Tony Cummings reports on Stellar's Male Vocalist Of The Year DEWAYNE WOODS and his testimony of God's healing from HIV
The unexpected naming of Chicago's DeWayne Woods as Male Vocalist Of The Year at the 2008 Stellar Awards has thrown the spotlight on a soulful voiced singer who at least one report referred to as a "newcomer". In fact, DeWayne has years of gospel singing experience under his belt with stints with the best selling acts John P Kee & The New Life Community Choir and Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers. DeWayne spoke to NewYorkGospel.com about his earliest experiences in gospel. "Since I was a kid I would always be called out to do lead at my church so yeah, I've been singing forever. When I first got to my very first church, Mt Vernon Baptist Church, I remember when I was a little kid the director that was there, Doris Johnson, would pull me out from the choir and make me stand beside her and make me follow her leadership and direction. So it's been training."
It was in his teenage years that DeWayne got his gospel music break when he joined John P Kee & The New Life Community Choir. He told Gospel Music Channel, "That was really my launch into the music industry. John P Kee & New Life were already a big name; John heard me sing in a production of A Good Man Is Hard To Find and he asked me to come to North Carolina to join the group. I was there for two years when Donald Lawrence brought me into the Tri-City Singers. Donald has really trained me and allowed me to continue to sing as a choir member, and then also helped me develop a solo career."
Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers' best selling albums like 1993's 'A Songwriter's Point Of View', 1995's 'Bible Stories', 2000's 'TriCity4.com' and 2002's 'Go Get Your Life Back' gave DeWayne a great schooling in gospel. He commented, "Donald Lawrence has impacted my life in such major ways. Just sitting up under him and watching him in the studio, watching the producer Donald Lawrence, watching the artist Donald Lawrence, watching the friend Donald Lawrence, there are so many pieces to him but they all just make up such a great person. So just sitting up under him I've learned so much about character, learned so much about even training my singers, training my choir, what to do in the studio, you know just sitting up under him trained me to be able to work on Byron Cage. I produced the background vocals for Byron Cage's record."
In the late '90s DeWayne flirted with mainstream R&B, briefly becoming a member of Atlantic Starr, a group who'd hit big in the early '80s. But DeWayne was soon back with first love - gospel music. On 26th December 1998 in Kansas City he took a significant step when he formed a group of 20 singers, along with five musicians under the rather unwieldy name of When Singers Meet. Particularly focussed on praise and worship the ensemble toured extensively. Said DeWayne at the time of the release in 2002 of the independent album 'The Poets, The Psalms, And The Psalmists', credited to Psalmist DeWayne Woods & When Singers Meet, "We understand that praise and worship is not something you do at the beginning of a service, but something that you live everyday. 'In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.' (1 Thess 5:18). You can set the tone for not only your services but your everyday life and situations by just understanding what wonderful benefits there are when you enter into the life changing presence of God."
DeWayne acknowledged his years as an anonymous member of a choir as a great preparation to step into the spotlight. "I've been in the background a lot and one of the things I've learned is that in order for you to be up front, you have to be willing to serve in the back. It's been a great training ground for me because I'm able to sit. I don't have to be in control. I'm able to watch the people and kind of see what works, what mechanics work for certain people and what I can apply to my life, what teachings that I've gotten from this person that I will be able to apply to my life and it's been the best training ground of my life. John P Kee was a great teacher within his own right and then going to Donald who is of course one of the biggest geniuses out there and he loves to empower people. He's a task master but he's great at empowering us to become what we need to be."
It was the release of 'Introducing DeWayne Woods & When Singers Meet' in 2006 on Donald Lawrence's Quiet Water Entertainment label which proved to be DeWayne's breakthrough project. Donald spoke about some of the songwriters involved with 'Introducing. . .', "P.J. Morton wrote my single 'Let Go' (a powerful gospel ballad which became a huge US gospel radio hit and was also named in the 2008 Stellar Awards as Song Of The Year). Levi King Jr from East St Louis, Illinois, wrote the song 'Strong Tower', which is one of the songs people are kind of going crazy over right now. Great writers, Charmelle Cofield, my sister from Kansas City, wrote a couple of songs. And of course Myron Butler is one of the producers of the album. I did a duet with a young lady by the name of Candy West who was from Myron Butler And Levi and she wrote a song called 'Sunshine' and we did it together. The minister of music of New Faith Baptist Church International, Kevon Carter, wrote two songs on the project. One of my favourites is a song called 'God Still Heals' which is based on my testimony. The other song is a great personal message from me to God's people, 'You Shall Reap'. It's talking about serving in the background and just kind of waiting for God to push you forward."
The track preceding "God Still Heals" is a spoken word testimony which, after a short intro from Donald Lawrence, leaves DeWayne to tell of his own encounter with the Lord's healing power. On the track Dewayne testified, "Years ago I had gone into a doctor's office for a physical, just to kinda have things checked up - I was on the road - and when I went back in the very next week to get my results from the physical they called me in and told me I had tested positive for HIV. Now this was in 1992. I went through all the treatments that there were - now back in that day they were still trying to test out things. So I went through all of the years 'til I decided I couldn't do it with the treatments, I couldn't go to the doctor, I couldn't do it because if I was going to sing about God being a healer I wanted him to do it. If I was going to be a worshipper I wanted God to keep his promise. So I sought his way. Then in 2001 I went back for a check up to see what was going on and they asked me all the questions they needed to ask me and then they said, 'Well, you can go home, you've tested negative, thank you for coming.' And people ask me all the time, they say, 'There's a certain thing called remission where the symptoms just go dormant for a while.' So they took me before a national board and I had to go through a series of tests and it showed up that it wasn't in my system at all."
On the Gospel Music Channel DeWayne was asked why, of all the many HIV sufferers, God chose to heal him. "I can't say why," he responded. "I think that he trusted me to be a mouthpiece, not only about the fact that I was completely healed, but also before I was healed, just about having it [HIV]. He allowed me to give hope to a lot of people out there, and trusted me to spread the news that he is still a healer, all-powerful and all-knowing. We can never really know why these things happen."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.