Sep 12, 2012
The Backbone of Gospel Music
Singer Fred Hammond discusses the How Sweet The Sound choir competition coming to Detroit Saturday, Sept. 15
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It’s been a while since singer, songwriter and Detroit native Fred Hammond left the D for a new one—Dallas—to join Bishop T.D. Jakes’ congregation. But on Saturday, Sept. 15, he will return to his hometown as a judge for Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound at Joe Louis Arena.
The event is a celebration of gospel music and provides a platform for local choirs to showcase their talent and compete for the title of “The Best Gospel Choir in America.”
This will be Hammond’s third year as a judge for the event, which is now in its fifth year.
Joining him on the panel will be fellow Detroit native Cece Winans, Erica Campbell of Mary Mary and Hezekiah Walker. Grammy winners Donald Lawrence and Yolanda Adams will serve as hosts.
Hammond recently spoke with BLAC about how the tour is the “American Idol” of choir competitions, his advice to upcoming gospel singers and his recent break from the genre to produce an honest work about relationships between men and women.
What can people expect from the tour this year?
This year, the gloves are off for the judges. The last two years, we were told to, you know, “be constructive, but kind” and “no Simon Cowells.” This year—not that we won't be nice—but this year, they're like, “Now, be constructive and say what you say, say what you feel.” We’re trying to implement ways to get them ready before they sing and let them know that the judging is going to step up a notch.
That’s what this year's going to be and the panel of the judges we have, everybody’s cool—nobody's mean or anything—but everybody up on that panel is a consummate professional in gospel music. Now, barring the fact that most of us want to be liked, we're just going to have to say it because the audience is saying it and they know when the choir’s not up to par. So, they’re going to say it.
We’re just going to say exactly what the audience is thinking and be constructive at the same time, try to help, so that when they leave, they can still have something.
How would you describe your judging style?
I'm pretty much more comedic. First of all, to break the ice and have fun with the audience, but other than that, style-wise, I'm looking for connections. I think that would the biggest thing for me; did the choir connect with their audience? Did they get it? Did the audience get it? Did they translate the vision of what they were trying to do and did the audience get it?
If that happens, most of the time, all the other stuff, the technical stuff: the moves, the dancing, the singing, the pitch, the energy—usually, that’s all included in that. But then, sometimes, you just have a choir that’s maybe smaller and they don’t have all of the greatest singers in the world or they don't do the greatest dance moves, but they connect with the audience bigger than anybody else because they just have that thing. Call it anointing, or whatever, it’s just—they have it. They’ll connect and people will get into it and be like, “Wow!”