John P. Kee probably had as much to do with the growth and popularity of contemporary gospel music as anyone. He may not receive as much publicity these days as younger peers such as Kirk Franklin, Deitrick Haddon, or J. Moss, but Kee has long been an innovator in the contemporary gospel field. Kee fused his New Life choir with a contemporary R&B sound back in the 1980s and 90s and along with groups like the Winans shook up the gospel world. Kee's songs like "Jesus I'll Never Forget" provided a template for presenting gospel music that sounded modern and cutting edge while being unapologetically Christian.
Of course, Kee understood the history of gospel music. He grew up in a church home where he heard choral groups and smaller combos. In fact, Kee grew up at the end of the quartet era in gospel music. Groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Mighty Clouds of Joy not only left a major imprint on gospel music, they greatly influenced R&B and soul music. So it is not surprising that Kee would make a record like The Legacy Project in which he collaborates on 12 gospel quartet songs with legendary figures in the genre such as Rance Allen, fellow contemporary gospel stars like Fred Hammond and soul singers like Anthony Hamilton.
It's interesting to note that both Kee and Hammond have given contemporary gospel arrangements to traditional choral and quartet gospel songs in the past. And both men demonstrate an ability to find the balance between recognizing the modern sound and honoring the unique sound of gospel quartet singing. That can be heard on the Kee-Hammond collaboration "I Know You." The song has a thoroughly modern sound from the instrumental standpoint, yet it also features the kind of perfectly timed vocal harmonies and spot on timing between lead and backing vocalists that will put fans of quartet music in their comfort zones. That, of course, should not be surprising since Hammond performed a group, Commissioned, that was heavily indebted to quartet music before embarking on his solo career.
The songs on The Legacy Project show that this classic style of gospel singing is the perfect musical tool to address the issues of the modern world such as economic problems ("Blessings featuring Rance Allen"). Fans of gospel music also know that quartet music is a sub-genre that lends itself to some great story telling, and that can be heard on songs such as "Determined" (featuring Harvey Watkins) and "Praying for You" (featuring Doug William and Rance Allen).
It is easy for people to treat quartet music like a cultural relic because the bulk of the genre's fans tend to be older. But The Legacy Project shows that it is so much more. It stands on its own as an entertaining, educational and aptly named album, where each song contains the root elements of what grew into soul and R&B music but also sounds absolutely fresh today.. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes