Tony Cummings spoke to Roger Thomas of the globe-trotting New Yorkers NATURALLY 7
The vocal group from New York, Naturally 7 have enjoyed international success without the need for a backing band. Their dazzling acappella harmonies have been enjoyed by such diverse audiences as those at the Royal Variety Performance, the Canadian tour of Michael Buble and Quincy Jones's 2009 Bermuda Music Festival. What sets Naturally 7 apart from thousands of other acappella groups is what group leader Roger Thomas calls "vocal play" where the group, with uncanny accuracy, can imitate the sound of numerous instruments purely with their voices. The current lineup of Naturally 7 is Roger Thomas (musical director, first baritone, rapping); his brother Warren Thomas (third tenor, drums, guitar); Rod Eldridge (first tenor, scratching, trumpet); Rickey Cort (fourth tenor, guitar); Dwight Stewart (second baritone, trombone); Garfield Buckley (second tenor, harmonica) and Kelvin "Kelz" Mitchell (bass guitar, trumpet).
Since their formation in New York City in 1999 the group have recorded several albums - 'Non-Fiction' (2000), 'What Is It' (2003), 'Christmas. It's A Love Story' (2004), 'Ready II Fly' (2006), 'Wall Of Sound' (2009), 'Vocal Play' (2010), 'Hidden In Plain Sight' (2015) and recently 'Both Sides Now'. On the latter the group have put their amazing instrument imitations on hold and instead concentrated on what Roger refers to as "our choral side". He explained, "This particular album was the idea of an executive from our record company. We were keen to do it. Had always wanted to do a project which could focus on our voices and the songs themselves. . . starting with one voice then two and eventually all seven."
As with all their projects 'Both Sides Now' features a diverse array of material from the cover of the Joni Mitchell title track, Adele's "Hello" and Paul McCartney's "Pipes Of Peace" as well as an international bunch of guests including German pop singer Helene Fischer and American rapper and beatboxer Kevin Olusola. But possibly the most unexpected track on the album is "Jerusalem" on which Naturally 7 are joined by one of the UK's leading choirs, Chantage, and the London version of the reformed Swingle Singers, Swingles. So how did the group come to choose the venerable British hymn? "Again, that was the executive's idea," Roger chuckled. "Despite three of us having been born in Britain, none of us knew 'Jerusalem'. But when we took it home and listened to it we agreed it was a beautiful song."
All the members of Naturally 7 are Christians and members of the Seventh Day Adventists church. Roger is keen to acknowledge the vital importance the Church was in developing the group's harmony sound. He said, "I doubt whether you could find an Adventist church in the USA or the UK without at least one acappella group. Vocal harmony music has long been part of our tradition. My brother and I grew up surrounded by acappella music. In fact before my family moved from Manchester to the US my dad was in a group called King's Proclaimers. They were popular on the church scene and played shows with the Singing Stewarts and the Golden Chords. In the states we were very influenced by Take 6. As you know, they took acappella music into the heart of showbiz. We followed Take 6 from the early days when they were called Alliance."
So how have Adventist churches reacted to Naturally 7's move into the showbiz world, not only singing covers of McCartney and Sting but also integrating beatbox into their musical vocabulary? Responded Roger, "To be honest, there have been some church members who have told us what we're doing is 'too worldly'. But ever since we won that acappella competition back in 1999 and we started this journey we have been blessed to see the effect that our music can have on people. For instance when we perform the song 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' onstage we take time out to ask people whether there are couples there who have been married 10, 20 maybe even 30 years and we get the audience to applaud them. It has a profound effect on people. Commitment, love and godly marriage are what the Bible teaches. And what we sing about."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.