The debut album by BRIAN COURTNEY WILSON is a smash in the US. He fielded some of Tony Cummings' questions.
Every now and again an artist seems to come from nowhere to soar to gospel music stardom. This seems to be the case for Brian Courtney Wilson. His debut album 'Just Love', released on Mathew Knowles' Spirit Rising Music/Music World Entertainment, entered Billboard's gospel chart at number two and with its slick production from Stellar Award nominated Stan 'STANtastic' Jones, sinuously soulful vocals and lyrics which are powerful evocations of Christian faith, 'Just Love' is a radio programmer's dream. Cross Rhythms recently quizzed the singer about his life and ministry.
Tony: Brian, give me some background information about yourself.
Brian: I grew up in Bellwood, Illinois which is a western suburb of Chicago. I went to school there for a number of years and went to the University of Illinois where I graduated with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a focus on economics. My parents have been together for 40 years and you could say we were a lower middle class family. My Dad was a janitor for over 30 years and he has just retired, and my mum has always been a clerical worker. As a kid I never knew money was tight and never felt it was tight, as I had everything I needed. Probably what I needed more then anything was my parent's presence in my life, and they have always been present including in my musical involvement. My Dad was the first one to introduce me to the choir and singing when I was a child, and I remember having to go to choir practice on Saturday nights when it seemed like some of the best television shows were on TV. I really remember him lamenting the fact I had to go to practice and I am so grateful for it now, because he really trained me up in terms of what it meant to be part of a team and working with a team, and understanding what church music was really about.
Tony: How and when did you become a Christian?
Brian: I grew up in church so I was always at church on Sundays, sometimes Wednesdays and even late on Sundays. My Dad was a deacon and my Mum was on the mother's board, so as long as I can remember I have been a part of church. I always draw a distinction between my church upbringing and when I decided to be a follower of Christ and that happened in Houston, Texas for me. I was attending a large church in Houston and I had what I have to call an encounter with God which looked like the truth, where you meet somebody who kind of knows you and knows what you have been through without you having to tell them. I believed it had to be God, I feel it was similar to the woman at the well who encountered Jesus, so from that point I decided I wanted to be a witness to the Kingdom. It was a process of several years of dealing with bad habits and letting them go and letting go of the fear I had held onto and deciding to follow God.
Tony: Your approach to gospel music is very contemporary. What are your musical influences?
Brian: Donny Hathaway is definitely one of my influences and I remember being in college and a girl I had a crush on saying to me, "You sound like Donny Hathaway, you ever heard of him?" Because I liked this girl I went and looked him up and I have been hooked on him ever since. The tone of his voice and his ability to emote in a song and his spiritual overtone is amazing. He is considered a commercial artist but there is no question that he was moving in the church and you hear that in his music. Fred Hammond is another person, his songs and 'Pages Of Life' albums Chapters 1 and 2 they are on repeat in my ipod. I also like John Mayer, I like his ability to get out the truth in his songs. His songs are so insightful to me without being over blown and over done, it gives you room to think about life and love. One song I love of his is "Stop This Train" you should give it a listen.
Tony: Tell me about your first meeting with Mathew Knowles.
Brian: I was working in my back yard and I got a call from my pastor, Rudy Rasmus, who is also Mathew's best friend/pastor, saying Mathew would like to meet me, after he had heard some of the songs I had written on his album. I went into Mathew's office in Houston and he said he wanted to sign me as his first male artist to his Spirit Rising/Music World label. That was about two and a half years ago and I am thankful for the opportunity he has given me to get my music out to the world.
Tony: What are your fondest memories of the 'Just Love'
Brian: Recording an album and putting it out to the world has been a dream of mine for a long time. I've sung with many different people and been to different countries like Korea and Japan to sing, trying to figure out what it would take to break through. Everything I was looking for was happening in the studio in Jackson, Mississippi, two hours from where my mum was born and where I use to go fishing with granddad when I was younger. So it's mind blowing. God has been there all along, just waiting for me to see it.
Tony: Pick out a couple of songs from your album and tell me how they came to be written.
Brian: "Believe" was written for a friend of mine, he was getting married and he asked me to write a song for his wedding and it was something I hadn't done before and I was really nervous about doing it. One night I was thinking about my wife and I, and how we got together and some of the things we have gone through and I put them into the song. The amazing thing to me as honest and transparent as I was about the lyrics, many people were able to connect with the lyrics, so it was gratifying to know you can be honest about your relationship and many people can feel it and really get some value from it.
Another good song on the album is "Already Here", which started with a debate we were having in church about the best way to open up a service to bring in the presence of God. Whether you should do a fast song first or a slow song. I remember some of those debates use to get heated, because people were really concerned about making sure the presence of God was there at church on Sunday. When I got home I believe I heard God say to me clearly, "I am already here and you do not need to worry, but just make sure you have the eyes and the heart to see that I am present." That's where that song came from, but not only is he present, he wants to be present and active and engaged in our lives.
Tony: Tell me a spiritual lesson you've learned in the last year or two.
Brian: The virtue of being patient and faithful. Knowing the difference between sitting around waiting and being patient and faithful. When I say faithful I don't mean just believing in something, but actually acting on the belief. It was a lesson I learnt many times during the process of getting an album out to the stores for people to hear it, because it took a year. We recorded the album in about a month and it took another a year for it to come to market. There were some days I did not know what to do and I wasn't sure if the album was going to come out. There were days I thought I had wasted my time and I was going to be humiliated, because I had risked so much to get this album done. Ultimately what it came down to was not licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself because it hadn't come out, but making sure I stayed present and that I kept giving what I could give vocally and spiritually to people. As time went on people stepped up and I remember the Radio 1 station here in Houston, which is part of a big group of stations in the United States, started playing "Already Here" from the record. That started the groundswell of support. So spiritual lessons I've learnt are first of all the patience connected with not giving up on a dream and not giving up on what God had told me he would do. Then the faithfulness connected to the action to just keep singing and giving.
Tony: What plans do you have for the future?
Brian: I want to glorify God with my life, I want to make sure I keep hearing the songs that he wants me to share with the world. I want to make sure I am prepared to keep singing as much as possible to as many people as possible and I want to keep my heart and my mind right. One lesson I think we can learn from Michael Jackson, who was a very talented individual, is it's a very rough ride being in the entertainment business and under the bright lights of celebrity. I think it's even more tough for someone who professes to be a Christian in this light because there are so many opportunities to be offended, and hold on to the offence and not exhibit the love of Christ in a public way. I pray for God's spirit in regards to being able to stand in the light and be a credible witness to the Kingdom.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.