Majors, Jeff 1960(?)–
Jeff Majors 1960(?)–
Harpist, gospel broadcaster
Harpist Jeff Majors has established a high profile as a musician and recording artist. He introduced the harp, an instrument traditionally associated with classical music, into the contemporary religious music genre through his live performances and “Sacred Series” of recordings. He has also made a mark on the gospel music scene in a different way, as a radio executive for Radio One. Majors is in charge of nine gospel radio stations throughout the country and is the host of numerous gospel-inspired programs on both radio and television.
Jeff Majors was born in Washington, D.C., on November 3, on or before 1960. (“The year is between him and God,” according to correspondence from his personal office.) The son of Annie Pauline Fitzgerald and Major Graham, Majors learned to play the trumpet as a child, but was persuaded to make the switch to a more unusual instrument when he was 15 years old. Majors was inspired by a dream in which he saw himself playing the harp, surrounded by imps. “The notations from this instrument turned into arrows, and they started warding off these imps,” he told Black Enterprise in 2001. In an interview the same year with Metro Connection, he expanded on the profound impact of this dream. “I had never seen a harp before in my life, and I definitely didn’t know what to do with it either,” he said. “But it was a very real dream and the next morning I woke up sweating profusely and I knew that something special had happened.” Majors decided to take up the challenge posed by his dream. Eager to find out more about the instrument pictured, he visited his local music store, run by a skilled cabinet maker known as Mr. Joe. Majors described the instrument to Mr. Joe, who handcrafted a miniature harp for him out of guitar pegs and strings.
After graduating from Archbishop Carroll High School, Majors moved to California to live with his father. On the West Coast a family friend introduced him to harpist Alice Coltrane, widow of legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Majors became a pupil and protegé of Coltrane’s, building on his musical knowledge of classical harp to embrace the jazz idiom.
Returning to Washington, D.C., Majors formed a number of jazz bands and was determined to put his new musical knowledge to the test. But his interest soon expanded from the nightclub music scene to places of worship. A devout Christian, Majors discovered Biblical precedents—including King David, a skilled harpist—and was inspired to promote the harp in a devotional setting. “The harp is a sacred instrument,” Majors is quoted as saying in a 2001 press release for Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was scheduled to perform at a benefit concert. “I want people to appreciate the harp—which has been taken out of the commercial market for so many years—as the true instrument of celebration that it is.”
Although he was committed to performing, Majors also began to build a career as a gospel radio executive. He
At a Glance …
Born on November 3, in or before 1960, in Washington, DC; son of Major Graham and Annie Pauline Fitzgerald. Education: Studied harp with Alice Coltrane, 1970s.
Career: Performed in jazz bands in Washington, DC, 1980s; Radio One: Magic 102.3, on-air weekend announcer, 1991–92, WWIN-AM announcer, 1992–93, WWIN-AM assistant program director and music director, 1993–95, “Sunday Morning Joy,” host, 1994, WWIN-AM program director, 1995–98, WXCB-AM program director, 1997–98, vice president of gospel programming, 1998–; recording artist, 1998–; WMAL- TV, Grace and Glory show, host.
Awards: Nominated for a Stellar Award, 2000; Outstanding Gospel Instrumentalist at the first Gospel Truth Magazine Music Awards, 2002.
Addresses: Home— Washington, DC. Office-Radio One, 5900 Princess Garden Pkwy., Ste 800, Lanham, MD 20706, Website— www.jeffmajors.com.
found a welcoming home for his musical talents at Radio One, the largest radio broadcasting company in the United States primarily targeting African Americans, which owns or operates 66 stations in more than 20 markets. Majors became an on-air weekend announcer at Magic 102.3, one of Radio One’s gospel stations, in 1991. The following year, he became a full-time announcer at WWIN-AM in Baltimore. In 1993 Majors was appointed to the position of assistant program director and music director at the same station. Yet he continued to broadcast on air. He began airing a six-hour simulcast, “Sunday Morning Joy,” in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore in 1994.
Majors’ career in gospel radio continued to soar. He became program director of WWIN-AM Baltimore in 1995, and by 1997 he was also program directing for WXCB-AM, another Radio One station. In 1998 he was promoted to the position of vice-president of gospel programming, overseeing nine gospel radio stations in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Miami.
His connection with Radio One also helped Majors achieve another of his ambitions: to release his own harp recordings. Majors conceived a project entitled ‘Sacred Series,’ a progression of albums that would explore the different facets of the harp in gospel music. The series began with the 1998 album Sacred, a self-produced album which reached number 32 on Billboard’s Gospel chart. The follow-up album, a collection of traditional Christmas songs called Sacred Holidays, rose to number 28 in early 2001. The releases of Sacred 2000 and Sacred 2001 were followed by Sacred 4 You in 2002, Majors’ most ambitious album to date. Featuring a gospel choir and string chamber orchestra, Sacred 4 You reached number 13 on Billboard’s Gospel Albums chart, and also appeared on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, reaching number 67.
Although the first recording in the series was released by Universal Music, Majors found a company closer to home for the rest of the series. Radio One president, Cathy Hughes, created her own imprint, Music One Inc.; Majors was its first and, to date, only signing. In 2002 Music One signed a distribution deal with Sony Music Entertainment to help promote Majors’ recordings in the gospel and adult contemporary markets.
Featuring both traditional and contemporary gospel music—from nineteenth century hymns to original compositions—Majors’ albums offer his trademark sound of mellow harp backed by lush orchestra, with classical, soul and jazz inflections. His willingness to experiment with different musical idioms is reflected by the hip-hop rhythms of “Rock of Ages” (on Sacred 2000) or the funk-inspired “Gospel Line” on Sacred 4 You. His albums often feature guest vocalists, including Jean Carne, Al Johnson, and the ‘Queen of Gospel,’ Albertina Walker.
When Majors was nominated for a 2000 Stellar Award for Sacred, he saw a certain vindication in his choice of instrument. “The gospel industry and the gospel community [are] embracing an instrument that had been taken out of the church thousands and thousands of years ago,” he said in a 2001 interview with Metro Connection. “For them to recognize that this instrument belongs back in the service, and back in the mainstream of gospel music, makes me feel very satisfied.” In 2002 Majors won the award for Outstanding Gospel Instrumentalist at the first Gospel Truth Magazine Music Awards.
A believer in the healing properties of music and the mellifluous potency of the harp, Majors is a frequent performer at churches and community centers around the United States. Committed to promoting his deeply held Christian beliefs, he is equally ardent about restoring the harp to a central place in church services and music. “It is the mother of all string instruments coming out of Africa,” he told Metro Connection, pointing to his name for his harp—Hanifa, named for a wise Egyptian queen.
Majors found that his accessible, atmospheric brand of spiritual music was in particular demand in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Radio One created a tribute to the victims using Majors’ interpretation of Psalm 23, incorporating event sound bytes. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland invited Majors to perform at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference. “The healing power was what I was seeking,” Cummings was quoted as saying in Baltimore’s AFRO-American newspaper, in an article reproduced on Cummings’ official website. “Before he began to play, most of us were trapped in our collective shock and rage. When he had finished, our sense of our shared humanity and ethical balance were restored.”
Although his successful radio career consumes increasingly large amounts of his time, Majors is still committed to performing, recording, and improving his musicianship. “Whenever I try to assess or quantify my progress in music,” he is quoted as saying on the Gospel City website, “I’m brought back to that day in the music shop when my new harp laid down its challenge to me. And all I can say for sure is that I’m still spending time with it, and I’m sure that I always will.” Majors currently lives in Washington, D.C., and hosts a Sunday morning television gospel show, Grace and Glory, on WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
Sacred, Universal Music, 1998.
Sacred Holidays, Music One, 2000.
Sacred 2000, Music One, 2001.
Sacred 2001, Music One, 2001.
Sacred 4 You, Music One, 2002.
Black Enterprise, December 2001, p. 129.
“About Radio One,” Radio One: The Urban Radio Specialists, www.radio-one.com (July 3, 2003).
“Acclaimed Harpist Jeff Majors to Give Benefit Performance for Saint Augustine’s College,” Saint Augustine’s College, www.st-aug.edu/press/MAJORS.HTM (June 21, 2003).
“GTM Magazine Music Awards: A Celebration of Gospel’s Finest,” Gospel Truth Magazine, www.gospeltruthmagazine.com/awards.html (June 21, 2003).
“Harping on the good news: Radio exec strikes a harmonious chord,” Black Enterprise, www.blackenterprise.com/Archiveopen.asp?source=/ar-chive2001/12/1201-29.htm (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors,” All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors,” Freedom Classic Festival, www.freedomclassic.com/biojeff.html (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors: Biography,” Gospel City, www.gospelcity.com/biography/0003/jeff_majors.php (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors: Biography,” Jeff Majors Official Website, www.jeffmajors.com (July 3, 2003).
“Jeff Majors: Sacred For You,” Gospel City, www.gospelcity.com/independent/0304/sacred_for_you.php (June 21, 2003).
“Jeff Majors: Sacred 2000,” Gospel Flava, www.gospelflava.com/reviews/sacred2000.html (June 21).
“Music One Signs with Sony,” Gospel City, www.gospelcity.com/industry_news/0210/music-one-sony.php (June21, 2003).
“No. 1 radio chain didn’t ban songs,” USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/music/2001-09-20-song-list.htm (June 21, 2003).
“Praise and Worship: Jeff Majors’ Harp Strikes a Sacred Note,” Metro Connection, www.blackindc.com/pjmajors.htm (June 21, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through personal correspondence with Contemporary Black Biography conducted in June and July of 2003.
—Paula J.K. Morris
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