The last time Kim Burrell chatted with GospelPundit.com, she spoke of her No Ways Tired album, her desire to work with Prince and lots more. If you missed it, click here to read it!
This time, Kim is BACK to talk with Associate Editor Troy Lilly. He sits with her to discuss her new project, The Love Album and the backlash that the mere notion of it received from the church community last year (including the COGIC church’s response). She also chats about her favorite remake on the album, her friendship with Whitney Houston and much more!
Without any delay, here’s Troy’s chat with Kim Burrell…
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Troy: Thank you for joining me this morning to talk about the album and… everything else that’s going on with you. I’m excited.
Kim: I really am too, thank you.
Troy: Great, so let’s get started.
Troy: How did you come up with the concept for The Love Album?
Kim: Well, the concept for the album is strictly trying to get the church folks to have a different language of love outside of John 3:16 because it kind of balances things out.
And I’m hoping and praying that the message of love will be interpreted from my heart to those who will hear it … that it will be nothing opposite of God’s love and our ability to love one another. And that’s just my desire.
Troy: It’s no secret that people adore the unique, jazzy characteristics of your voice. How has the hallmark of jazz translated into the sound of The Love Album?
Kim: You know, I think it’s a misconception that I either trained that way or intentionally sounded like jazz. I think my direction – that is expressing myself through music – has caused me to include a lot of notes I felt were missing in instrumentation or accompaniment, and that caused me to sing in a jazzy way.
I can’t deny that it’s reflecting the jazz influence, and I can’t deny that… but it was so not intentional to be that way.
Kim: Folks say, “You know the notes you’re about to hit, and you know whether they’re jazzy or not.” Well, no, I didn’t know it would classify itself as that. But with that in mind, when I sing I sing to tell the story of whatever the words are, and whatever those notes end up being for me to tell that story is just what it is. It’s never an intentional sound.
People ask me to scat, you know, and I hate that almost because I’m like ‘Geesh… I’m so not the scatter…’
Kim: I mean I probably would do it as a fun thing, but you know… it’s not a part of my art form.
Troy: Well, that’s a revelation even for me! Kim Burrell’s not jazzy. Who knew?!
Kim: Well… (chuckles).
Troy: So since you haven’t included jazz as an influence of your sound – at least not intentionally – what do think about the fact that many people consider you to be the premier song stylist of our time, even outside of gospel?
Kim: It’s extremely flattering, and I’m very, very blessed to have this gift that has drawn so much attention, mainly because I have great interest in letting everybody know that it’s a gift from God.
I didn’t train under anybody, I just developed this gift and I’m very grateful for it because of what it has done for people… it’s brought a lot of joy and fun for a lot of singers and musicians. And I enjoy having it because of the good that it is doing for others.
Troy: I noticed you worked primarily with Asaph Alexander Ward, who produces nearly every song on The Love Album. Why do you work so well together?
Kim: Alex and I have at least a 15-year relationship, and we were going to take cameras in for our studio moments, but we’re so much like family that even some of our outfits we wouldn’t want people to see them (laughs). We’re so laid back and we do a lot of work.
Alex… he holds my voice in the highest regard, as I hold his ability to document it the way that he does with his talent. Working with Alex is always a treat because of our long relationship and what our chemistry brings.
Troy: I was going to say, the chemistry is definitely tangible. Anyone who really listens can hear it.
Kim: Thank you.
Troy: On this album you also covered two songs by R&B royalty, Earth Wind & Fire and DeBarge, as well as a classic by the Clark Sisters. Which was your favorite to record?
Kim: For me, “Jesus is a Love Song” by the Clark Sisters. I’ve spent all my life in gospel and to be able to pay homage to someone as valuable as Twinkie Clark… I think if musicians who have great talent were to take songs that she did over 25 and 30 years ago, they would really see the value in her songs.
And that’s one of the reasons I did it, because Earth Wind & Fire are renown all over this world and I felt they have received their just due, as you can see, because I’m still covering their tunes to this day.
And the DeBarge tune is an endearing song to me, but my favorite was ‘Love Song’ by the Clark Sisters.
Troy: Personally, I have to say, I was raised on the Clark Sisters and I absolutely love them. But what you did with DeBarge’s “Love Me in a Special Way,” was special to me. It’s probably because the song already had a gospel vein starting off with the keyboards.
Kim: Yeah, it did!
Troy: It was kind of Pentecostal already. But I especially love what you did with that one, just to let you know.
Kim: Thank you so much.
Troy: So you mentioned that the concept of the album was to show people about God’s love and loving one another. Is that why some songs specifically mention God while other songs don’t?
Kim: I have a range of lyrics because we need to learn to speak about love without having to preface it with a scripture. I feel like our lives ought to have a sense of love. Church people work hard to prove their love and sometimes they choose to use their gift to say ‘this is my way of loving you.’
But I feel if you have this God in your heart, you can have a conversation without mentioning Jesus and God and the Trinity and all that, and people will know that there’s love in you. I just feel like I don’t have to go and be extreme to get a point across.
Kim: During the campaign for this album, I would like to interview a lot of church officials and church goers and ask them: when they decided to get married and have children and they shared those “magic nights,” was it to ‘The Greatest Hits of Mahalia Jackson?’ (Laughs)
Troy: Oh my goodness! (Laughs)
Kim: I’ll prepare myself for whatever [answer I may get]. But I just feel like at some point in their dating lives theyenjoyed soft music that didn’t have C.L. Franklin doing a prayer, you know?
Troy: Uh huh!
Kim: You know what I mean?!
Troy: Oh, I understand completely.
Kim: Have they ever said to their spouse, “Love me in a special way … or love me like none other?’ Or what did they say in their vows? “I vow to love you as long as the Holy Ghost quickens me?” I think not!
Troy: Well, the saints enjoy fried chicken too, but we don’t sit down and discuss how it was fried in Virgin Olive Oil, we just eat the chicken. I think it’s good to enjoy music, too, and love between people without being [so] deep.
Kim: Yeah (Laughs).
Troy: Since we’re talking about how rigid folks can be, I want to ask you about the controversy that surrounded the initial announcements about this album. People were all over the Internet saying, “Kim Burrell is doing a secular album, she’s doing a jazz album, and she’s leaving gospel.
Troy: Was there ever a time when you considered recording an album that was mainstream or secular music and not necessarily a “gospel” album?
Kim: Everything you hear on this album is what I was trying to tell the world I was going to do. But they took” secular” and made it a vulgar term. They limited it to what they’ve known it to be.
And I felt like I’m not going to spend my life trying to break that down. It’s unfortunate that the people of the church thought I was turning my back on God… just because the word secular was mentioned in my bio, by my team, on the ‘Backstage with Kim Burrell’ website.
Kim: I have a 92-year-old grandmother, a 67-year-old mother, and a 73-year-old father who raised me in the church. As long as they have breath in their bodies, I’m never going to do anything to disrespect the value and deposit they’ve made in my life.
Think about it; even if I tried to sing “Baby, baby, come on meet me in the sex room,” it’s going to sound like I’m having a revival. It’s in my voice. I can’t even convey words that represent that type of thing.
Kim: I’m a pastor of a church. I don’t promote that.
Troy: After the uproar, the Church of God in Christ’s International Music Department released a statement exonerating you and your music. Did you feel it was necessary and appropriate at the time?
Kim: I accommodated what they asked me for and I gave them as much as I could. And it was released based on my agreement to let them release whatever was going to make them feel better.
Troy: So that was something of a concession on both sides?
Troy: Ok, I understand.
Troy: Let’s move past the controversy to the BET performances.
Troy: Your tribute to Whitney Houston at the BET Honors is probably your most publicized performance ever. What was it like to sing about your love for her?
Kim: It was fulfilling, mainly because I was singing to a person who God has blessed me to spend time with… Godly time, friendship time. I first became acquainted with Whitney when her father died, which was a terrible time, and when she went into rehab for the first time.
We share over a 13-year relationship. And it was my goal to be there to celebrate her new album and return to let her know (publicly) that I’m that ride-or-die friend behind the scenes, but I’ll also come out to let people know I’m not judging her for the rough times.
Kim: I was singing to my friend. That’s really what that moment was about. If you notice at the end, I had to remember to blow a kiss to everyone else because that moment was about her.
Troy: Yes, you and her.
Kim: I believe that the world felt that.
Troy: I do too.
Troy: How has your work life balance shifted now that you’re officially pastoring the Love and Liberty Church down in Texas, in addition to your many other endeavors?
Kim: Pastoring is the greatest agreement with God that I’ve [ever] made, because it is motivating, fulfilling… taxing on areas of my life that needed to be challenged. It has helped me to see people in a whole other light and has given me a lot more patience than I knew I had.
I’ve met a lot of pastors who kind of wipe their forehead and say, “Oh, Lord, what have I done?” But, fortunately, I don’t see myself getting there. I’m proud of the fact it’s one of the greatest that I could have ever agreed with God to do.
Kim: It’s not a Kim-Burell-meet-the-stars type of situation. It’s wholesome, it’s balanced with old people and younger people. It’s a glorious thing.
Troy: Awesome. Can I ask you one last question? (Laughs)
Kim: Oh, sure!
Troy: If you weren’t a singer or minister of the gospel, what’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?
Kim: I’d be a lawyer.
Troy: A lawyer, really? Wow.
Kim: Yeah, because people are my thing. They are God’s creation. The birds and the lions have the natural instinct and know how to take care of each other. Everything else that God made knows how to replenish and protect itself.
When it comes down to mankind, I have an interest. And if I hadn’t gone this route, Iwas going to be a lawyer.
Troy: Amazing answer! I love to get to the heart of ‘you the person’ because I know you so much more than a performer, and I’m glad I asked. Hope you enjoyed our time…
Kim: I really did, Troy!
Troy: I’m excited about the release of the album. I send my love your way, to the church, and everything else you’re doing.
Kim: I appreciate you. Thank you.
Troy: You’re welcome.
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Kim Burrell’s latest project came out THIS week and was already #1 at iTunes on its first day. You can hear the project’s lead single, “Sweeter,” on the Pundit Player’s playlist.
And, check out our review of the album right here… then, make sure you grab your copy. It’s one of her best works to date!