Few artists can say they were a part of the birth and growth of a musical genre.

Sure, there are plenty of garage bands and bedroom producers who mess around on their computers, burn a disc and give their ”innovation” a trendy name such as Electric Folktronica or some such insular nonsense. But to help create a musical style that a generation has grown up enjoying is a rare feat.

Fred Hammond, 50, is a bassist, drummer, singer, songwriter, producer, executive producer and all-around very busy man. He was one of the creators of urban contemporary gospel, a sub-genre that melds the sounds of contemporary R&B (and occasionally hip-hop) with the praise and worship music traditions of the African-American church.

The Detroit native will be performing Friday at the House of the Lord, headlining Emmanuel Christian Academy’s annual scholarship fundraiser concert. ECA has played host to many gospel stars, including one of Hammond’s former employers, CeCe Winans. Hammond said he enjoys helping out educators because much of his early musical training came at public school.

”Oh, yeah, it was very important. I remember when I was in the third grade — this was back when the schools had some money — we had actual music classes,” he said.

Hammond recalls teachers introducing him to many classic songs, and in high school he spent three years in the choir learning sight-reading, performance and other technical aspects. He says his music education helped him in other subjects.

”I used to say, ‘Why do I need to do geometry? I’m not going to be a geometrist when I get older,’ ” he said, chuckling. ”But it unlocks areas of your brain and causes it to exercise. When we learned our ABCs, it was with music. Even the foundation of reading has a song to it, so music is very instrumental in everyday life.”

The multiple Stellar and Dove Award winner and Grammy nominee first gained attention in the early ’80s as the bass player for contemporary gospel legends BeBe and CeCe Winans. In the mid-’80s, Hammond and five other Detroit natives formed Commissioned, a young, hip band that helped drag gospel music into the present with slick, danceable grooves, helping to pave the way — along with groups such as the jazz- and doo-wop-inflected Take 6 — for future contemporary stars such as Kirk Franklin.

As is often the case when trying to introduce something into a codified, conservative culture, Commissioned suffered many slings and arrows from church elders and others who not only were uninterested in hearing The Word delivered with a new jack swing groove, but also thought the concept was heresy.

”Being a pioneer is always rough because you have to cut down trees and go over rough places that have not been paved,” he said, quoting good friend and gospel artist Donnie McClurkin. ”But you make the way for everybody else to come behind you, on a smoother road. It’s always rough doing that, but you have to buy into that concept, because I can’t wait for somebody else to do it, because it’s on me and I want to do it right now.”

Hammond said Commissioned never set out to ”change the game,” but simply wanted to make music that incorporated its influences, such as Earth Wind & Fire and the Clark Sisters. After seven records with Commissioned, Hammond moved on to Radicals for Christ and his solo career, which began in 1991 with the album I Am Persuaded.

Three decades after bringing some funk to gospel, the music Hammond and others pioneered is no longer gospel’s prodigal son(g), but arguably the most commercially popular form of the music, with artists such as Franklin and Mary Mary having some crossover success. Hammond’s music has also crossed over into the R&B and pop charts, with 2009’s Love Unstoppable peaking at No. 25 on the Billboard 200 and winning a Dove Award for Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year, and the single Awesome God being nominated for Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song of the Year.

Recently, Hammond, whose Face to Face Productions has been involved in more than 80 projects, started fHammond Family Entertainment to help other aspiring gospel and praise artists jump-start their careers. The label/company’s debut release is Life in the Word, a compilation of up-and-coming artists, including singers Faith Anderson, Lowell Pye and Michael Bethany. Hammond says it is a declarative statement of the company’s intent to ”foster outside-the-box thinking and creativity.”

Having shaken up the gospel world last century, Hammond is still trying to change things by releasing a jazz album with his band Granddad Turner, and in the near future, an album of love songs.

”This is going to shake up some folks. The title of the album is God, Love and Romance,” he said. Hammond knows that some in the church will be wary and he expects some backlash from the ”church elders with six kids,” but he believes it’s time to stop pretending that romance and communication aren’t important parts of a successful and spiritual relationship.

”It’s always funny to me that we can talk about it behind closed doors and everybody can see the fruit of our labors, but when we sing about it, everybody gets real scared,” he said.

Hammond, who divorced his wife of 20 years in 2004, said the double disc’s ”God” section will deal with the spiritual aftermath of broken love, while the ”Love” section will talk about failures and successes of relationships. The ”Romance” section will deal with romance between two spiritual people. Hammond has been debuting a few songs on the road and says so far, it’s going well. ”I think people are ready to talk about love, because the audience lights up when we talk about it,” he said.

As for the concert at the House of the Lord, Hammond said that depending on the audience, he may give listeners a taste of the past, present and future of fHammond music.

”I’m going to be doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’ll pay attention to the audience. If they’re older folks (about my age), then I’ll be able to introduce some new stuff, and if it’s younger, they can’t really handle that, so we’ll see what’s going on.”

article courtesy of

Leave a Reply