John P Kee - Live In Miami (Yes We Can) (2008)

John P Kee
JohnKee-Miami.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Pastor John P. Kee has an uncanny ability to juggle. For more than two decades, Kee has balanced two church choirs, a solo career and hosting an annual music and arts workshop-all with overwhelming success. When his home church choir, the New Life Community Choir (NLCC) first signed with Tyscot Records, they established a reputation for meshing R&B and hip-hop into traditional gospel arrangements. It would be a reputation Kee would extend to another of his choirs, one who appears at the annual VIP (Victory in Praise) Conference, where a collective of musicians, worship leaders and vocalists have annually congregated since 1990. In support of these occasions, the North Carolina native founded the choir, the Victory in Praise Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir or VIP. Since its inception, VIP has recorded eight gospel projects. Their latest entry, Live In Miami (Yes We Can), successfully bridges Kee's choirs by featuring several NLLC associates and alumni.

Pastor John P. Kee has an uncanny ability to juggle. For more than two decades, Kee has balanced two church choirs, a solo career and hosting an annual music and arts workshop-all with overwhelming success. When his home church choir, the New Life Community Choir (NLCC) first signed with Tyscot Records, they established a reputation for meshing R&B and hip-hop into traditional gospel arrangements. It would be a reputation Kee would extend to another of his choirs, one who appears at the annual VIP (Victory in Praise) Conference, where a collective of musicians, worship leaders and vocalists have annually congregated since 1990. In support of these occasions, the North Carolina native founded the choir, the Victory in Praise Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir or VIP. Since its inception, VIP has recorded eight gospel projects. Their latest entry, Live In Miami (Yes We Can), successfully bridges Kee's choirs by featuring several NLLC associates and alumni. Live is a triumph for a multi-tasking minister well on his way to becoming a legend.

Long before his successive tenure as a choir master and contemporary gospel sensation, Kee learned the ropes of choir directing, faced the ill temptations of life and was already a well-versed musician. Much of Kee's life and extensive musical background seeps into his urban-saturated gospel arrangements. While Kee and his fifteen siblings were all successful gospel choir singers, John was an exceptional talent who studied classical music at North Carolina School of the Arts. During his college days, Kee played brief stints with eighties' funk giants Cameo and the R&B-jazz hybrid band, Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds. 

While he musically excelled from playing alongside those popular hitmakers, Kee's decision-making in his personal life proved questionable as he fell, head-first, into drug dealing. After watching a dear friend gunned down during one of those misguided drug deals, Kee recalled his early Christian roots and returned to the church, leaving his the drug life behind. The turbulent, criminal lifestyle Kee experienced during his college days would later be instrumental in Kee empathizing with his fans and their struggles.

John P. Kee's first project after that turning point was forming the choir now known as The New Life Community Choir. Kee personally related to the original members, many who had previous drug offensives themselves. Before the debut recording with NLCC in 1989, Kee was honored to serve under traditional gospel legend Dr. James Cleveland through Cleveland's GMWA mass choir projects. At GMWA, Kee was both a soloist and a teacher of Cleveland's material. This tenure with Dr. Cleveland helped generate an extra boost in Kee's relationships with mass choirs. 

When Kee & NLCC released their collaborative debut, Wait On Him, they garnered immediate attention thanks to a longtime Kee favorite, "It Will Be Alright." An extensive hit list which included "Rain On Us" and "Clap Your Hands" were captured on Nothing But The Hits-NLCC and the two-disc set, The Essential John P Kee.

With each subsequent disc, Kee mastered the contemporary gospel choir format. He allowed soloists and occasional guests to take center stage. Most of the albums primarily featured Kee's original material decked with loads of funk and traditional gospel trimmings.

It was inevitable for Kee with his multi-tasking skills and captivating personality to form a second mass choir, the VIP Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir. Since 1990, VIP has been the centerpiece of the annual VIP conferences still being held to this day. These annual events were designed for the youth who were saved in Christ to realize the possibility of victory, not just in church, but in everyday life. VIP also followed the same contemporary R&B influenced gospel formula that put NLCC on the map. VIP's hits spanned many genres such as the festive Caribbean-flavored "Victory In Praise," the jazz-tinged "Sho' Nuff (feat. Vanessa Bell Armstrong)" and the traditional gospel/blues hybrid, "Lily In The Valley." Ironically, "Stand," a precious worship piece decorated with African choruses, was the only VIP track to make the Essential... two-disc set.

The overall body of work in my opinion on Live In Miami lacks a bit of the emotional ambience that dominated the NLCC Nothing But Worship project from last year. However, there are still worthy gems in the mix. The expressive title track and the funk music workout, "I'm Covered," focuses on the mesmerizing vocal performances of Kee and duet partner Lowell Pye, a NLCC alumni and a Men of Standard member. New Life Church praise and worship leader Maranda Curtis partners in a suitable duet with Kee on the R&B flavored ballad, "Be Glorified." Sheila Lakin & Robert Copeland create effective vocal layers on "Thy Will." Finally, there's a fun and praiseworthy remix of "The Glory," which begins in head-nodding, hip-hop fashion before switching gears to a foot-stomping finale. This track gives Fred Hammond the perfect platform to exercise his gritty, soulful lead and for Kee's younger children Sakiya & Tredell to add their playful vocals.

For over twenty-five years, Pastor Kee has maintained the modern gospel, mass choir format that has been his calling card. Live In Miami succeeds in that vein in most cases, but it does occasionally slip. Two examples of Live falling short are particularly glaring. One is "Winner," which peters out after a riveting start by lead vocalist Evangelist Carol Thomas. Another is Jason Nelson's disappointing vocal on "Praises." Still, the delightful moments on Live In Miami outweighs these disappointments. Following Dr. Cleveland's example of spirited music workshops and advancement of the contemporary gospel sound, with Live, John P. Kee once again proves that his gospel music legacy is assured.

By Peggy Oliver  

 
Featured Album - Lasperanza - "Seeds"
Featured Album - Nichelle Colvin - Welcome to Gary
Advance Featured Album - Rahsaan Patterson - Heroes & Gods

Leave a comment!