Christie, Angella 19(?)(?)–
Angella Christie 19(?)(?)–
Angella Christie has devoted her life to spreading the Christian gospel through her skill as a saxophonist. “The Bible instructs us to play skillfully and with a loud noise,” she told Frank Roberts of the Virginia-Pilot. She received the Instrumental Gospel of the Year award from the National Black Programmers Coalition, and has appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) 700 Club and Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) Jazz Scene. “After a casual listen to Angella Christie’s music,” noted Jeff Clark in Billboard, “you might assume that this Atlanta-based alto saxophone instrumentalist was a promising new name in the ‘light jazz’ music world.”
Christie was born in Los Angeles, California, to missionary parents. She traveled frequently, and lived in Jamaica for two years when she was seven and eight. She attended Pentecostal churches, a charismatic denomination that nonetheless made no objection to a wide variety of instruments, including drums, guitar, and saxophones. Christie’s mother bought her first saxophone for $300 at a pawnshop in Houston. “Secular music wasn’t allowed in our house,” Christie recalled to Clark. “I was not exposed to the Charlie Parkers, I didn’t even know who they were. I got all my improvisation from church.” She also learned from religious artists like Yolanda Adams, Douglas Miller, and the Clark Sisters, and listened to classical music and light jazz.
When she was 12, Christie lived in the Rebecca Home for Girls for one year. “It probably shaped me more in hindsight,” Christie told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), “than it did at the time.” Each student worked at his or her own academic pace, and was required to study the Bible and memorize verses. The home had a guitar and piano, but no television, magazines, or anything that would connect the students to the secular world. By the time she had left the home, she had been given a sturdy foundation in Biblical scripture.
Although Christie originally wanted to be a rock star, her first live performance took place at a church with a saxophone. She didn’t want to perform, she recalled, but her parents insisted. She began to play “In Times Like These” and by the end of her performance, she knew she had accomplished something. After leaving the Rebecca Home, Christie attended the Houston High School of Performing and Visual Arts where she learned the names of the scales she had improvised upon in church. She played in a jazz and concert band, and was surrounded by good musicians.
At age 17 Christie experienced a life-changing event that would effect her decision to enter the ministry after college. Although she attended church and was familiar with charismatic occurrences, she had never personally experienced this kind of revelation. While visiting the prayer room at the Church of God in Christ one day and earnestly seeking to place her relationship with God on a higher plain, she suddenly felt propelled to another spiritual realm in which she spoke in tongues. “When I came to my natural self,” she told CBB, “I was not the same person.… That was the ultimate changing point.”
Christie attended Houston Baptist University, where she received degrees in music and social work. She
Career: Angella Christie Sound Ministries, founded 1985; albums: Love and Learn, 1996; Eternity, 1996; Hymn & I, 1998.
Awards: Award of Excellence, Instrumental, Gospel Music Workshop of America, 1999; Instrumental Gospel of the Year, National Black Programmers Coalition, 1999.
Addresses: Office —P.O. Box 361888, Decatur, GA 30036.
completed her internship in juvenile and family counseling during her junior and senior years, but eventually believed that social work only provided a surface solution to society’s problems. She also realized that her role as a counselor restricted her from sharing her own religious experience with patients. “It’s kind of difficult,” Christie told CBB, “to take an individual and transform them from the outside in. It has to come from the inside out.”
In 1985 after finishing college, she started the Angella Christie Sound Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. With her brother working as her sound engineer, she traveled from church to church playing her gospel saxophone. While many have considered her an innovator in instrumental Christian music, Christie maintains that she is working within an older tradition. Improvisation, she noted, reaches back before the blues and before jazz. “My instrument,” she told CBB, “is used for the purpose of evoking praise and worship …” Christie also recorded a series of independent releases, including Because He Lives, Rejoice, It Is Well, and Walk With Me.
Christie signed with Atlanta International Records (AIR Gospel) in 1996 and released Eternity the same year. The album sold nearly 30,000 copies. “I wanted a label,” she explained to Clark, “because I can’t be everywhere at the same time.” Lynn Norment wrote in Ebony, “… the artist is taking her soothing gospel to the masses, and her praise is refreshing.” Keven Caston of Upscale noted, “The line separating secular and spiritual music just got thinner. In fact, it’s rapidly becoming a blur.” In 1996 Christie played her saxophone at the National Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida. President Bill Clinton, who was in attendance, remained to listen to her performance of “Amazing Grace.” Unknown to Christie, the national press was also in attendance, and the following week a photo of Christie and President Clinton appeared in Jet.
Christie followed up Eternity with Hymn & I in 1998, a collection of hymns that reached number 26 on Billboard’s gospel chart. “Her versatility is evident in her musical techniques,” noted C.J. Hytche in the Houston Chronicle, “moving smoothly from sacred sounds to contemporary.”
“There’s more to gospel music than just vocals,” Christie told Caston. “I’m doing something different and it comes from my heart.” Like her missionary parents, Christie has carried her message to the far corners of the globe, touring South Africa, Nigeria, and England. She confessed to feeling nervous about performing before a primarily white audience in Germany, but received a warm reception and positive reviews. She also planned to release a new album, Draw the Line, in the summer of 2002, a collection of contemporary songs that emphasizes a stronger urban mode, and finish a book also titled Draw the Line, about the state of contemporary churches. With these and other projects, Christie remains determined to follow her vision with religious zeal. “This is what I’ve been called to do,” she told Caston. “It’s my purpose and I’m fulfilling it.”
Love and Learn, 1996.
Hymn & I, 1998.
Billboard, June 21, 1997, p. 26.
Ebony, November 1996, p. 20.
Houston Chronicle, November 21, 1998, p. 10.
Upscale, December/January 1997, p. 102.
Virginia-Pilot, December 26, 1999, p. E16.
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on June 26, 2002.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.