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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

For more than 30 years, the ensemble Sounds of Blackness has been making music with a message. They've won a Grammy. They've got a new CD, "Kings and Queens." And now they've launched a new music campaign to educate people about street and domestic violence.

The group's director Gary Hines and soloist Patty Lacy spoke with NPR's Tony Cox. Hines says their name epitomizes their musical style.

(Soundbite of song "Optimistic")

SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS: (Singing) Never say die.

Mr. GARY HINES (Musical Director, Sounds of Blackness): Sounds of Blackness, every sound of the black or African-American experience - spiritual, jazz, blues, gospel, hip-hop, R&B - and we needed a name that would reflect that. And so we bring black music to people of all backgrounds and that's what we've done with our new CD, "Kings and Queens."

TONY COX: Patty, when did you join the group and what brought you to Sounds of Blackness?

Ms. PATTY LACY (Soloist, Sounds of Blackness): I joined the group in 1988. What brought me to the group was another vehicle to get my voice heard out there, to be a part of something that I was a fan and groupie of since I was a kid.

COX: You're the lead vocalist on the track "Hold On Just A Little Longer" on the new CD, which is sort of a medley. Is fronting a song for the Sounds of Blackness any different than, say, soloing in front of the choir on Sunday morning at church?

(Soundbite of song "Hold On Just A Little Longer")

Ms. LACY: (Singing) Hold on…

The different to me is being able to be seen and heard by many more people than I would if I was in church.

(Soundbite of song "Hold On Just A Little Longer")

Ms. LACY: (Singing) Oh, hold on. Hold on a little while longer. Oh, hold on. Yeah, yeah.

COX: You know, let's talk about the new CD, Gary. It's called "Kings and Queens." What's your intent, musically, with this latest recording?

Mr. HINES: There's big band jazz, there's blues, there a cappella spirituals, there's gospel, there's R&B and hip-hop - all members of the same family. And then, of course, we bring always, as Sounds to Blackness, that music that all people and with messages of inspiration and positivity and the specific messages - the issue of self-denigration, self respect, we deal with domestic violence against women and we'll donate a portion of the proceeds to the Martin Luther King Memorial. So that's why, with all of that scope of this record and music, we call it a movement.

COX: Well, you know, track number one is called "Time For Love." And it's an upbeat song that actually, Gary, reminds of me Rodney King's "Can't We All Just Get Along?"

Mr. HINES: Can't we all just get along? And you know, musically, Tony, you know, in the tradition, it has the feel and by intent and design deliberately of the late great Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

(Soundbite of song, "Time For Love")

Ms. LACY: (Singing): Put your hands together.

Unidentified Man #1: It's time for love.

Ms. LACY: (Singing) It's time for love.

Unidentified Man #1: Get together.

Ms. LACY: (Singing) It's time for love.

Unidentified Man #1: And that don't you (Unintelligible).

Ms. LACY: (Singing) It's time for love. Come on.

Mr. HINES: It's time for love, for us to join together as a family of humanity that we are supposed to be.

(Soundbite of song "Let My People Go")

Ms. LACY: (Singing) When Israel in Egypt's land.

SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS: (Singing) Let my people go.

COX: Let's talk a little bit about how the gospel community has reacted to Sounds of Blackness. In the beginning there was - I think it's fair to say -sort of an aloofness or distance between the traditional gospel community and the music that Sounds of Blackness has been putting out.

(Soundbite of song "Let My People Go")

SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS: (Singing) Moses…

Ms. LACY: (Singing) Way down in Egypt's land.

COX: How has that relationship changed? Do you feel that there's still a reluctance, to some extent, on the part of the traditional gospel community to embrace what you guys are doing?

Mr. HINES: Well, fortunately, Tony, that reality was diminished to the point of actually disappearing. We have seen both in the traditional gospel community and at radio, where there was - initially, as you say - some resistance to the expanse of Sounds of Blackness musically in our variety and versatility, they've come around to that. So we're glad to have been blessed to be trendsetters.

COX: Let me come back to you, Patty. Ann Nesby, as we all know, left the group to pursue a very successful solo career. Now, be honest. Are there times of wanting to be on your own?

Ms. LACY: Yes. Always. I am currently working on my first solo gospel project right now.

COX: How do you balance that?

Ms. LACY: It's not hard. You just have to put things in perspective. You have to know where to draw that line and when to cross it and when not to cross it.

COX: Well, Gary, what about with you? Yeah?

Mr. HINES: Yeah. I was going say, if I could jump in there as well. One of the things in the design - one of the elements, rather than thing, of design in Sounds of Blackness, structurally, from day one was where we would be a springboard for solo careers.

COX: All right. Final thing is this, Gary. You were Mr. Minnesota. Now, that's an interesting…

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: …tidbit in your personal history. How did you go from that to this?

Mr. HINES: Well, I'll tell you, as a native New Yorker - and this is going to seem like a circuitous route but it's really not - music and muscle have always been, you know, in my life. You know, my brothers back in New York and I, we -our musical background started with drum and bugle corps back in New York, back in Yonkers, New York. Shout out to Yonkers. But even after school and homework and drum practice, it would be about seeing who could do the most push-ups, see who could look the most like Steve and George Reeves, Steve "Hercules" Reeves, you know, and all those old-style movies. But music always exists. So they've always been joined at the hip for me. And now - and I'm sure Patty will tell you this, although I know the group is not always fond of it - when we go on the road, you know, I always encourage - more than they would probably like -everybody to workout.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LACY: Way too much.

COX: Gary and Patty, thank you so much.

Ms. LACY: Thank you.

Mr. HINES: Thank you so much to you. A public shout out to you and NPR, Tony. And to all the NPR listeners, thank you for your support over the years of Sounds of Blackness.

(Soundbite of song "My Soul is Rested")

Ms. LACY: (Singing) Oh, my fittest time…

SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS: (Singing) When my soul is rested.

CHIDEYA: Gary Hines is the musical director for Sounds of Blackness. And Parry Lacy is a soloist with the group. They spoke with NPR's Tony Cox.

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