Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/18/20

Songs from the heartland. In the six-episode Netflix reality series Voices of Fire (shot before COVID restrictions) playing now, singer Pharrell Williams, his uncle Bishop Ezekiel Williams and an A-list team of judges that includes music director Larry George, vocal coach Peggy Britt and choir master Patrick Riddick set out on a mission to build an inspiring gospel choir comprised of talented community members from the Hampton Roads, VA area.

I just had the opportunity to speak with Riddick who, inspired by his Grandmother’s gospel records, at the age four climbed atop a piano bench and began to play by ear. Thus began his lifetime love affair with gospel music. It’s a passion that has consumed and driven him ever since.

JWK: Tell me about your journey and how you came to be part of Voices of Fire.

PATRICK RIDDICK: I was born and raised (in the Hampton Roads area). I actually grew up with Pharrell in the same church…The bishop (Pharrell’s uncle Ezekiel Williams) gave me a call one day and was like “Hey, you know me and Pharrell, we got this idea.  We really want to put together a multicultural choir and record it and just make some music. They’re like family. So – them calling and asking me – I really didn’t have any reservations. I said “Hey, if that’s what y’all want to do, I’m in.” I just didn’t know that it was going to turn out this big.

JWK: What do you hope the show achieves?

PR: I’m hoping that the show really more than anything sends the message that we’re all better together. So much has gone on that is really dividing us and this country. I mean the show is just so authentic when you view the relationships and things are formed during and after (the production). They’re really real. It’s just a great testament to the power of music and the power of the Gospel. So, that’s really what I want people to get more than anything. And then, also, it’s not as easy as we make it look. I want them to know this is hard work.

JWK: You’re a choir master. What does a choir master do?

PR: For nearly thirty years I’ve been doing gospel music. I have my own recording choir as well, D’vyne Worship. I’ve been serving various churches as a minister of music for years and so I travel all over this country. I also work with a couple of gospel artists. I will direct their choirs…So, this is what I’ve been doing for a long time.

JWK: I love that the show is note only ethnically diverse but it also represents a part of the fly-over country that is not often well represented on television. I also like the fact that we don’t have the spectacle of people being voted off each week.

PR: Correct. I think that was one of the main things that was on the bishop’s heart, Pharrell’s heart (and) my heart – and really a lot of the cast. We wanted it to be positive. While we had to build this choir and require excellence, we sought other ways to work with people to get them to remain. If they had to leave, we found ways that were not combative and were not embarrassing or disrespectful which is (the way of) most music production shows. We didn’t want that.

JWK: What makes a great choir sing, so to speak?

PR: A great choir is having a choir full of individuals that can sing. And then, number two, the greatest aspect of it all is that they embrace teamwork. A choir is no different than a champion-winning basketball or football team or any other sports team. The minute that those players understand that together they can win the championship and accomplish more than going off on their own, that’s when they become champions and attain excellence its highest form. And so with a choir you have to have people that can sing and then, two, you have to have people that really embrace teamwork.

JWK: The singers I’ve seen so far on this show all have great voices, as well really inspiring stories. On a show like this, what wins out – the better singer with the less compelling story or the slightly less great singer with a better story?

PR: The voice – because that’s what we heard first and it’s through their voices that we begin to learn their stories.

JWK: If this first series of six episodes is a success, will Voices of Fire become a sort of annual event?

PR: I have my fingers crossed. I’m hoping that we’re going to a second season. We don’t know yet. We’ll get through this one but, if so, I’m really ready for it. The choir is ready for it. The choir has stayed working even in the midst of the pandemic. We’ve created safe ways to keep ourselves sharpened and to remain in fellowship. So, if the door is opened for us to do a second season, we’ll be ready – and, I’m telling you, it’s going to be a fun ride.

JWK: Anything you’d like to add?

PR: I think, more than anything, I hope that the show inspires people to keep going – whatever it is that you’re going (through), whatever it is that you aspire to be or would like to have. You’re looking at a show full of individuals that had two-million reasons that would point toward giving up but they didn’t. They kept going. I hope that message really springs forth to the viewers, as well – to keep going. Every day that you keep going is a day that you’re closer to your destiny.

Postscript: You can read my review of Voice of Fire here.

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BTW: Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas (also from Netflix) dropped today. I haven’t actually checked out the series but the trailer suggests light yuletide fun.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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