Still, this road to success was lined with humbling moments that had Cage biting his tongue and restrained his pride on more than a few occasions. Whether he was convincing a congregation to change direction in their worship services or heeding the advice of a record label executive to improve his commercial visibility, Cage met these challenges with decisiveness and humility.
Still, this road to success was lined with humbling moments that had Cage biting his tongue and restrained his pride on more than a few occasions. Whether he was convincing a congregation to change direction in their worship services or heeding the advice of a record label executive to improve his commercial visibility, Cage met these challenges with decisiveness and humility. While transforming these ministries has provided plenty of mountains for the Michigan native to climb, the experience has also rewarded Cage with an effective ministry, a fruitful recording career, and the hard-earned title of gospel's "Prince of Praise."
Now with two independent and two major label releases under his belt, a well-prepared Cage steps onto that historic and sacred Apollo Theater stage, with his latest live praise and worship experience, Live At The Apollo: The Proclamation. For the artist who brought the gospel community such riveting, contemporary classics as "The Presence of the Lord," "I Will Bless The Lord," and "The Glory Song," expectations are high. On Live at the Apollo..., Cage proves he is ready to join ranks with the many soul, jazz and gospel superstars who are Apollo legends.
For Byron Cage the path to Apollo greatness started at a young age. Cage's ministry vision began at the age of twelve where he attended Greater Grace Temple in Detroit after moving from his birthplace of Grand Rapids. He discovered the charismatic style of the Pentecostal church service that numerous music ministers have effectively integrated into the current gospel music landscape, including Donnie McClurkin, Judith McAllister, Beverly Crawford, and Thomas Whitfield, Cage's mentor. These ministers' main mission is two-fold in every song - for the congregation to praise God for his goodness and to worship in spirit and in truth based on the scripture John 4:19-24.
Almost a decade later, Cage met the legendary Bishop Eddie Long, the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist in Atlanta Georgia (now New Birth Cathedral) while attending Morehouse College. After joining their music ministry team, Cage utilized the tools passed on by Whitfield and slowly proceeded to restructure the church service format. It took time for a reasonable transition from the traditional format of mostly hymns to a predominantly contemporary praise and worship setting. In the nineties, Cage started balancing music ministry time between New Birth and Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, where he slowly changed the nature of their worship services. In both instances, there were difficulties and opposition from church members and administrators. In the long run, both congregations grew in attendance and have developed into highly esteemed mega-churches.
Cage first started recording with the vocal group Purpose for two projects in the mid-nineties on the independent label, Atlanta International Records (AIR). Dwell Among Us and Transparent In Your Presence both accentuated the praise and worship format that Cage developed with New Birth & Ebenezer. However, it was the song "Shabach" recorded with the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship Mass Choir, which finally cemented Cage's prowess as one of gospel's contemporary praise and worship leaders.
The musical artist grooming began about six years later when Cage signed to Gospocentric and met label head Vicki Latillade. While the music minister was used to handling his own affairs with his previous efforts on AIR, Latillade hired the services of well-respected worship producer/songwriter Kurt Carr to guide Cage's self-titled major label debut. At first, Cage was taken aback, thinking his production and songwriting skills were not being taken seriously enough, but decided to take the high road and trust Carr's expertise. The 2003 self-titled release captured several Stellar Awards and introduced the gospel world to the thundering praise and worship masterpiece, Carr's composition, "The Presence of the Lord," the Donnie McClurkin penned "It Is You," and a rousing medley featuring the crowd-pleaser, "Shabach."
Cage was granted more creative freedom on his follow-up project, An Invitation To Worship. This time, the multi-talented Detroit-based production team PAJAM (J. Moss, Paul Allen, and Walter Kearney) was chosen to blend in with Cage's forte. Known for a signature amalgamation of jazz, soul and hip-hop that has taken hit makers Kiki Sheard and Trin-i-tee 5:7 to the top of the charts, PAJAM's urban sound was considered a bit edgy for Cage's more traditional praise and worship offerings. The risk paid off, with Cage garnering more awards and another gospel radio smash, "I Will Bless the Lord," originally composed by Isaiah D. Thomas but rewritten by Cage to suit his praise and worship audience.
PAJAM returns to the production seat again for Live At The Apollo: The Proclamation, continuing Cage's uncanny ability to provide gospel hits. Already, radio stations are gravitating to Cage's commanding tenor voice and lively choir arrangements on the radio hit, "With All Of My Might." "I Got A Reason," provides another pleasing moment, one that recalls the early days of Detroit's Clark Sisters and The Winans. The ultimate jewel in The Proclamation crown is "Royalty." The song illustrates how Cage can effortlessly usher the notoriously challenging Apollo crowd into an intimate moment with God. The remaining tracks on the CD are satisfying, with the exception of some lame redundancies on "Worship The Lord."
With The Proclamation, Cage continues to solidify his integrity as a praise and worship leader and continues to excel as a gospel recording artist. The only traps he falls into are the corny interlude borrowing from the popular phrase "It's showtime at the Apollo" ("It's praise time at the Apollo") and some tiresome worship adlibs, especially his overused nagging of the audience to "put their hands together." But everyone, including Cage, is entitled to the occasional misfire. We can gladly forgive him these minor annoyances as long as Cage continues to remain committed to his real strengths as a praise and worship innovator who consistently serves the church body and his listening audience.
By Peggy Oliver