Tony Cummings looks at the career of DEITRICK HADDON and his contemporisation of the sounds of gospel
The 'Revealed' album by award-winning gospel star Deitrick Haddon was a profound stunningly eclectic hit for the Detroit-based singer. His "Go With Me" track with its Michael Jackson-styled funk groove was named by Cross Rhythms as one of the best tracks of the year while Billboard magazine recognised that 'Revealed' was a gem, writing "After a decade-plus of pushing the edges of gospel, his imagination and invention remain as engaging as ever. Haddon's interweaving of R&B, rock and pop - with a side of retro-funk, thank you - continues to use tradition more as a point of departure than reference. 'Where You Are' is soulful, techno-tinged rock, while 'I'm Alive' is a hook-heavy gift of hope and 'Love Him Like I Do' - with guest turns from Ruben Studdard and Mary Mary - is a jaunty, Top 40/R&B offering of thanks to God. It's a testimony of Haddon's commitment - to his faith and his artistry - that he continues to use both as mandates for excellence."
Deitrick was born in Detroit on 17th May 1973. He was the son of Bishop Clarence Haddon, pastor at the Unity Cathedral of Faith, a Full Gospel church on the city's west side. Haddon's mother Joyce also became a minister. Bishop Haddon used music to attract and to help focus the lives of young people in the troubled neighbourhood, organizing Trinidadian steel drum classes at the church and incorporating the instruments into church services. But Unity Cathedral also had a choir, and Deitrick was soon enlisted to direct it. Actually, Haddon started preaching before he turned to music. Showing a gift for holding the attention of a crowd, he gave his first sermon at age 11. Soon his mother encouraged him to take solos with Unity Cathedral's 60-voice adult choir. Haddon was reluctant at first. "I'd be crying while I was singing," he told an interviewer from the Kay 3 Music website. "I was shy back in the day and I hated to sing. But they [his parents] pushed me to do it. Sometimes I'd be sleeping and my friends would wake me up and say, hey D.D., they callin' you to do a solo." Two years later, the church's regular choir director resigned and young Haddon was appointed one of two choir directors.
Living in Detroit Deitrick was in the perfect place to experience gospel music as it moved from the traditional old school forms to the more contemporary R&B-based styles of today. He told Gospel City website, "Growing up in Detroit played a big part in my ministry, you can't help but keep the vibes of what Detroit had. Detroit breathes music ministry, a strong gospel music entity having such artists as Mattie Moss-Clark, Thomas Whitfield, Vanessa Bell Armstrong - all came out of Detroit back then; they were at their all-time high. The Winans, when I was a young lad running around here in Detroit, they were like, at the top, Commissioned, all of them. I would go to every concert, every musical. Mattie Moss-Clark was good for having gospel musicals at David's Cathedral. On a Saturday we would be there until three, four o'clock in the morning - just singing and praising God. Seeing the energy these artists had, and the fact they all came out of Detroit, really inspired me. I thought, 'If they could do it, I can do it. There must be a reason I have this talent; maybe I can contribute to all the talent coming out of Detroit.' I also listened to Andrae Crouch, Greg Allen, the Clark Sisters (they're from Detroit) and The Hawkins Family. I just love all different types of gospel music whether it be traditional, urban contemporary; I just love gospel music - anything with a powerful message. Two particular artists: Pastor Marvin Winans - I love his music ministry because of his anointing, his charisma, his ability; he mesmerized the audience. I really paid attention to that in my early days. Also, Rance Allen his anointing and how he would say things, he could just have the audience in the palm of his hands. I also paid attention to him."
When Deitrick was 16 he began singing in a group called Perfect Peace. He told Gospel Today magazine, "We wanted to be like commissioned or the Winans. We just thought we were going to blow up out of Detroit. We landed a record deal with Bellmark Records, but when we recorded our album they sat it on the shelf for two and a half years. That basically broke the group up. In the midst of that I knew I wasn't going to wait on a record label. I got busy and took my choir [Voices Of Unity] and recorded an album."
In 1995 Tyscot Records released 'Come Into This House' by Voices Of Unity. It didn't chart but sales were encouraging. Two years later another album 'Live The Life' was released, this time credited Deitrick Haddon & The Voices Of Unity. It began to put Haddon on the gospel music map as it won two Gospel Music Workshop Of America awards, one for New Artist Of The Year: Urban Contemporary and the other for Album Of The Year: Urban Contemporary.
During this period a romance was growing in Deitrick's life. He had met a singer/musician, Damita, when she was in a group called Adoration Praise in Deitrick's Perfect Peace days. He remembered, "When I met Damita, she was playing the piano for this big community choir from McKenzie High School and her sister directed. I was really in awe with just the fact that she was so young and serious about her ministry; she was directing the choir, playing the keyboards and writing music. So when we met we just kicked it off. We became really close friends. We would sit up until three o'clock in the morning at the piano, writing and singing songs. Other females would want to find other things to do; they were not interested in what my ministry was about. Damita plays a big part in my life, helps me with my music, helps me produce; anything I'm doing Damita has had her hand in it. Whether her name is there or not, she helps me. She's that balance God has put in my life and I don't know what I would do without her."
In 1998 Tyscot released 'This Is My Story' which although credited Deitrick Haddon & Unity Praise was effectively Haddon's solo debut. It reached 31 on Billboard's Gospel Album chart. By 1999 when Haddon released 'Chain Breaker', he had added more new elements to the musical mix. The album featured contributions by gospel choir leader John P Kee. "Haddon splashes his boundless imagination and eclecticism across a canvas of riveting, righteous R&B and hip-hop, with bold brushstrokes of everything from arena rock and funk to wildly original, new-millennial church choir.... This is the stuff entire trends are made of," raved Billboard's Paul Verna.
In 2000 Haddon and his wife Damita took 300 young Detroiters under their collective wings to record an album 'Nu Hymnz: Live From The Motor City'. The performances heard on the album were also heard on the soundtrack of a movie, Deitrick Haddon: Nu Hymnz - Sing A Nu Song. Tyscot released another album with the Voices Of Unity, 'SuperNatural', in 2001 but was finding it tough for the traditionally orientated Tyscot and indeed the more conservative gospel radio presenters to accept the rampant musical eclecticism of his solo efforts. Haddon moved from Tyscot to Verity Records and said at the time, "It was very frustrating because any time you have people who are ahead of their time or see something that they want to do that's different from what everyone else is doing, it's hard. Eventually, you end up having to suppress what you really are and what God has given you and adapt to what people can handle. It's very frustrating when you have somebody that's very creative and wants to put their hand in everything and doesn't want to do the same old thing, but you have a label or radio announcers who say, 'That can't get played on our station or format,' or a label that doesn't know what to do with your material."
Verity's 'Lost And Found' release was Deitrick Haddon's breakthrough album. With
its funky, partly rapped hit single "Oh Yeah", Haddon concocted a
state-of-the-art, big-beat, hip-hop-influenced sound that still left
room for traditional call-and-response between leader and congregation
("If Jesus Christ is runnin' your life, say 'Oh yeah!'"). Haddon was
sometimes compared with the similarly eclectic gospel singer Tonex,
and like that California-based artist he tried to head off criticism
from those who might feel his style was "too secular." He told Kay 3
Music website, "Someone who doesn't know Jesus can listen to this and
relate. A lot of times we tend to be self-righteous in our approach
and we alienate people who don't know."
The slow, soulful "Sinner's Prayer" became another hit from 'Lost And Found', and the album cracked the top 10 of Billboard magazine's Gospel albums chart and the top 20 of its Contemporary Christian albums chart. Haddon garnered a Grammy award nomination for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album and picked up several of the gospel industry's Stellar award nominations.
Deitrick and Damita relocated from Detroit to Tampa, Florida. He told Billboard magazine, "That was a part of my crossroad, to take that journey. I was really grounded in Detroit, so that was a journey. It turned out to be a great move for me." With his move Haddon began attending Without Walls International Church, which has about 25,000 members and is the second fastest growing church in the US. He spent about a year in the church as a youth pastor before being elevated to associate pastor. In fact, Pastor Paula White joined Haddon to provide a fiery sermonette on the track "Walls Are Tumbling" on the gospel star's next album, 2004's 'Crossroads'. The CD again demonstrated Haddon's ability to integrate hip-hop and R&B rhythms into the gospel mix. As well as becoming a number one gospel hit 'Crossroads' made the Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop albums top 40. One of the standout moments on the album was when he was joined by a special guest, Rance Allen. Enthused Haddon, "He's like the godfather of gospel music. He came down one day and knocked it out in 10 minutes, literally did it in one take. It was an honour [to have] him sing on the record with me. I grew up listening to Rance. I really learned how to sing [by listening to] him. So to have him on my record is really wonderful."
Since that time Haddon continued to pursue joint recording careers, both as a soloist (2006's '7 Days' which produced Cross Rhythms turntable hits in the title track and "So Good To Be In Love") and as a choir leader (2007's 'Deitrick Haddon Presents Voices Of Unity: Together In Worship'). Now with 'Revealed' nestling in the US charts, Haddon's continued popularity seems assured. However, as the singer told CCM magazine, he is not taking his success for granted. He said, "Being a Christian is full of hard times when you're faced with a lot of decisions that can alter your destiny. It's about coming to grips with the realities around you and relating to the Word, no matter where you're at."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.