William Beckton: The US gospel singer

Thursday 1st February 1996

With his debut album dislodging Kirk Franklin from the number one slot in the US gospel charts, WILLIAM BECTON has definitely arrived on the scene. He spoke to Stuart Dearsley.

William Becton
William Becton

Currently one of the biggest selling black gospel artists in America is a man most of us have probably never heard of. William E Becton Junior is originally from Washington DC and began his musical career at the age of 14 at the New Samaritan Baptist Church and performed regularly there and at other local community events. Becton, you may think, is a relative newcomer to the gospel scene, but he has in fact been around since 1990, writing songs for the likes of the Washington Fellowship Mass Choir and the Columbia Union College Mass Choir.

He has however, only recently released his first album entitled 'Broken' under the guise of William Becton And Friends which received a rave review in issue 30 of this magazine. For a first album to get in the top 20 most would be happy, but William Becton managed to do more than that. On 11th September 1995 'Broken' hit the number one spot on Billboard's Gospel chart, overtaking the talented Kirk Franklin. I asked William whether this had surprised him. "Well, to be honest we were expecting it to do well," William said. "But not in the secular market, where sales first took off, but in the gospel market where it also sold very well."

The nationwide Blockbuster music stores could vouch for that, as they were forced to undergo heavy restocking efforts to cope with demand, along with many of the independent retailers who reported a marked increase in sales. "When we found out that 'Broken' had gone to number one we were actually in the recording studio doing a remix," William added, "so we stopped the session immediately and began to praise God, and this went on for quite a while."

'Broken' was in fact the result of a time in William Becton's life which he would in some ways rather forget about. It was, however, a time in which God taught him a lot and helped him to grow stronger as a Christian. "A few years ago I was going through a difficult time in my life, a time in which I encountered many trials and rejections. I couldn't understand why though, as I thought I was doing everything right, ie, going to church regularly, praying, etc. Everything I tried to do, I just ended up falling down again."

Just when Becton was on the point of giving up, God picked him up. "God taught me to focus more on him and he began to use me even more in the writing of gospel music. The main thing he laid on my life though was my call to leadership and he took me through experiences that if I'm to be the leader he wants me to be then I'm going to have to learn to cope with." It's no surprise therefore to learn that his favourite track from his album is a song entitled "Still In Love With You" which is his own personal testimony.

Clearly gospel music and music in general has been a strong influence on his life and I wondered when it all started. "Well, music has always dominated my life in one form or another," said Becton. "My parents used to take me to church and I sung quite a lot there. I'd say it was in the second grade at school when I gave my life to God that the calling really began to develop."

When Becton was old enough he attended the Duke Ellington School Of The Arts and the University Of The District Of Columbia and it was here that he established himself as a singer, composer, arranger and record producer. He was also fortunate enough to learn from such renowned professors as Dr Calvin LeCompte, Dr William Moore and the late Dr Pearl William Jones. "They all taught me a great deal about the mechanics of European music and helped me learn a lot about being a classical vocalist," said Becton.

Becton is a baritone and as well as helping to propel him in his own career they also taught him how to develop others in music. "I was taught things such as how to blend musicians, harmonies and other things of that nature," William commented.

Becton does in fact see his future more as an arranger and producer than a singer and on his album 'Broken' he actually only sings on two of the tracks. "I feel that God's gift to me," Becton said, "is one of writing and producing and although I enjoy singing, arranging and listening are my strongest assets. It also gives me great joy to work with singers and to mould them into the sounds I want."

William Becton is currently continuing his development in this area, by producing a group. "Basically, it's 'And Friends', minus William Becton," jokes Becton. "There are also other similar projects lined up, after I've completed this one," he said.

It may not be too long before England gets a glimpse of Becton as he will probably be accompanying those gospel greats, the Winans, on their 'Farewell World Tour' in 1996, but for the time being, the man who currently resides in Arlington, Virginia will continue to develop his talents as a highly successful producer. I'm sure his name is one that we will no doubt hear a lot of in the future.

Stuart Dearsley lives in Wallington, Surrey and reviews and writes regularly for Cross Rhythms. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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