Editor’s note: Ahead of the upcoming Chicago Gospel Music Festival on June 2nd and 3rd, Picture This Post interviewed some of the groups to get to know the singers and choirs performing. Here are comments by Isaiah Freeman, who will be performing at 2:30pm June 2nd at the Chicago Culture Center at Randolph Square. This interview has been slightly condensed.
PTP: “When did you start singing Gospel Music? How old were you? How did it come about? Are your parents/siblings musicians? What were your first musical experiences? Was your first exposure at Church? If so , which one?”
IF: “I’ve been singing gospel music since the beginning of my life. I had my first solo when I was around 4 or 5 years old. My dad was preaching for Youth Sunday at Union missionary Baptist Church in Dover, De and he wanted me to sing before he preached. Lol I was so nervous, I had never sang in front of anyone other than my family before. My dad sang, wrote songs, directed choirs, and played both the Bass guitar and piano. So needless to say I grew up in a very musical home.”
PTP: “Where were you born/where did you grow up? How did music figure into your upbringing?”
IF: “I was born in Xenia, Oh but I’ve lived in quite a few places. We traveled a lot because my dad was both a college professor and a student. So we moved a lot growing up but I claim Cincinnati, OH as home because that has been home base for the past 20 years.”
PTP: “Why is Gospel Music important to you?”
IF: “Gospel Music is important to me because of its message. There is a lot music that is inspiring or positive, but Gospel Music not only inspires you but it gives you hope and points you towards the one who can change your life in the Person of Jesus Christ. That is the difference maker, which is why Gospel “The Good News” in music form is so powerful and can transcend cultures, ethnic backgrounds, language barriers, and even religious differences. I have friends who are devout Muslims but listen to gospel because of how it makes them feel. That is pretty powerful if you ask me.”
PTP: “What have been the major Gospel competitions you have won or other milestones in your career?”
IF: “Well, lol I didn’t win but I was a contestant on Season 4 of BET’s “Sunday Best”. Man, that was a crazy experience. It was so much fun and so nerve wrecking at the same time.”
PTP: “When did you decide to become a professional musician and Gospel Singer? Or is this a sideline for you?”
IF: “I remember two moments that became major milestones for me. The first one was on January 24, 1999. I remember the exact date because it was my 16th birthday. LOL Kirk Franklin was on tour and came to Cincinnati, Oh. It was unreal; I had never experienced anything like that before.
“All I had ever seen before was gospel artist minister at church and most of them were local artist singing at small churches. So to see a stadium filled with people, and I know I was full because of how high my seats were. lol But to see someone singing about Jesus and doing it at such a high level, It changed my life forever. So much so that my dream changed from wanting to be signed to Bad Boy records singing R&B to traveling the world singing for Jesus.
“The second milestone came a few years later. Some friends of mine decided to start a group. I was studying vocal performance at Central State University at the time and came home for Christmas break and they asked if I would like to be a part of the group. I said, “sure I’m not doing anything, lets see what happens.”
“A few years later I find my self in the basement of Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Cincinnati, Oh, getting changed for the second half of our coming out concert. I couldn’t believe this church that seats roughly 1,500 people, was so packed that people were standing/sitting in the lobby. While waiting to go back up, laughing and preparing for the second half I had a thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
“I sang with Called II Worship for about 8 years before we went our separate ways and I became a solo artist in 2011.”
PTP: “When you are not rehearsing or performing or doing other things related to your music how do you spend time? Any hobbies? Besides Gospel music, what are your main interests?”
IF: “Well, I try to spend a lot of time with my wife Shannon. I know that in this line of work Family is the first thing that suffers. So I make sure to create balance so my home and my wife who is my anchor is together.”
PTP: “How have you seen the Gospel Music world changing in recent years? Are any of these changes influencing your musical style?”
“I see Gospel Music as an organism. To me it’s a living, breathing thing that is ever changing, growing, and developing. Personally I think its great. As long as we don’t lose the soul of gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ, then I’m cool with however you want to package it.
IF: “Yes I’ve been inspired by current developments in gospel but it has not changed my interpretation. I am just now starting to sing songs that I wrote in 2012 and 2015. I believe that because of how the parameters of what Gospel Music was believed to be have expanded, I feel more comfortable being my authentic self.”
PTP: “Please tell me about each piece in your program-
why did you choose this piece?
What do you hope the audience will hear in this piece?”
IF: “Well, I wrote both songs. “Overflow” was written in 2012 and “Covers” was written in 2015. I chose these songs because I felt like they give a good look into who I am as a writer as well as an artist. Not to mention they flow well together and are fun to sing.
“My hope is that although these are two songs that the audience has never heard before, they will be able to connect with them on a very deep level. My prayer is that the people will allow the lyrics to help create dialog between them and God.
““Overflow” is a song that asks God to fill us up with more of Him. A lot of times we ask God for material things but I was at a place where although I needed material things my prayer was “make me more like you.” So this song echoes that desire and prayer.
““Covers” is a very special song for me. Lol I laughed because I thought about how it was birthed. I was writing another song, finished it and was just singing it when I noticed that it had started to rain pretty heavy out side, it wasn’t a storm though. While I was still playing some chords, I felt God say, “Do you hear the rain? Just like the rain falls from the heavens and covers the earth, that’s how my love is for you.”
“ I instantly started singing what I had just heard and the moment the words passed my lips I broke down crying. To think that Gods love for me is so vast, there is no place I can go where it won’t find me. Also there is a second benefit of His love covering you, it washes away all of the dirt and nastiness that you think makes you unworthy of His love. You don’t have to be clean to receive His love. If you allow him to Love you He will clean you much better than you could’ve ever cleaned yourself.
“Even though I had been a believer for almost my entire life I still feel unworthy of His love and Mess up often. I am grateful that God gave me this song. I hope that it helps encourage many people to stop running from His love and instead laydown their spiritual umbrellas and receive the rain, dance in the rain, and sing in the rain of His love.”
PTP: “Many of our readers know little about Gospel Music. What do you think is the most important thing for people to know about Gospel Music and this Festival?”
IF: “The core of Gospel Music is about Strength, Love, Hope, and Faith. The slaves sang songs that we call spirituals to encourage each other and some even had secret messages in them. Thomas Dorsey who is nicknamed the Father of Gospel music took these spirituals and other sacred songs and put jazz and blues progressions to them. Which by the way got him kicked out of many churches because they believed that those were the devils chord progressions? It was through the merging of blues and jazz chord progressions and spiritual lyrics that Gospel Music was born.
“So this festival is a celebration of our heritage, not just for black people but for America. Gospel music is one of America’s art forms it was birthed here in these United States. It is something to be proud of and celebrated.”
PTP: “Any other comments?”
IF: “If you are interested in getting any music from me, my debut single entitled “Burning Heart” is on Itunes or any other major digital store.”
All photos courtesy of Isaiah Freeman unless otherwise noted.
For more information visit Isaiah Freeman's website.
MORE: read other profiles of gospel performers, including God's Posse, Glenn Johnson and the Voices of Innerpeace, The University of Illinois Black Chorus, R&R, Neicy Robertson, and the Selah St. Sabina Youth Choir.