nicknames came later, but they’re not really public nicknames, they’re just special people have special names. For the most part people call me Lamar.
Christopher Heron: You are a true product of Indianapolis. Born, raised and schooled there. How much of an impact has Indianapolis played on your overall music ministry?
Lamar Campbell: I would say that Indianapolis has been really supportive of my career. Back when it wasn’t even popular, when I did my first major concert, before I signed with EMI gospel, you know, every time I did a concert it would always sell out. It’s kind of unheard of for a hometown artist to go into an auditorium and do a ticket event and be successful doing that without having another guest artist.
So, I would say that Indianapolis has really shown me that they love and support my ministry. I’m the guy that everybody says they went to school with. I played for everybody’s wedding. I played for their grandmother’s funeral. I did it all. I sung at the Green Tea. And just in case you don’t know what the Green Tea is, it’s the Spring Tea. And when you go the tea, they have those little cookies with the sprinkles on them, and they have the green punch with the ice cream in it. Then when you go the door, they pin a green four leaf clover on your lapel made out of construction paper with a straight pin. That’s the Green Tea.
Then I had the luxury of going to school right down the street from our home. School 43. The school was half a block away from my house. So the kids would look out the window and watch me be three to five minutes late for class every day because I lived so close. And then I went to high school with a lot of those same people, so that’s a lot of years being with the same people. I’ve got two older sisters. We were the Campbell kids. Then my brother is five years younger so he didn’t go through the same process as we did. We’re home grown.
Christopher Heron: Your ministry has gone through a variety of chapters, like you said, your inauguration in Indianapolis with just Lamar Campbell and Praise, then after the Spirit of Praise, signing with Tyscot, then EMI. And now back to being independent. What has been an important lesson, both in ministry and being a professional recording artist, that you’ve learned throughout your journey?
Lamar Campbell: What I have really learned through this process is that you have to be your authentic you because that’s the only thing that you’re going to be the best at. So, if you’re going through changing your style and trying to do what the next trend in Gospel is – you have to stay current – but if you chase after everything that’s now, you lose yourself somewhere in there. That’s one of the things that has kept me grounded. I had a mission, which wasn’t very clear and defined at first but down through the years, the mission that has kept me centered is that I was called to do music that puts people in a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, no matter what the trend is, if you follow my career, I’ve done a little bit of all of it, but I have to stay true to my mission. The music has to connect to Jesus Christ. I can’t do it any other way.
The other thing that I learned along the way is that you really can’t do it without having a good foundation because I’ve watched a number of people that have come along after I started. I tried to figure out what is the missing component. So, a lot of these artists today are trying to do it without a biblical background. They’re trying to do it without knowing hymns and traditional music. They’re trying to do it without having studied any music. It will take you so far, but any great artist will tell you that they’ve studied those that have gone on before them.
And I think a lot of the artists today, they’re just listening to what’s happening now and they think that’s going to take them down the road. It may happen for them right now, but even Kirk Franklin, and James Fortune, they all know the hymns. They know the fundamentals. It’s hard to sustain without the fundamentals. So, I think that’s the missing piece. That’s the piece that I’m glad that I know now. I’m glad my parents made me continue my music lessons because I was like everybody else, I didn’t want to go. So, as I look back, I am so glad and so thankful that I came up the way I did.
Christopher Heron: We’ve seen the landscape of Gospel music change with labels, personalities behind the labels, even the format by which Gospel music is delivered, mp3 vs CDs, downloads vs streaming. We’ve seen the emergence of Praise & Worship music vs Choral music. How have all of these variables affected your ability to maintain a prosperous music ministry over the last twenty years?
Lamar Campbell: I’ll say this: When I signed with EMI Gospel, we started Spirit of Praise ministries. I think, what we were doing with choir music, we were trail blazers for that specific style of choral music, because the choral music that we did was Praise & Worship. It wasn’t traditional choir music.
So, I think early on the industry had to identify me before Praise & Worship was really popular as a Praise & Worship artist. So when we made the swing and we moved to calling it Praise & Worship, I feel like I was already there. So, it was an easy transition for me. But what I’ve learned was as music continues to evolve, that we’ve always had Praise & Worship.
I did not want to get caught up into that. I was kind of a rebel because I did not want to get caught up in what the industry was saying Praise & Worship sounded like. So we created a collection of songs and a category of music, and because it sounded a certain way, we called it Praise & Worship. Praise & Worship is really the condition of your heart. Even though I enjoy it, because that’s where my heart is. But I just don’t want to call something Praise & Worship just because it sounds a certain way.
Christopher Heron: When I listen to your latest album Open the Sky, I hear a distinct departure from that familiar sound. It’s still Contemporary Gospel music with a little Traditional mix, but there’s a very strong flavour of Praise & Worship, almost Contemporary Christian music on this new album. When I think of songs like the title track, More of You, Speak to the Day, these are songs that sound kind of universal, that swings in the blurry area between Black and White Christian music. Is this where you are musically, artistically, stylistically, today?
Lamar Campbell: I like the way that you presented that question to me because I feel that I’m still doing exactly the same thing the I’ve always done. I feel that because it’s 2015, it feels like it’s different, but from the time that we’re in, I guarantee you that the music that’s on that record, some kind of wave will catch up with traditional black church. And it’s not an effort to try to change lanes from where I’ve been at all.
I’ve always wanted to do music that that crossed denominational lines, and racial and cultural lines. So we just progressed a little bit more. Specifically with this particular record, we did not just make this for the Black church. We were very intentional in doing world music, the type of music that would be accessible to people from all over the world. That’s where I’ve always been.
Christopher Heron: Lamar, I would consider you a veteran. A veteran can probably recount a lot of memorable stories and experiences over the course of their professional career. If you think back on it, are there any milestones? Has there been a particular experience or a very memorable occasion as a performer or a minister of music?
Lamar Campbell: There are two that I’d like to mention very briefly. One is, I remember for the first CD release with EMI, we did a release concert in the Circle Centre Mall in Indianapolis. And we did the launch at the Sam Goody store. So there was a number of people that we were able to minister to, that we normally wouldn’t have ministered to as a Gospel artist.
There was this caucasian lady that was there in the audience and she was homeless. She was able to purchase the CD because she was blessed by the concert that we did in the store. She was living in her car. She said she listened to that CD every day. Two records later, we went back to Sam Goody to perform in a mall again and there was that homeless lady again. She said she had to be there.
I didn’t meet her the first time, but she told me that she was there the first time we ministered years ago. She said she had to be there this time around. She told me she’s a nurse now, and her kids were doing fine, and she had to be there to let me know that her listening to that CD everyday in the car is what helped get to the next point in life. That’s why I do Gospel music. That’s why I continue. Even when I’m not at the top of the charts, that’s why I still do it.
There’s one other instance when I went to Denmark. Over there there are Gospel concerts every weekend. Many don’t really believe in God, but you can get six hundred people to come out and be a part of a Gospel workshop or go to a concert.
So this particular time someone came up to me after the concert and said, “Now I’m not a believer, I don’t believe in God but something happened in this room tonight.” About seven or eight years later, I got an email from that same guy that said, “you may not remember me, but I talked to you at the back of the church, and I told you that something happened in that room and I told you that I’m not a believer. I wanted to let you know that I am a believer now, and I’m singing the Praise.”
That’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to continue. I know there are certain people that God has assigned to me and the ministry that I haven’t reached yet. So if I call it quits because somebody says, “you don’t have a top 15 CD,” then I may not get to them.
Christopher Heron: I’m going to end our interview with this final question. What is the message in that title Open the Sky?
Lamar Campbell: The message is really simple: we as Christians, we forget how great God is. I remember specifically one time in my prayer time, God speaking to me and saying, “you don’t know how great you are because you don’t really understand how great I am.” So, that hit me like a ton of bricks. We do know the scripture that says, “Greater Is He that is in us than He that is in the world.”So, if He’s in us then obviously if I can grasp the magnitude of who He is, then I can grasp the magnitude of who I can be or who I can become. And that’s what the message is in the collection of songs.
That’s what this is all about, God opening up the sky, pouring out a blessing that truly can’t end anymore. God opened the sky and poured out His love. God’s love is everything we need. And I think the coolest thing for me about this is, I had to look at what a little child would do because they have confidence at an early age, there’s not one single thing that they would not ask their parents to do. But we as Christians say we know who God is, and we’re asking for gas money. “If you just let me get this job. If I can just make it to the end of the week.” That’s the kind of prayer we’re praying. So that’s what this record is all about.
And even with this next single, which is Piles of Love, it’s like we’ve dumbed down love so much that we forget that God is love. There was a time when we used to talk about Momma’s love and Grandma’s love. We don’t talk about any of that. It’s time for the people of God to really begin to believe in love again because with everything that’s been going on, love is still the answer.
There’s a song that says, “the same love that wouldn’t let Jesus come down from the cross still has the power to set us free.” Those are the messages that I’m trying to get to people. That’s why I’m trying so hard. I really believe that there are some strong messages that God wants to get to the airwaves. The enemy is trying to put it in the bottom of the barrel but I’m thanking God that it’s still rising to the top.