A giant of gospel music, FRED HAMMOND now has yet another string to his bow as Tony Cummings finds out.
In gospel music seemingly everyone reaching middle age or beyond is referred to as "legendary". But the word still has some credence when directed at Fred Hammond, one of the towering figures of postwar gospel who, taking his lead from '60s pioneer Andrae Crouch, has both brought the rhythmic muscle of contemporary R&B into the gospel musical brew while being a key figure in its fiscal development into top dollar spinner. But possibly his most valuable contribution to gospel music's ever evolving story is bringing the dynamic of real, Spirit-filled worship out of the frenetic insularity of African American church and into some of the largest auditoria in the world. As he said in 1966 when describing the award winning 'The Inner Court' album, "It's a sound that is in the progressive African-American churches. It's not trying to play the soul, 'Bringing In The Sheaves' stuff. It's the dancin', shoutin', victorious gospel." His latest album, 'Speak Those Things: Pages Of Life Chapter 3', is a response to the aftermath of September 11th. He was asked by U magazine how he would sum up the core theme of the album. Fred responded, "When life takes a turn for the worse, still speak life. The truth is we're going to make it through this. Although your situation may not work out the way you need it to... you're going to be okay."
The singer/producer went on to speak on how Sept 11 had affected him. "I've never taken life for granted, but Sept 11 brought the worldwide situation close to home. Other nations have been rebuilding from nothing for years. Just look at Jerusalem. But we've been so far removed from that. Now we're seeing up close. It also made me think about the closeness of he Lord's coming. But God has also impressed upon me another truth: planes are striking towers in people's lives every day. Just yesterday I watched as my friend was taken off a respirator. His two little boys don't have their father now. Terrible things happen in families every day. The way we all felt on Sept 11, somebody feels that kind of pain every day... 'Pages Of Life' is a continuation of Chapters I & II. The first one was like a manual. 'Purpose Of Life' was a toolbox; it dealt with purpose and destiny. This is more like going back to the first one, more of a story or a manual... I've gone through a lot of personal struggles over the last couple of years and I'm talking about what God has done..."
One of Hammond's most interesting admissions concerns his changing understanding of worship. "I didn't know 'worship'," he said. "All I knew was going to church - sing some songs, listen to the choir, give an offering, listen to the preacher, have an altar call and go home. That was Sunday morning worship. 'Til one day I learned that worship is intimacy with God, a love affair with God. It's a heart-to-heart thing. If I expose my heart to God, all of it - he knows it anyway - then you get intimate before him. It's not just raising your hands and getting emotional, worship is a heartfelt, intimate relationship with God. Praise is something different. I'd say I started making that conversion in worship around 1993. I was at a different place then. Now, I've been given a mandate. The Lord said, 'Lift me up as high as you can and watch what I'll do with it.' In the meantime, I've watched the simplest songs bless people in amazing ways. And I've tried to write hits and made 'em slick and palatable for the world and showed 'em Jesus in a different light. But it's 'Let The Praise Begin' - it fits no R&B format, no secular format whatsoever - but when I do it, it's what the people want to hear."
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the hugely busy gospel music figure is that he has started an outreach in his community, Motorcycle Evangelistic Outreach. The gospel star spoke about the work with unbridled enthusiasm, "I read a book, God Come Near by Max Lucado, and it changed my life. The Jesus I always saw on television had no expression. His beard was always trimmed. He was a saint. But I read that book and it made me think, 'Why would God choose to be born in a stable, in the stinking hay with urine all over the place?' That's because I really believe he understood what we're really in, what the world is really in, and he hung out with sinners, the crazy people, the sick people... real life, that's where it's at. I've always loved motorcycles, anything with wheels, and so now I've just learned that we can use these bikes to reach the community that I'm in - in Detroit - and I just really want these people to know the Lord. Last night, I was outside a bar sitting on my bike and this woman came up to me and started talking to me. There's no telling how many people drove by and saw me hanging outside a bar talking to a woman. It's all about being approachable, being available for all those people who would never come to a church. And I'm a church guy, so I know what that's about."
Tony Cummings acknowledges use of an interview published in U magazine.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.