UB Interviews: Gary Hines of Sounds of Blackness

They are an international musical institution, an aggregation of multi-talented men and women under the direction and tutelage of founder Gary Dennis Hines, spreading a potent and ever-relevant message of faith, hope, empowerment and inspiration on a global basis. They are Sounds Of Blackness and the name says it all: since inception in 1971, the group has awed audiences the world over with the depth and breadth of their artistry, covering all forms of African-American music, from gospel and soul to jazz, R&B, reggae, hip-hop, rock and blues, to ragtime, field hollers, work songs and traditional spirituals.

Sounds Of Blackness is celebrating their 40th anniversary in grand style with the release of their tenth
album and first for Malaco Music Group. It’s a superb self-titled fifteen-track CD that is a dazzling
showcase for the group’s all-encompassing musicality. From the contemporary groove of standout
tracks like “Rise” and “Testify” to a jazzy version of the spiritual “Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit”
(featuring GRAMMY®-winning guitarist Norman Brown and legendary vocalist Doris Hines, group
leader Gary’s mother) and on to future Sounds classics like “Keep On Keepin’ On” and the album’s
uplifting first single, “Fly Again” (featuring track co-producer and co-writer Christian rap artist Xross
and lead vocalist Jamecia Bennett, daughter of former Sounds vocalist Ann Nesby), the latest The
Sounds of Blackness set hits home on all fronts.

UrbanBridgez.com recently talked to Gary Hines founder and musical director of the Sounds of Blackness. In this interview Aries talked to him about the brand new Sounds of Blackness album, the legacy of The Sounds, Ann Nesby, The Night Before Christmas: A Musical Fantasy and much more!


UrbanBridgez.com: Tell fans abut this amazing new album?
Gary Hines: Well this is the first self-titled release “Sounds of Blackness,” so it was easy to remember. It’s our 10th CD, it’s traditionally Sounds of Blackness yet today and contemporary at the same time. We have all of those elements there. We stay true to the Sounds of Blackness tradition. We represent many families of the family of African American Music and with messages and lyrics of inspiration and hope for everyone.

UrbanBridgez.com: Why should people go out and get the new album?
Gary Hines: Our first single “Fly Again” is kind of our flag-ship for what this record is all about. It’s about healing, it’s about inspiration, here we are in the midst of around the world is War and turmoil. Here at home economic down-turn, bankruptcy, layoffs, foreclosures, unemployment and we have the nerve to tell people to fly again. And we say that because we know that if the listeners and followers keep the faith and perseverance, we’ll fly again! That’s what this record is really trying to be a light to in these times in so much darkness and despair.

UrbanBridgez.com: Love the video for “Fly Again,” who came up with the treatment?
Gary Hines: Thank you so much! We encourage everyone to check it out, hopefully you will love what you see and hear. The treatment originated with yours truly, but with input from our great director Craig Rice. Who goes all the way back to the “Purple Rain” movie, who’s managed Prince. Who’s also directed other Sounds of Blackness videos, including the classic “Soul Holidays.” Also ideas came from the man who actually shot the video, Karl Demer who’s a multi-talented music producer here at Atomic K Recording studios.

UrbanBridgez.com: Alot of people don’t know how long the Sounds have been around and when you actually took over as director, give us a quick history lesson!
Gary Hines: I sure will! We are celebrating this year in 2011 our 40th anniversary. We began in 1971 at Macalester College in the Twin Cities. Actually the foundation for what became The Sounds of Blackness had already been laid as early as 1969. By Russell Knighton, he was a student at Macalester as well. They had this 50 voice choir called The Macalester Black Voices and they were awesome, even back then. They asked me to come on in my sophomore year to come on as musical director. The vision that God gave me for that group was to continue the tradition of giants like Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington who always did the full spectrum of African American Music. When we think of like Duke Ellington, we think primarily of Jazz and we should, but he also prolifically wrote spirituals, gospel and blues. He did the music of the culture so Sounds of Blackness is about that and that maybe answers another question of some of the readers. Sometimes people ask, what’s the meaning of the name the Sounds of Blackness? We like to say that our name says it all. Jazz, Blues, Hip-Hop, Gospel, Spirituals, R&B, Rock, Reggae, just every sound of blackness is what we bring!

UrbanBridgez.com: Mary Mary performed Optimistic at this years Black Girls Rock, what did you think of the performance?
Gary Hines: They did an awesome job! We’ve been blessed to work with them and appear with them on different stages and again speaking of great human beings they are just great spirits. Phenomenal artists as well, so they knocked it out of the park. It wasn’t only a home run, it was a glam slam!

UrbanBridgez.com: Ann Nesby who I just love so much got her start with SOB, how proud of you of all she has achieved?
Gary Hines: First of all Ann, who we love just as much and maybe even more as you do, she would want us to send her love to you and all of the readers. Our association with Ann, we talked about the Sounds of Blackness starting in the 70’s. Well our association with Ann and her incredible sister Marie and of course her daughter Jamecia who is singing lead on “Fly Again,” our association with them goes back to the late 60’s. My Church in MN at the time and her Church in IL were sister Church’s. So in the summer’s we would alternate, one summer they would come here and the next we would go there, with their choir and minister. So people would be like who is Marie’s sister, that sounds so much like Aretha, so that association goes back that far. Fast-Forward to 1989 Ann relocated to the Twin Cities and joined Sounds of Blackness, as they say the rest is history. Now she’s gone on to a stellar solo career, but we have a saying in the Sounds, once a Sound, always a Sound. She will be the first to tell you that, along with some other artists alumni that your readers may not know about like Alexander O’Neal is a former Sounds member and Cynthia Johnson of Funky Town and now she’s back with us and featured on the new CD.

UrbanBridgez.com: Jamecia is now singing and writing for the Sounds with “Fly Again”, besides her amazing voice, what made you want to make her apart of SOB project?
Gary Hines: She would say the same, once a Sound, always a Sound. Matter of fact she and I have kept in contact. We’ve worked on a number of different projects even after she went on to her solo career. Some of those collaborations were for her phenomenal daughter Paris Bennett, American Idol finalist. So we kept saying we have to do something with The Sounds again, so God ordained at this point and time for “Fly Again” to happen. Jamecia and rapper Xross also wrote “Fly Again” with production by Tylor Keys who’s now moved down to Dallas. They presented the song and even in the demo, it had such a strong vibe that we were like you know what, we have to go with this! So we let our label Malaco who is also our distributors and we let them hear it and we were in the beginning stages of the album and they were like this is the first single. Again, even in the rough stages of the recording.

UrbanBridgez.com: Do you ever feel SOB doesn’t get the credit you deserve and definitely earned?
Gary Hines: It’s funny because in Minnesota there is alot of love and support here or we wouldn’t of made it. Talk about never would of made it, like brother Sapp says…But what’s funny is we’ll go over seas and it’s magnified like so many more times like wow this is even more hype than at home kind of thing. But I think most if not all artists experience that. Then when you come back home and people come and support like they did at the Mall of America (Sounds of Blackness Day), you feel like the Wizard of Oz..there is no place like home (laughs).

UrbanBridgez.com: What do you want to be The Sounds of Blackness legacy?
Gary Hines: I want it to continue to be what it’s been and that’s first and foremost, by glorifying God by lifting people everywhere through the music of the African American experience. To put it in one sentence, To glorify God by lifting all people through black music. That’s our legacy oppose to just one style of music, we bring the family of African American Music. We tell people all time for example, you can’t fully appreciate the glory Hallelujah of gospel, without the pain of the blues, spirituals, work songs and field hollars. That’s all apart of our testimony as a people. So it’s our job to bring that full testimony to people everywhere and they can relate to that and are encouraged by that. So we want our legacy to continue to be one of glorifying God by inspiring and motivating, encouraging people everywhere.

UrbanBridgez.com: “Black Butterfly” & Optimistic” are my all time SOB favs..
Gary Hines: Thank You!

UrbanBridgez.com: No problem, what are your top 3 favorites from you guys and why?
Gary Hines: Wow, that’s a tough one because it reminds me of when I’m asked what my favorite style of music is. My response to that is similar then trying to answer your question and to me it all comes down to mood. In terms of the Sounds tracks I listen to the most or in my head the most, I would agree with Black Butterfly with you. I would also say Hold On (Change Is Comin’) and another one which is tough. But to be fair and answer with only 3, there is one called We Are The Drum. And that again is at the core of what the Sounds of Blackness is about, our name is so emblematic…Africa to America: We Are The Drum.

UrbanBridgez.com: What else do you guys have coming up in near future?
Gary Hines: We want to let the readers know that Monday December 19th, the is the 32nd performance of The Night Before Christmas: A Musical Fantasy at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I can’t believe that there are people who come up to me all the time that live in MN and say they have never seen The Night Before Christmas. So to them this is your year specially because this year there is no Black Nativity or Steeles show. So you have to come!

UrbanBridgez.com: What would you like to say to all of the supporters and fans who have been in your corner for over the last 40 years!
Gary Hines: We would like to say God Bless You! We love you on behalf of the whole Sounds of Blackness, words can not adequately express the depth of our appreciation and affection for you and our thanks to you! I say that not only to listeners and record buyers and concert goers but I say that to people like you. There’s that scripture that says “how will they hear without a preacher!” That brings along the thought, how would they hear without a DJ? We can make all the music we want but if it’s not played and supported where the people can hear it, it’s not happening. So the main thing I say is, God Bless You & Thank You!

  1. Wonderful interview. The Sounds are very inspirational with the music they make. The pressure is such a testament in song I still play regularly. I’ll be picking up the new record for sure.

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