Hammond, Fred 1960–
Fred Hammond 1960–
Gospel musician, producer
Although he is still a young man, Fred Hammond already could be called the “Godfather of Con-temporary Gospel.” Not only is he among the most popular creators and performers in the field—and a multi-instrumentalist—but he is one of the driving forces in a wave of innovative sounds in gospel music. This new category, which is called urban contemporary, braids multiple musical idioms—traditional gospel, hiphop, rhythm and blues, and jazz—into a sound that appeals to generations raised in a rap-saturated world. This fusion of gospel with mainstream styles has resulted in a dramatic upswing in sales and exposure for gospel music.
Through successive phases of his career, Hammond has always applied his musical gifts and nonstop creative energy to spreading the gospel word and feeling. A deeply religious man, Hammond composes when inspiration hits, which can occur at any time of the day or night. Hammond’s prodigious output indicates that inspiration is a frequent visitor.
As demonstrated by his sweep of eight 1998 Stellar Awards (gospel music’s equivalent of the Grammys), Hammond’s influence in gospel music is huge. Already the most sought-after producer in gospel, Hammond is continually expanding the scope of his activities. In addition to countless musical projects, Hammond is involved in videos, television, commercials, scriptwriting, and theater.
Hammond was born in Texas in 1960, but grew up in Detroit with his four siblings. His mother, Mildred Hammond, was herself a musician and was pivotal in steering Hammond in a musical direction. Mildred’s work as a choir director exposed Hammond to gospel sounds at churches all over the city. By the age of 12, he was singing in his mother’s choir. Hammond also soaked up a wide range of musical approaches—a combination of influences that proved central to his eventual take on gospel. As he told an interviewer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I grew up under Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince, the Winans, Andrae Crouch, REO Speedwagon, and classical music. That music reflects all the music that’s in me.”
When Hammond was prepared for the next step in his
At a Glance…
Born Fred Hammond December 27, 1960, in Ar lington, TX; married to Kimberly; children: BreeAnn and Darius. Religion: Christian Apostolic.
Career: Founder, Commissioned gospel group, 1985-94; solo artist, 1991-; record producer, 1985-; video performer, 1988-; television performer, 1988-; performer in television commercials, 1992-.
Selected awards: GMWA Excellence Award, Contemporary Gospel of the Year, 1987; Grammy Award nomination, Best Gospel Performance for a Group, Duo, or Choir, 1990; Grammy nomination, Best Soul Gospel Album, 1992; Vision Award, 1993; Grammy nomination, Contemporary Soul Gospel Album of the Year, 1994; Motor City Music Awards, Choir of the Year, 1995; Billboard Magazine, #2 Gospel Producer of the Year, 1995; Dove Award, Producer on Urban Album of the Year, 1996; Stellar Awards, Contemporary Choir of the Year, Music Video of the Year, 1997; Grammy nomination, Gospel Album of the Year, 1997; Urban Network, Best Gospel Artist of the Year, 1997; Eight Stellar Awards, 1998—for Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist, Contemporary Male Vocalist, Producer, Song (“Let the Praise Begin”), Album (Pages of Life), Contemporary Album, and Choir. Gospel Music Round-Up, Producer of the Year, 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Addresses: Office— Face to Face Ministries, 21421 Hilltop Street, Bldg.20, Southfield, MI 48034.
musical development, he was drawn to the Winans. At the time of Hammond’s first exposure to them, the Winans were one of gospel music’s shining stars, a group that had created a new, more pop- and rhythm-based approach to the form. “They played “The Question Is” on the radio, and I knew [the Winans] had made it,’” Hammond related in a Gannett News Service article. “I knew from that point on, that was something I could reach for.”
Hammond joined the group’s backing band in 1980 on bass guitar—an instrument he had started to play at age 13. After this stint, he gathered together a group of his friends to form the gospel group, Commissioned. With Hammond at its creative throttle for over a decade, the Commissioned drove the urban gospel train forward. As an associate of Hammond’s explained to Gannett, “It was not your typical church sound. Commissioned’s music was so highly produced till it had an urban flavor, like an Earth, Wind and Fire song. Commissioned took those grooves, those beats, and those melodies and put them to work for the Lord.”
Commissioned’s merger of gospel with rhythm-&-blues was not universally accepted at first. And some of the resistance to the group’s approach was not even about the music, but rather its style. “We used to kid Fred a lot about Commissioned’s outfits,” Hammond associate Pamkenyon Donald told the Arlington Morning News, “They didn’t wear three-piece suits or tuxedos like most gospel groups, and we said they were hawking a Miami Vice vibe before it was even cool.”
One question that crops up in some quarters is whether gospel has migrated too far in a worldly, profane direction. The purists and traditionalists believe that gospel music should maintain a safe, moat-like buffer zone from the pelvic-centered world of pop, R&B, and hiphop. It is well known that many of the greatest geniuses in African American popular music sprang directly from the gospel tradition—musical titans such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Curtis Mayfield. These performers and composers applied gospel stylings and delivery to the world of secular music.
However, the reverse phenomenon is fairly new. In the music of the earlier Winans, Commissioned, Hammond’s current work, and certainly Kirk Franklin, urban R&B is at least as prominent an element as gospel melodies and rhythms. Whether that is a “problem” or merely another wrinkle in the evolution of African American music is a matter of perspective. Some believe that the immense popularity of contemporary Christian music—in white-associated formats such as rock as well as in gospel—is wonderful, a force pulling young people back to the church. The reasoning goes that once the beat hooks them, they start to listen to the words—and that this more than offsetting the suggestive quality of some of the dancing that accompanies gospel videos and performances. Of course, others disagree, finding that contemporary sounds and dancing found in gospel are bad enough, but that R&B and even hiphop artists crossing over to perform music of faith is even worse.
Hammond is a staunch supporter of the urban gospel trend, and of healthy intermingling between the gospel and R&B worlds. As he told Jet, “Most of today’s R&B artists have their roots in the black church anyway and have wanted to include gospel songs on their albums. Now that gospel is actually being accepted into the mainstream, R&B artists have more opportunities to be able to do that. That’s why I think we’re seeing more of an overlap between the two styles.” He commented further to the Gannett News Service, “Contemporary music has always had an edge to it and crossed here and there. When BeBe and CeCe came out, it was the same old [criticism]. When the Winans got some major notoriety, it was the same thing.”
Hammond stayed with Commissioned through eight albums, developing as a composer and performer as the group’s popularity swelled. Many people consider the ensemble’s finest hour to be its 1991 album Number 7, on which Hammond wrote or co-wrote all but four of the 13 tracks. On the follow-up album, State of Mind, he composed four of the 11 tunes. The group was also renowned for its overwhelmingly powerful evangelical performances.
Eventually, creative tensions within Commissioned drove Hammond to leave. As he explained to Gannett, “Most groups are democracies, and the problem with democracy in a group is that the power lies with who gets the most votes—not what’s right. In a leadership position, there will be a lot of unpopular decisions. And we just saw the vision differently.” This was far from an easy decision. Hammond described his feelings in a Billboard article, “The agonizing part was that I didn’t want to go. Commissioned had been my comfort zone, but I just felt like we had peaked, and visionwise we were growing apart. It was like six people driving a car with only one steering wheel. Plus, I wanted to do more producing, and I had just become a psalmist at my church and had felt God guiding me in the direction of worship and praise.”
The “worship and praise” style became Hammond’s special domain. As described in the Gannett piece, Hammond’s take on this style is a “new type of devotional music [that adapts] Biblical scriptures, mingling them with his own lyrics and creating songs that claim the blessings and victory promised by God.” Hammond has transformed this genre of gospel both through his particular lyrical infusions, and by giving the material an updated, urban treatment.
In Billboard, Hammond described how he proceeded to make worship and praise material musically relevant to his audience, “People in the African American church have this conception of praise and worship music as just being white music. So we decided that I would cover all the tunes they would normally do and remix them for the urban setting.” He had a clear picture of what was needed on the language side as well. While traditional hymns certainly were relevant in the past, he told Gannett, “Now you’ve got kids going to college—coming back and making money—and they don’t know about the same hardship. There have got to be some things that say, ‘If I can believe, I can have.’’’ Hammond was already moving in this direction while he was still in Commissioned, before he even understood that this is where he had to go. As he recounted in Billboard, “When you hear songs from Commissioned like “King of Glory,” that’s praise and worship. I was writing those songs before I knew what they were, and when I was told by a pastor that worship and praise was where God was leading me, I said, ‘Oh, I can do that in my sleep.’”
When Hammond announced on a radio talk show that he wanted to create a gospel choir comprised of people from Detroit, the response was immediate. From this pool of applicants, he created the group Radical For Christ, which became Hammond’s “back-up choir.” Sales of his first two albums incorporating Radical For Christ—The Inner Court (1995) and The Spirit of David (1996)-had already reached 350,000 copies by 1997. Thanks to Hammond and other contemporary artists—such as Kirk Franklin, God’s Property, CeCe Winans, and Yolanda Adams—gospel is big business again.
Most reviewers of the Hammond/Radical For Christ albums have cited the vitality of interplay between Hammond and his ensemble. Some critics have remarked that the studio recordings have a live-in-concert immediacy and drive. But the troupe’s live appearances ratchet it a step higher yet, both musically and spiritually. Reviewing a Hammond live-in-concert video in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, John Blake wrote, “The video demonstrates why Hammond’s live shows are so popular. Unlike many singers who sound worse when they exit the controlled environment of the studio, Hammond’s voice and choir actually sound better in concert…. The video version of “When the Spirit of the Lord” is masterful. It’s edgier, more driven than the recorded version…. The video version of “No Weapon” is also fierier than the recorded effort.… The surprise of the live video is Hammond’s stage presence. Before several songs, he launches into brief sermons, filled with self-effacing humor and keen insights. Hammond almost preaches as well as he sings.”
Hammond launched another project—The Motor City Mass Choir—through which to explore the ministry aspect of his calling. He described the “placement” of the group in Billboard, “It’s more along the lines of the Mississippi Mass Choir, which has done great things for traditional choir music. While Milton Brunson and the Tommies were on the cutting edge, Mississippi Mass was on the traditional edge. Both made choir music a positive and commercial force. Motor City is somewhere in between. The members range in age from 20 to 50, so it’s a good mixture, a more mature situation that keeps the church core in mind.”
The years 1996 and 1997 were tremendously successful for Hammond. He teamed with Kirk Franklin & the Family and Yolanda Adams for the Tour of Life, which played in 67 cities and turned out to be the most successful gospel concert tour ever. In 1998, Hammond became the first gospel artist to release a double-CD album, Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2, and then proceeded to capture eight Stellar Awards.
Hammond has a deep understanding of the music business, and knows how to cover multiple bases. But none of that would be possible were it not for his talent. Also, despite his use of sophisticated production values and R&B-pop veneers, Hammond always emphasizes his intent to serve a higher power with his music. As he revealed in the Gannett article, “Sometimes songs are burning so hard that I have to get them out. I’m not a fast lyricist. I write under inspiration. I think. I contemplate. Sometimes, I come [to my office] just to pray.… I am a worshiper. I am a praiser. Ultimately, I want to take people into the presence of God.”
While his religiosity is paramount, Hammond is unencumbered by any self-righteousness or Messiah complex. He made this abundantly clear in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I don’t really target anyone. I feel a deep inspiration from God telling me to just lift Him up as high as I can and not to worry about who hears it and where it’s going to go. I’m singing about Him and talking about Him with as much passion and emotion as I possibly can muster. It’s not about me being perfect or writing for the world or trying to reach the lost. My songs are really oracles that are in my heart. They need to reflect a lot of mercy and forgiveness…. I’m singing for God. I’m not looking for the next career move. When that’s your approach, there’s not a lot of room for ego as far as I’m concerned.”
I’m Going On, Light, 1985.
Go Tell Somebody, Light, 1986.
On the Winning Side, Light, 1987.
Will You Be Ready, Light, 1988.
Ordinary Just Won’t Do, A&M, 1989.
State of Mind, Benson, 1990.
Number 7, Benson, 1991.
Shakin’ the House Live, 1991.
Matters of the Heart, Benson, 1994.
(with Radical For Christ)
The Inner Court, Benson, 1993.
The Spirit of David, Benson, 1996.
Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2, Verity, 1998.
I Am Persuaded, Benson, 1991.
Deliverance, A&M, 1993.
Arlington Morning News (TX), July 23, 1999, p. C1.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 9, 1998, p. C2.
Billboard, August 2, 1997, p. 13.
Gannett News Service, July 7, 1997; December 8, 1997.
Jet, April 7, 1997, p. 62.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 15, 1998, p. B7.
Since the early 1980s, Fred Hammond has been a well regarded figure on the Contemporary Christian music scene, first with his group Commissioned and later as a solo artist with his own touring choir, Radical for Christ. After more than 20 years in the music business, however, Hammond has become almost as well known for his work as a Christian-music entrepreneur. He has worked on over 80 albums since establishing his own production company, Face to Face, in 1992. He has also taken his music to thousands of fans by keeping up a busy touring schedule. His own album releases have been accompanied by extensive promotional work to encourage urban radiy stations to begin playing Contemporary Christian music. As Hammond told Billboard about his efforts to broaden his audience, “People in the African-American church have this conception of praise and worship music as just being white music. So we decided that I would cover all the tunes they would normally do and remix them for the urban setting.”
Born in Detroit around 1961, Hammond grew up in a neighborhood where two of the dominant forces were music and religion. Raised in a churchgoing family, Hammond also studied the bass guitar; by the age of 17, he had started to pursue a career in music by playing and singing in his family’s church on a regular basis. Hammond’s adolescent years, however, were troubled as he struggled to find some direction in his life. “I would steal from the store down the street, then go to church,” he admitted to American Visions. “But my mother kept us connected to the church, and that gave us a sense of God.” He added, “I was another young African American walking around with no clue.” After leaving high school, Hammond joined the Army, but the experience did not turn into a career for the budding musician.
After his stint in the Army, Hammond was inspired by the efforts of his friends in the Winan family to start recording and releasing their own music under the group name the Testimonials in the late 1970s. “We all lived together in the neighborhood, we all did music, we all did home recordings with cheesy albums that had covers drawn by our cousins,” Hammond later told American Visions. “But the Testimonials had taken it to a whole new level.” Impressed by the Winans’ professional approach to making Christian music, Hammond toured with the group as its bass player and backup singer. Barely out of his teens, he had already established a career as a professional musician.
With a forceful personality and a drive to succeed, Hammond formed his own group, Commissioned, around 1982. The group released a series of albums in the 1980s with a sound and style that differed little from the contemporary sounds of urban-oriented music, aside from its Christian-themed lyrics. As he discussed his musical influences in an Ebony interview, “I’m from the old school. I’ve got a bit of [Edwin] Hawkins and the Winans and [James] Cleveland in me, but there is also Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. That’s my musical heritage. That’s what I grew up with. Put that together in one pot, and mix it with high praise and urban flair. My music is cultural.”
Although he spent over a decade with Commissioned, the experience was fraught with tension. As he told Tamara Hundley in an interview posted on the Fred Hammond Online website, “I thought Commissioned was my own group because I started it… But, whenever you have more than one vision, there is division. God deals with one vision. A lot of people confuse vision and ownership. God does not deal in democracy where ministries and groups are concerned. You do not vote on the plan of God.” Still, Hammond took pride in Commissioned’s achievements. As he boasted in an interview with Melanie Clark of the Gospelflava web-site, “The sound was cutting edge and if you pull out some of those earlier Commissioned projects, you will find that production-wise, Commissioned was light-years ahead of the pack.” Hammond added, “We changed the world.”
Despite Commissioned’s success—which included a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year in 1990—Hammond decided to focus on a solo career beginning with the 1991 release I Am Persuaded. As he told Billboard, “The agonizing part was that I didn’t want to go. Commissioned had been my comfort zone, but I just felt like
Born c. 1961 in Detroit, MI; wife: Kimberly; children: BreeAnn, Darius Sean.
Formed Commissioned, early 1980s; started solo career with release of I Am Persuaded, 1991; founded Face to Face production company, 1992; signed deal with Verity Records, 1996.
Awards: Gospel Music Association Dove Award (with Commissioned), Contemporary Gospel Album for Will You Be Ready?, 1990; Dove Award (with various artists), Inspirational Album for Generation 2 Generation, 1993; Dove Award (with various artists), Contemporary Gospel Album for Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, 1993; Dove Award (with various artists), Urban Album for Give Me Your Life, 1996; Dove Award, Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song for “Let the Praise Begin,” 1999; Stellar Awards, Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, Best Contemporary Male Vocalist, Contemporary Album of the Year, Contemporary Choir of the Year, 1999; Dove Award, Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song for “Power,” 2000; Dove Award, Contemporary Gospel Album for Purpose by Design, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Verity/Zomba Records, 137-139 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001, web-site: http://www.verityrecords.com. Production company —Face to Face Productions, 21421 Hilltop St., Building 20, Southfield, MI 48034. Website—Fred Hammond Official Website: http://www.fhammond.org.
we had peaked, and vision-wise we were growing apart. It was like six people driving a car with only one steering wheel.” He also used his creative vision to branch out as a producer with the opening of his own Face to Face production studios in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, in 1992. In less than a decade after the studios opened, Hammond had served as producer or coproducer on approximately 80 albums, including works by the Winans, who were now gospel music superstars.
At home, Hammond and his wife, Kimberly, whom he married in 1986, were also busy raising their daughter, BreeAnn, born two years later. In 1998, the couple adopted a son, Darius Sean Hammond. Hammond hoped his actions would inspire others to serve the children of their own communities. As he told Ebony, “I wanted to be a role model, to help out. We need organizations like the Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but I wanted to go one step further. I wanted to be a father, where my son can see me every day and be right here with me.”
In the 1990s Hammond released a string of successful albums with his backing choir, Radical for Christ. The 12-to-15-member group also accompanied him on numerous tours, including the 1997 “Tour of Life” series, which played to over a half-million fans in about 70 cities. Typically, Hammond and Radical for Christ spent about 30 weeks of each year touring throughout the decade. Their fans also saw them on such Christian shows as the 700 Club, Praise the Lord, and the Pat Boone Show, where they made regular appearances. Although the chubby, middle-aged entertainer was an unlikely leading man, he also hoped to get a movie career off the ground. As he told Hundley in characteristically expansive fashion about one such project, “This will be a movie that will get the whole world involved.”
Despite his activities as a producer, concert performer, and actor, however, Hammond continued to be best known for his music. His sophomore solo effort, Deliverance, arrived in 1993 and his releases with Radical for Christ, 1995’s Inner Court and 1996’s The Spirit of David, sold about 350,000 combined copies. The 1998 release Pages of Life: Chapters 1 and 2, however, was Hammond’s greatest success to date. In addition to hitting number one on the Billboard gospel album chart, the release eventually earned platinum sales certification. The 2000 release, Purpose by Design, was another number one album on the gospel charts. The album also earned a Dove Award for Best Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year.
After more than 20 years as a professional musician, Hammond took a great deal of satisfaction that his work reached a large cross section of the audience for Christian music. “We have a youth-oriented sound, but now our audience includes people from as early as eight years of age to 60 years old,” he told Hundley. “Everybody is targeting the youth now, and although I understand that, I’m trying to give the general body something.” Although he was an avid promoter of Contemporary Christian music to a broad audience, Hammond remained focused on his primary reason for making music. “It feels now that people are starting to get into praise and worship. It’s like I’m teaching them what to expect. It’s like, ‘Lord, I appreciate you for hooking me up! I’ll teach the people with diligence,” he told Clark, adding, “Still a large part of the urban community is not into the praise and worship scene. They like my music, but they don’t know why they enjoy what I do.”
I Am Persuaded, Benson, 1991.
(Contributor) Generation 2 Generation, Benson, 1992.
(Contributor) Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, Warner, 1992.
Deliverance, A&M, 1993.
The Inner Court, Benson, 1995.
(Contributor) Give Your Life, Benson, 1995.
The Spirit of David, Verity, 1996.
Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2, Verity, 1998.
(Contributor) Prince of Egypt: Inspirational (soundtrack), DreamWorks, 1998.
Purpose by Design, Verity, 2000.
In Case You Missed It, Verity, 2001.
Christmas … Just Remember, Verity, 2001.
American Visions, December 1999/January 2000, p. 46.
Billboard, August 2, 1997, p. 13; January 23, 1999, p. 8.
Ebony, June 2000, p. 60.
New York Amsterdam News, March 16, 2000, p. 36.
Today’s Christian Woman, November/December 2000, p. 101.
“Commissioned,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com.cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sqI=Bu69ss32ba3bg (December 11, 2001).
Fred Hammond Official Website, http://www.fhammond.org (December 10, 2001).
Gospel Flava, http://www.gospelflava.com (December 10, 2001).
Gospel Music Association, Dove Awards, http://www.doveawards.com/history/keysearch.cfm (December 10, 2001).