Sounds of Blackness founder Gary Hines (left) and vocalist Jamecia Bennett, perform with the Howard University Gospel Choir at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The three-time Grammy-winning group Sounds of Blackness has performed worldwide, inspiring fans with uplifting lyrics and vocals. Now the band is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new, self-titled album, and partnering with historically black colleges and universities around the country, including Howard University in Washington, D.C.
The group's founder, Gary Hines; vocalist Jamecia Bennett; and members of the Howard University Gospel Choir joined Tell Me More host Michel Martin for a special performance chat.
Sounds of Blackness started at Macalester College in Minnesota with 50 singers and three musicians in 1971. Today there are 30 singers and 10 orchestra members.
Bennett joined the group at 17; she's 35 now. Her involvement is a family tradition: Her mother, aunt, cousin and uncle were also involved with the group. Bennett says that generational connection can be recognized in the new album, too.
"We have a variety album that can reach anybody at any age, at any denomination," she tells Martin.
Hines says the group's vision is rooted in the traditions of Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones. The band performs the music of the black experience — jazz, blues, gospel, spirituals — paired with positive messages for people of all backgrounds. There are even featured artists from countries from India to Japan.
He and Bennett say the music has something for everyone, including those who may be struggling right now.
Hines says Sounds of Blackness' new CD has something for everyone, in particular, those struggling right now.
Hines says Sounds of Blackness' new CD has something for everyone, in particular, those struggling right now. Amy Ta/NPR
"I think Sounds of Blackness is capable of ... reaching the people that don't go to church," Bennett says, and inspiring them.
She once left the group for a solo career and to work with prominent artists such as Sting and Janet Jackson. She eventually returned to Sounds of Blackness and wrote "Fly Again," which appears on the new album.
"Right now — war, economic downturn, layoff, foreclosures, bankruptcy — people need to hear and know that if they keep the faith through all of that and hold on, that they can and will fly again," Hines says. "We've had people who told us they were contemplating suicide, you know, and heard our music and it helped to save or turn their life around."
Nothing beats that, he says, not even winning a Grammy.
Sounds of Blackness is partnering with musical groups at historically black colleges and universities, including the Howard University Gospel Choir (above).
Sounds of Blackness is partnering with musical groups at historically black colleges and universities, including the Howard University Gospel Choir (above). Amy Ta/NPR