What The Game’s Been Missing: Church Voice

I, along with Black Twitter and the white folks who watch CNN, tuned into watch Whitney Houston‘s
homegoing last Saturday and was pleasantly surprised at how “ordinary” it seemed for a pop icon.
Outside of the incredibly high-profile stars in attendance, it was like any other black funeral service: people falling
asleep in the choir, a cacophony of “Amens!” and “yeah, yeah, YEAHS!” peppering the service, people
cutting up and Bobby Brown walking out, church mothers with disheveled-looking Beverly Johnson wigs — it felt so familiar. From the gold-trimmed runners to the blood red carpet to the pastoral hootin’ and
hollerin’, this funeral was a solid 10 on the keeping it real scale. As a grand PK, I felt right at home.

There was so much to take in at the homegoing as well. The overwhelming fact that Whitney Houston never made it down the road to recovery hung in the air, but speeches by Bebe Winans and other
friends and relatives helped lighten the mood. But what got me up out of bed and doing a holy ghost
dance was Kim Burrell‘s remixed rendition of Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Gone Come.” My God! Her voice was ON
FIRE. She flipped that thang and made it relevant; and she low-key spit some realness about Whitney’s
situation (a change had to come for her friend, there was no way around it), but Kim was able to get
away with it because she has something that the music industry has been afraid to tap into from black
artists as of late: the church voice.

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There are very few black mainstream artists that have and get away with using a “church” voice. For
some reason it’s not cool to sound like you grew up singing in a church choir nowadays unless you’re singing straight-out gospel music. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Thank God that we have Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, Cece Winans, and so many more holding gospel music down. But when a church-raised-and-trained singer decides to sing secular music, it’s a joyful noise indeed. Whitney most definitely had church voice, and before her Aretha had it, too. Mariah tried, but she was more operatic than anything else. Kelly Price is in
possession of it for sure. It’s the sound of patent leather shoes with lace socks and press-n-curls on
Sundays, of fried fish dinners served during Lent and polyester choir robes. Adele and the blue-eyed
British lot are definitely benefitting from the trail that church voices have blazed in music, meanwhile
our own soul superstars are overlooked. It’s a strange conundrum in 21st century music.

Many singers do vocal gymnastics and raggedy runs in an attempt to mimic the church voice, but that
soulful sound comes from a deeper place of power. You can hear conviction in the singer’s voice, the Spirit
moving them. That’s what made Whitney so special, and it’s what made Kim Burrell’s performance shine
during the homegoing of the greatest church voice of the last 50 years.

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