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The Rev. Rance Allen, Toledo pastor and nationally known gospel music singer, is counting his blessings in 2005.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now," the Rev. Allen said in an interview this week.
Yesterday, he received a Trailblazer of Gospel Music Award in Houston, presented by BMI, the music publishing company.
On Feb. 13, the Rev. Allen will be in Los Angeles for the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, in which his Rance Allen Group has been nominated for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album.
It is the third Grammy nomination for the Rev. Allen and his band, in which he is joined by his brothers Thomas and Steve. This year's nomination is for "The Live Experience," an album recorded Jan. 30, 2004, at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.
Among the gospel stars who performed with the Rance Allen Group at that concert were Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and LaShun Pace.
"It was an absolute night of excitement for me and my brothers," the Rev. Allen said. "We had never done a live recording of any kind and I was somewhat apprehensive about doing it."
He said he had been worried that the audience wouldn't be very large and that his group's performance might not be up to par for a live album.
Both of those concerns quickly proved unfounded. More than 3,000 people showed up, some from as far away as California and New York, he said, "and they just came to party."
The Grammy-nominated live disc is the 14th album recorded by the Rance Allen Group, which was formed in 1969 and which was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Detroit in 1998.
In 2003, the Rance Allen Group was featured on a Columbia Records tribute to Bob Dylan's gospel music, titled "Gotta Serve Somebody," which also included performances by Aaron Neville, Billy Preston, Shirley Caesar, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
The BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Award honors the Rev. Allen and his brothers as "the first to incorporate rock, jazz, and soul into their music, topping the gospel and urban Billboard charts throughout the years."
The Rev. Allen, 56, pastor of Toledo's New Bethel Church of God in Christ, said that when he started to add different musical styles to traditional gospel, he was simply trying to make the music as entertaining as possible.
I was raised in the church and I ve got a feeling for God so
deep in my heart there was no way I was going to step outside
of gospel music and do something else, he said.
But I saw gospel music, for me, being so much more interesting
and exciting if I could add other elements from other musical
genres that I heard.
His grandmother banned secular music in the house, he said,
so he used to hide his albums by the Temptations and other
mainstream R&B groups under the sofa pillows.
When she would go out and work, I would play them, he
said. I guess you could say that while listening to it, I still had the
right intentions, because I would take and translate that music
into gospel music. And for me, it was much more interesting and
Living just south of Detroit, the Rev. Allen said he also picked up
mainstream music on the radio. I remember having my transistor
radio in my hands just waiting to hear what new Motown
song was going to come out.
His innovative approach to gospel music was not well-received
at first by members of the local church.
There was quite a bit of resistance, he said. People were traditionally rooted, and because of that, it made it kind of difficult
for us to get our music played, especially in the church community.
So me and my brothers, for the fi rst 10 or 12 years of our career, mainly played in nightclubs and on stages with other R&B acts.
He said the Rance Allen Group sang only gospel music when it
shared the stage with the topechelon soul artists of the era,
including Eddie Kendricks, Barry White, the Staple Singers, the
Delfonics, Teddy Pendergrass, and Johnny Taylor.
I would tell you that we were well received by 99 percent of the
audiences that we played for in these R&B settings, the Rev. Allen
said. And sometimes, I ll step out on a limb and say this, sometimes we were received as well, if not better, than the R&B acts.
The Rev. Allen was ordained an elder in the Church of God
in Christ in 1978 and became pastor of New Bethel COGIC in 1985. He said that as much as he loves singing, if he wins a Grammy Award he will continue to serve as pastor of the 200-member Toledo church.
I would never give that up. Never, he said. That s my calling.
I pray that I never have to make a choice, because I know
what it will be if I do.