The Wardlaw Brothers: Georgia's harmonisers going all-out for mission

Wednesday 17th December 2014

Tony Cummings met up with Carl Anthony "Tony", Martin Luther "Lute", "Jamie" Cornelius, Carl III "Carlo" and Rodney Allen "Baby Boy" aka THE WARDLAW BROTHERS

The Wardlaw Brothers
The Wardlaw Brothers

Five male voices in intricate, acappella harmony blend deftly together. The Wardlaw Brothers have travelled from Georgia, USA, to the HQ of Cross Rhythms, Stoke-on-Trent where they are now gathered around a single mic in CR's main studio performing an impromptu jingle for the station. The vocal dexterity of the Wardlaws is nothing short of spectacular with four lead singers underpinned by a dynamic bass man. The eldest brother, Carl Anthony "Tony" (second tenor), introduces his four siblings, Martin Luther "Lute" (first tenor), "Jamie" Cornelius (bass), Carl III "Carlo" (falsetto and second tenor) and Rodney Allen "Baby Boy" (baritone). The group, sometimes referred to as "The Boyz II Men of gospel," are making their first visit to the UK and taking in Cross Rhythms on their whistle-stop tour. Earlier in the afternoon they spoke to me about their 30 plus years in music ministry.

Said Jamie, "We all grew up in a little city called Lyons, Georgia, about two and a half hours south east of Atlanta. Our father, Rev Carl Waldlaw Jr, was a Baptist minister. But he don't sing - he just preaches." Their childhood days were crammed full of church meetings. Remembered Tony, "We had meetings morning, noon and night. There was no option as to whether or not you were attending those meetings, or else you'd have a different kind of meeting. You did not want to have that kind of meeting, because it had something to do with rods."

The Wardlaws' home was a very musical one. Explained Tony, "Our parents believed an old, traditional sound. We have young parents, but they were grounded in the old roots. That's what you hear in our music: they would have us in the back seat of the car listening to the groups like the Swan Silvertones, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Soul Stirrers and all those other quartets. We have that grounded, traditional flavour; but we're contemporary guys."

The brothers were singing from an early age. Explained Martin Luther, "Our mom wouldn't let us stop singing, so we were singing as the Wardlaw Children: we had one sister. We went around the churches all the time. We started out in the state of Washington. Our mother and father were part of a church: it was the pastor, his family and us. We sang in a choir, so we started very early, and we never stopped. That was in 1982. We went back to Georgia '83."

The Wardlaw Brothers:  Georgia's harmonisers going all-out for mission

As the years went on and the performances around Georgia's churches clocked up, the group's sound began to take in other musical influences in addition to the traditional quartet sound. Listening to mainstream R&B the Wardlaws were particularly enamoured by the Motown harmonisers Boys II Men. Said Martin Luther, "I was in eighth grade when they came out with 'It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday'. That was appealing to us: we liked the harmony sound."

Through the '90s the Wardlaws honed their vocal skills with more and more concerts until finally in 2000 they recorded their debut album, 'Putting My Life In Your Hands'. Although it was an independent release which only got radio exposure in Georgia, it contained at least one song, "Saddle Up", which is still part of the group's repertoire today. Reminisced Tony, "I remember the first time we performed it and it went out over the radio: they started playing it three or four times back-to-back-to-back. We were like, 'Oh my goodness!' They called us into a television show; we were trying to do a mini-concert, and they wouldn't let us do any other song: we just had to keeping singing 'Saddle Up' over and over. Maybe there's something to this song! "

After the success of "Saddle Up" the group turned professional and began looking at reaching audiences further afield than Georgia. "We started travelling outside of the Georgia area," said Jamie. More recording followed. Explained Tony, "We dibbled and dabbled. Our first album set us up with other opportunities, so we looked into those - one independent label and one major label. Through that course we put out a six-song album 'Only Believe'; then we did a single with EMI Gospel, 'Somewhere Listening'. It wasn't until 2007 that we really started picking up on our own label TWB Records - because everything else did not make sense. From that we did 'The Forerunner', then we did 'Delivered', and now we're at our current album, 'God's Been There'."

Most of the Wardlaws' most popular songs have been ballads which display their magnificent vocal blend. But they are also able to take in other styles like funk and even rock. Tony pointed out, "On our 'Delivered' album the title track is like that. When I tell you it gave us an opportunity to express ourselves, at the time, the way we were feeling, it took that kind of rock hard expression to get it all out. When you hear that, it just allowed us to say what we wanted to say. I felt like we couldn't say it any other way than the way 'Delivered' came out with the hard rock grind. It's a very powerful song and it's my favourite on that album."

The Wardlaw Brothers:  Georgia's harmonisers going all-out for mission

For all their musical dexterity it is their deep felt desire to minister which keeps them on the exhausting road of touring interspersed with occasional sortes into the studio. Pronounced Rodney, "Our mission is to spread the Gospel throughout the world, at all times, in order that God's will be done. That's pretty much why we're here, so we can continue to spread it; because we've been all over the United States, and now we're trying to go abroad with that message. Back home we have a non-profit organisation. What we do with that is we have a prison ministry where we go into the prisons, minister to them, to the nursing homes, boys and girls clubs; so that's one way we get our ministry outside of the church."

The Brothers have already begun recording songs for a new album. Said Tony, "There's a song which is the title track of a movie, On Angels Wings - a good family movie, a Christian movie starring Reginald Veljohnson (he played in the sitcom Family Matters) and Robin Givens, who was the first wife of Mike Tyson. Right in the middle of the movie, bringing it all together in a good church scene, was none other than us, your boys the Wardlaw Brothers." CR

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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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