Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
It's another June, which means it's Black Music Month again and time for another musical spotlight. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out who I would highlight, but when I noticed that a fellow Alcornite and frat promoting his single on iTunes and Amazon, I knew what I had to do: sit down and talk with Charles Coleman of the gospel music group Divine Favor. Charles and Divine Favor are all a living example of the inspirational power of music, and how allowing the Lord to use you can take you to places you never could have imagined. Charles and Divine Favor combine musical artistry and ministry to touch people an help shape lives, and if that is not what the heart of music (particularly Black music) is about, then tell me something.
M. Haynes: Hey Charles!
Charles Coleman: (laughs) Hey! How are you doing?
M. Haynes: I'm fine. So let's get into it. You've been really busy lately I see. Talk to us abut what life is like right now.
Charles Coleman: Life is good, great actually! Currently I'm promoting my single, so that's the big thing. Life has just been busy since I left Alcorn*.
MH: What happened once you left?
CC: One I left Alcorn I realized that I loved the ministry of music, and not just the music itself, so I realized I wanted to minster through music.
What's the difference?
Well when you minister you have to seek not just to entertain but touch people and give them the Word. People who minister have to have big open hearts and an assignment from God. Anyone can entertain a crowd by singing to them but you have to be more careful if you are ministering. It's even more difficult because now you get into the industry where you have to have a business mindset. You have to be diligent and work even harder.
That sounds like so much. Is it difficult to balance industry, ministry, and just your life in general?
Yes, but mainly because I'm still learning to do it. I'm learning about the industry and my ministry and that's difficult because I feel like you need mentors for that, and it's hard to find that. People mostly fight for themselves, so sometimes it's hard to find others willing to mentor or just offer collaboration. I've been lucky enough to find people like Corey Ronell who I collaborated with, to connect with and build each other up in this industry.
Alright so let's step back for a second. You've talked a lot about where you are now in your life and career, but let's talk about how you got here in the first place. How did you start singing?
Yeah I'm taking it WAY back (laughs).
All the way back (laughs). I've been singing as long as I can remember. According to my mom I was singing before I was talking. I started in church of course. I was directing the youth choir at age 12 and was always singing too. I don't know, music just held my attention. It has just always been a part of my life. Even going to college I knew I had to be involved with music, even if i didn't turn out how I expected it to. Like I never thought that as a little black boy from the ghetto I would be singing and liking classical music.
Things have a funny way of working out for our good even when we don't expect it. Speaking of not expecting, did you ever think music would become your career?
No, I never saw music as a career at first. You know how people say that you have to make your career what you love to do? That's what happened, I had to grow into a career in music. Music is hard sometimes but it's what I love to do. Plus I think that it's meant for me to do music. I feel like there is power in music and spreading that to people is my assignment. There is a certain feeling that only music can unlock and you have to have that assignment, that anointing, to unleash it.
I agree wholeheartedly. Music is a gift.
Is there anything you would tell your younger self to help cultivate that gift?
Hmmm. I'd tell myself when I used to write songs not to throw that away. I wish I had've kept those words, those one liner, one phrase hits, and added music to the I didn't know anything about music really then because there was no one musical in my family other than my uncle who died the year I was born. I feel like if I had that I would be further than where I am. I wish I had believed in myself more and trusted in the gift God had placed in me.
Talk to us about Divine Favor.
Well, Divine Favor started after I came back** in 2009. A friend of mine, James Douglas, came back as well and the church he played for held a watch night service and he put me on program. I had to round up some of my friends and we all sang. The anointing just filled that room that night, it was amazing. So after that we started to get requests for other engagements and we started traveling together singing at these different places. After about a year I said, "Y'all we need a name," and we decided on Divine Favor. We felt like we were blessed to travel and minister to people, even though we didn't deserve the blessings He gave us. So with our name we started recording and really getting into the industry and now here we are.
How did "Release From All the Weight" come about?
My friend Jason Clayborn, who I met at convention*** actually wrote the song. He was showing me some stuff he wrote and this one just jumped out at me. It really spoke to all of the stress and heartache I was experiencing at the time.
How did the song do that?
Well during that time I had a very stressful leadership job and the song is all about finding a release from all that. "Release From All the Weight" is about crying out to God to release you from the job, home life, finances, or just the world in general to keep you from breaking. God will never put more on you than you can bear, but you have to know how to seek Him to get release from whatever you need it from.
I wanna talk now about something that's been a debate in music for a while. There's this idea that Gospel music is becoming way too secular and that it's no longer of God. What do you think of that?
This has been going on for so long! I'm a down home country boy very much all about choirs and stuff like that, but even this song is not that. I think that everyone is not going to receive everything the same because we are ALL at different places in our walks with God. What appeals to somebody 7 years old is not gonna appeal to somebody 77 years old; it's just not. An that's okay, because as long as the message in the song is rooted in the Word that's all that matters. People don't even realize that this didn't just start with Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary****, that this goes all the way back to Thomas A. Dorsey**** bringing Blues influences to Gospel music. You have to meet people where they are and give them the message and the word of God. That's a part of ministry.
Wait, Thomas Dorsey did that?
(laughs) You don't hear that. I've been going to the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (NCGCC) for a LONG time, and they do a lot to teach you stuff like this. Thomas Dorsey actually founded the organization so a lot of times they talk about him, but even there we had to talk about how important it is to reach other people but maintain the message. I look at it like this, a Kirk Franklin and the Family CD was the first one I ever bought with my own money. I had the idea that "Well, the Bible says praise him on the high sounding cymbals, so why can't this praise him too?" NCGCC taught me how to find the message in songs and teach other people about it.
How does that shape how you view your ministry and your music?
I work a lot with youth, I direct the youth choir and I teach them. I think it's so important to teach them about the goodness of God in a way that they can understand. People love to put their kids in the choir but do they really know what they are singing about? They love to say, "Well these kids don't understand because they're not old enough," or "They haven't lived enough," and you don't know what those kids are living through. So many of them are taking care of their families and God knows what else, so when you start to teach them about His favor they actually know what you mean. I've seen kids break down because once someone actually explained to them what they were singing for they completely understood. I think NCGCC taught me how to do that. If I hadn't of gone there I wouldn't understand how important it is to spread that message however I can. You have to be able to teach people, especially kids about Him so that they can apply it in their lives and share it with other people.
I know that's real. I know when I was younger and I was in the choir all the adults tried to really make us understand what we were singing.
And that's what it's about. We have to minister through our music.
Do you see yourself reaching out and giving back outside of just music?
Well, last August I accepted the call to preach.
Yeah. God knows best (laughs). I never saw myself doing that but I accepted the task. I realized that He has a plan for me and that it involves even more ministry. I believe that God calls people and he changes their hearts, not them as people. What I mean by that is he wants you to still be you, just do you for Him. If you are a loudmouth then be a loudmouth for God. If you sing, dance, or are the life of the party like I was do that for Him. He wants you to take your talents and use the to glorify Him, and I think that's what He wants me to do, work with children and teach people for Him.
So what's next for you and for Divine Favor?
Of course we're going to keep singing and using our different ministries to reach others. The thing about us (Divine Favor) is that in our group there are so many different talents that we can reach and do for a lot of people. For me I know that He has called me to preach and work with the youth, so I'm going to keep doing that. I am thankful that He chose me so I just hope to hear His voice and follow it. Young people are in my heart, especially the "problem kids", the ones that everyone else has turned their back on. I want to be able to work with them, show them that someone still cares, and just be a vessel that is pleasing in His sight.
Is there anything else you want to leave readers with?
I hope that people will will share this and listen to the single and share it too. Everybody can't reach everyone, but if you teach enough people then eventually that message spreads. God is doing AMAZING things in my life and I am happy to interact with people and make sure that His message reaches everyone.
* = Charles was a Music major in Vocal Performance at Alcorn State University. While there he participated with the Concert Choir, the Men's Chorale, and Interfaith Choir, just to name a few.
** = Charles lives in South Bend, Indiana, so after he graduated from Alcorn he came back home where he reconnected with several people in his life, including his friends who would later go on to make up Divine Favor.
*** = The convention Charles was referring to was the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, mentioned later in the spotlight.
**** = Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary are contemporary Gospel artists who come under a lot of flack for creating music accessible by "worldy" audiences. Kirk Franklin hits like the 90s songs "Stomp" and "Revolution" and songs like "I Luh God" and "Shackles" by one or both of the artists making up the group Mary Mary are called out for being secular, giving rise to the question if Gospel artists can appeal to the masses and still be Gospel artists. As Charles points out, this is complicated because Thomas A. Dorsey, a man known as the "father of Black Gospel music" brought his Blues background to Gospel music, and even though people were uncomfortable with it even then, none of what we know now as Gospel music would exist without his influence.