The Unaccompanied Voices of Take 6

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Host Ed Gordon talks with Claude McKnight and Mark Kibble, founders of the a capella group Take 6, about their career and their new album Feels Good.

ED GORDON, host:

The group Take 6 pulls from all sorts of American singing traditions. There's gospel, some doo-wop and a lot of jazz. But even with all those influences, no other group is quite like this a cappella sextet. They've been shaping their sounds since the mid-1980s when college friends Claude McKnight and Mark Kibble founded the group.

Over the last two decades, they've worked with greats like Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau and Joe Sample, just to name a few. McKnight and Kibble joined me earlier, and Kibble says he never dreamed he'd be in a group with some of the guys he grew up with.

Mr. MARK KIBBLE (Founder, Take 6): You know, we all dream when we were kids. I never would have thought that I would meet up with somebody that I grew up with and make a career out of it. In fact, you know, back then I didn't even realize that I would be doing music for a living; I didn't know that there was that option. And I didn't really find that out until perhaps after we got out of college and this whole thing came on us.

You know, I'm so grateful and, you know, it's a wonderful thing if you could go through like and do something that you love, and that's what we're doing here. That means a whole lot.

(Soundbite of song from album, Feels Good)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) This is another day. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey…

TAKE 6: (Singing) Another day (unintelligible) with my mind (unintelligible) Have you ever…

GORDON: Claude, here's what's interesting about Take 6. Particularly if you listen to the latest CD, Feels Good, one sees that you've not strayed from what originally you did, and that's singing the word of gospel. Yet there would be many people that would not characterize you as, quote, a gospel group or even know much of the music in one sense is gospel. Would you agree with that?

Mr. CLAUDE MCKNIGHT (Founder, Take 6): You know, I would agree with that. I think what happens a lot of times, especially in our career, is that because we could be considered a contemporary gospel, when you throw that word in there and it's away from the traditional that you have grown up listening to and loving, you realize there's a lot of slices to that pie.

And the slices that we tend to gravitate towards are the jazz elements, and some of the pop and R&B elements and it's all in an a cappella package. So I think that there are times where people don't know where to put us because people always want to categorize things.

(Soundbite of song from album, Feels Good)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Did my father (unintelligible) and made me feel all right.

TAKE 6: (Singing) Wait for the sunshine. My sun in the morning time. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's another day. You are my…

GORDON: Many groups who've been out for a couple of decades go through periods where they try this, they try that, they experiment here, they experiment there. But you, like Maze, for instance, has always given the audience the expectation of Take 6, yet it remains fresh. Is that something you try to do?

Mr. KIBBLE: Oh, absolutely. We want to remain true to ourselves. We know that we do have a signature sound. And whether we're doing our music or somebody else's, it's definitely going to come out. But we also realize that there's something very special about doing music just straight a cappella, the way that we originally came out. That is very unique to us.

So we take that and we put in our personal experience and, you know, a few of the new flavors of the day and come up with something that hopefully is really, really fresh. And, you know, I think we did capture it on this particular CD, Feels Good.

GORDON: Let's talk, Claude, if we can very quickly, about the new CD. What's your favorite song on the new one? Or perhaps which was the most fun to create?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: More Than Ever is a really great song that Joey Kibble and (unintelligible) wrote. It's probably the most honest and transparent song on the CD. And I think that's what we were going for with the entire CD is to come from our hearts with issues that were all dealing with on a personal level as well as a group level.

(Soundbite of song from album, Feel Good)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: I think your grasp a hold of songs that speak directly to you in an emotional sense, and that's what we were going for here. We were like, you know what, we don't want to sing about what's supposed to happen or what people think we should sing about. We want to sing about where we are and what's going on in our lives, because somebody out there is going to say I'm right there with you.

(Soundbite of song, More Than Ever)

TAKE 6: (Singing) More than ever, when you come to (unintelligible). Standing here in the rubble, I know I'm in trouble. I need you more than ever…

GORDON: Claude and Mark, thanks so very much. Greatly appreciate it. But I would be remiss in not trying to get you guys to do a little something for us. You're joined now by your four other mates that make up Take 6; Alvin, Cedric, David and Joel are with you. And you guys, if you would, would do Come On for us from the Feels Good CD.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Absolutely.

Mr. KIBBLE: Here we go.

Unidentified Man #2: one, two, three, four…

Chorus: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah…

TAKE 6: (Singing) There used to be a time when I would blame somebody else. Never think that'd happen to me (unintelligible). Nothing ever changed until I turned and asked myself...

GORDON: Take 6, from our Washington, D.C. studios, performing Come On from their new CD, Feels Good.

TAKE 6: (Singing) I can't fight it, can't fight it. I want to holler, (unintelligible). I remember what the good book said when the living got to be bad. So I asked for help (unintelligible) and I got victory. Come on, everybody, we're just getting started rocking the party, cause we got the victory. Come on, everybody, we're (unintelligible), rocking the party, cause we got the victory.

(Unintelligible) Let all always teaching somebody else. Like the perfect one was beneath myself and (unintelligible). Wait until (unintelligible) I was standing all by myself and I found myself (unintelligible).

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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