Donald Lawrence

Donald Lawrence

Official Biography (courtesy of EMI Gospel)

As a young man, and recent graduate of the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Donald Lawrence was planning on a career in musical theater. But roads sometimes have a way of winding by the design of a hand much bigger than that of man, and seasons can change with seeming disregard for even the best-laid plans.

Today, two decades and countless achievements down that road, Donald Lawrence stands as one of the pre-eminent figures of Gospel music. In a career filled with landmark moments, none stands higher than Donald's 15-year collaboration with what began as a 35-voice, Carolina-based community choir known as the Tri-City Singers. In existence since 1981, and known to the world as Donald Lawrence presents the Tri-City Singers, since their 1991 partnering with Donald, the ensemble has had a major hand in literally reshaping the Gospel choir of the 21st century, while also becoming one of the genre's most successful and beloved acts.

But creative minds and artists' hearts, by definition, must continue to grow to survive and thrive, and the convergence of the perfect people, place and time that birthed Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers now comes to a conclusion with the choir's farewell offering, appropriately titled, Finale.

The album was recorded live in November, 2005, at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, with all proceeds donated to MusiCares, to provide relief for musicians in the Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The concert's two-plus hours of music is divided into two double-disc sets, Finale: Act I and Finale: Act II. Each set contains an almost equal measure of Tri-City classics and inspired, exciting new material, on CD audio disc as well as full-length, concert DVD. While available separately, both the Act I and Act II sets come in unique limited edition, interlocking packaging that joins the two together into one box set. Also offered, as the full essence-heart and soul-of Donald Lawrence & Tri-City, is Finale: Limited Collector's Edition, a four-disc set that includes both the CDs and DVDs of Act I and Act II, plus bonus tracks and a 12-page commemorative booklet recounting the choir's illustrious history.

Finale features a host of celebrated guest artists, among them Walter Hawkins ("Seasons"), Daryl Coley ("When Sunday Comes"), LaShun Pace ("And Yet I'm Still Saved"), and Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Karen Clark-Sheard, and Darwin Hobbs, each sharing in a deeply moving, 12-minute rendering of "It's Your Time." New, live renditions of other Tri-City trademark songs include "God's Favor," "When The Saints Go To Worship," "Never Seen The Righteous," "I Am God," "I Walk With The King," and more.

Of the new material on Finale, Donald mentions four songs as particular stand-outs to him. "The Blessing of Abraham," already a chart-topping hit single, melds Tri-City-delivering an instantly memorable, irresistible melody and lyric-with a driving backbeat and Donald's exhortations, to convey what he says is a central theme of the album.

"The concept is very simple but very powerful," he explains. "Once you become one with Christ, you have been adopted into the family of Abraham and entitled to the blessing that God put over him that his seed would possess the land. Therefore, everything you touch is supposed to be successful. You're supposed to have divine yield and have divine life. There's an inheritance out there for you, and you need to speak it and claim it."

"Giants," a high-energy Gospel/R&B rocker, "is about challenges," Donald says. "In Scripture, there was the giant wall of Jericho. They marched around it seven times, let out a shout and the wall came down. Because of David's worship life, he was able to bring down the giant, Goliath. This song is letting everybody know the power of praise and worship. When you praise, when you worship, when you shout as they did in the Bible, giants come down! "

Donald says his inspiration for "Encourage Yourself"-a very cool, Gospel-meets-retro-soul groove-is likewise Scripturally based. "David encouraged himself in the Lord. Sometimes you just have to encourage yourself. Sometimes you have to just pat your own self on the back and say, `I'm going to make it,' or ‘I have made it;' or ‘I look good today,' or ‘I'm a good person...I'm doing well... I'm successful'. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you're good."

Donald sees the smooth, jazz-flavored ballad, "You Are An Heir," as a coda to "The Blessing of Abraham," sounding a chord of conclusion to the theme of inheritance. "This song is God speaking in first person," he says. "It states very simply and emphatically you are an heir to that blessing. You are royalty. Hold onto that image and that vision now and for the future. He says I've seen your failures and I know you need answers, but those of great failure I've blessed to be great winners. Most very successful people have also experienced incredible falls."

As Donald and Tri-City reflect on the group's long and rich history, there's a touch of nostalgia and sentimentality, but no sadness or regrets. Founding member, Vanessa Durrah, says the heart of the Tri-City Singers still beats to the same rhythm that first gave them life 25 years ago. "We always loved to entertain an audience, but that by itself was not nearly enough," she says. "We wanted to be known as more than a group with cool stage moves, and CDs full of great songs. We wanted to touch and change people's very lives through the power of God moving in what we did. All the success these years have brought us has been exciting, but Tri-City's greatest calling was always, first and foremost, for ministry. We never could have lasted this long if it was any reason other than loving to sing and serve the Lord."

Donald echoes those sentiments, as he speaks with a sense of accomplishment in the past, and excitement at what the future holds for him as well as a number of Tri-City members who are moving into new callings of music and ministry.

"God has blessed me to work with some of the best singers and musicians in the world in Tri-City," Donald concludes, "so I can't help but have some mixed emotions. Tri-City was a baby of mine. You birth the baby and you watch it grow, and one day it comes time to let it go. But I don't think you can move forward if you stay in one place too long. This is pushing everybody to really reach inside themselves and draw out stronger gifts. This is a time for me to release the group, and to be released, into the continued plan God has for us all. Finale is really more of a transition than an ending."

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