In the ultimate of paradoxes, by focusing on the narrow, seemingly out-of-vogue a cappella singing style, Take 6 has become one of the most versatile, broadly loved groups of the past 20 years, and has broken down a number of barriers between musical genres - particularly the lines between Jazz, Gospel and Soul.
Consisting of brothers Mark and Joey Kibble, Cedric Dent, Alvin Chea, David Thomas and Claude McKnight (brother of Brian), Take 6 was formed at Oakwood College in Alabama in the early 80s. After touring and issuing minor recordings over several years, the group was signed by Reprise and issued its first national release, Take 6, in 1988. Combining traditional spiritual songs and new compositions sung a cappella with creative, breezy jazz vocal arrangements, the group found a quick following among both Gospel and Jazz audiences. The rest of the nation discovered them at the 1988 Grammy Awards, when they blew away the awards show audience with the joyous "Spread Love" and amazingly won Grammies for both best Jazz and best Gospel group. Equally incredibly, following the show the Take 6 album shot to the top 10 of Jazz, Gospel, Contemporary Christian and Soul charts, while also hitting the top 100 on the Pop charts. At a time when popular music was dominated by the heavy electronic sounds coming from Britain (in the Pop world) and the new generation of funk artists (in the Soul world), this new sextet reminded the nation of the sheer beauty of male group harmonies.
The group's sophomore disc, So Much To Say, was released the following year. It was a less engaging album, but one which included "I L-O-V-E You," a fantastic upbeat song made all the more amazing by the fact that it included nothing but human voices yet sounded fully orchestrated. Take 6 also became a much sought-after vocal partner, appearing in a background role on dozens of albums, most notably Joe Sample's Spellbound (singing "U Turn") and Quincy Jones's Back on the Block.
After releasing a Christmas album, in 1994 Take 6 released Join the Band, a very good album that marked the first Take 6 record with musicians. It also began a practice of interpreting popular songs of others, here adding a Gospel lyrical element in a hit cover of Ambrosia's "Biggest Part of Me." Join the Band won the Grammy for best Gospel album. The group followed in 1997 with Brothers, a disappointing album in large part written and produced by Brian McKnight, but one which won Take 6 a final Grammy. In the next two years the group issued two more albums, So Cool and another Christmas album, before releasing an excellent Greatest Hits album in 1999.
Take 6 developed its live show over the course of the 90s, ultimately becoming one of the hottest concert tickets in the Soul and Jazz music world. The energetic, uplifting show was captured in their 2000 Tonight: Live album, recorded in Japan . Two years later the act issued Beautiful World, an album of fresh interpretations (with musical accompaniment) of Pop and Soul classics. Especially notable are their covers of Michael McDonald's "Takin It To The Streets" and Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free," dueting on the latter with Lalah Hathaway.
In 2006, Take 6 went independent, releasing Feels Good on their own Take 6 Records label. Two years later they signed with the Heads Up label and release The Standard. In 2010 they were back with an excellent Christmas album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
By Chris Rizik