It’s often said that true R&B is in peril. Singer-songwriter Gordon Chambers says it is not so. He celebrates 25 years in the music industry this year with his 4th solo album Surrender (available on itunes and amazon). Featuring duets with Grammy nominee Eric Roberson and 5X Grammy winner Lalah Hathaway.
His credits as a songwriter include Anita Baker’s Grammy-winning “I Apologize,” the Grammy-nominated theme song from the film “Set It Off” called “Missing You” (recorded by Brandy, Tamia, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight) and the Grammy-nominated cut “If You Love Me” recorded by Brownstone and sampled last year by rapper Tory Lanez in the #1 Rhythmic Crossover smash “Say It.”
Gordon Chambers’ new album Surrender has strong spiritual overtones. It was made over the course of five years in which he lost 5 family members, the death of mentor Whitney Houston, a near-drowning in the ocean off Florida and a fire at his home on Valentines Day of 2016.
The Bronx-born Brooklyn resident set the pain to timeless soulful melodies and critics are calling it his best. I sat down with him to discuss the album.
AG: Can you explain the meaning of the album title, “Surrender”?
Gordon Chambers: Surrender means you acknowledge to a Higher Being that you are not in control, that you don’t have all the answer … that you “surrender” above for help, prayer, guidance and strength.
Over the last five years since my my third album Sincere, I’ve experienced the death of two uncles, one aunt, one cousin and my industry big sister and mentor Whitney Houston and her daughter Bobbi Kristina. Over these years, I also had major feuds with two of my best friends and I’m not sure if we’ll ever speak again.
Last, and not least, my beloved brownstone in Brooklyn where I’ve lived for 16 years, burned to the ground in an electrical fire on Valentine’s Day 2016.
I’ve experienced and survived tremendous loss and grief, but I got to know that God is real, that prayer works, that my “circle of love” is strong and golden, and that I can “surrender” above to find the strength to soldier on.
I learned that in your darkest hours, you’re never alone. I hope this album encourages people that they can make it from “heartbreak to hope.”
AG: Why did you choose to feature Eric Roberson, Lalah Hathaway, and Carol Riddick on this album?
GC: I’ve always joyfully collaborated with fellow independent soul stars on my solo albums. Introducing featured Carl Thomas, Sara Devine and trumpeter Roy Hargrove; Love Stories featured Ledisi and gospel stylist Melonie Daniels; this album features Eric Roberson (“I Made It”), Lalah Hathaway (“Back To Love”) and Carol Riddick (“Imaginary Lover”) who are all long-standing friends of mine since the 90’s and artists that I’ve toured with.
There is a wonderful sense of support and community among independent soul artists in the US, and really all over the world. When I’ve called to feature them, they humbly have made themselves available for the love of the music, and I am grateful.
Lalah was in the middle of rehearsals for her Grammy-winning Live album, Eric was expecting a baby in two weeks, and Carol was in the middle of a tour with Will Downing. Still, they all stopped, they came to the studio and they sang wonderfully. I am soooo thankful.
I think of 70’s liner notes where you had fabulous duets with Donny Hathway and Roberta Flack, Ashford and Simpson, Billy Preston and Syreeta all the time when I listen to my albums. I hope these duets are in that tradition.
AG: Is “One Voice” is a self-cover of a song which was written for Brandy?
GC: On every album, I self-cover a hit I’ve written for another artist. “I Apologize” was on Introducing, “If You Love Me” was on Love Stories, “Missing You” was on Sincere. Now seemed like the perfect time to cover “One Voice” which I wrote for Brandy with Grammy-nominated pop writer Phil Galdston (who wrote Vanessa Williams’ “Save The Best For Last”).
The spiritual message of “One Voice” fit this album and these scary times. We need music of healing right now. The time seemed right to sing this song of hope.
I’ve always admired pop artists like Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Lionel Richie and the Beatles who were not afraid to mix the secular and the spiritual on their albums. I follow that tradition with “One Voice” on Surrender.
AG: You’ve recorded “My Way” as a tribute to Whitney Houston. Is this is a new song?
GC: “My Way” is an original song written years ago that I never recorded. This is me on the piano on this track. It seemed to fit this album, and the message of resilience, faith and being your authentic self in spite of others’ opinions seemed to mirror my personal memories and the legacy of Whitney Houston.
Every time I was in her presence we had amazing and real conversations. She always held her head up high no matter what she was going through, and she always praised the Lord, privately and publicly.
She and I prayed together once – actually she prayed for me in the studio on a day when my spirit was low when I was producing her. There I was, this younger writer-producer and she prayed for me. I’ll never, ever forget it. She knew and loved God.
The message of the song is in the second verse: “But when life is upside down/And there’s no one else around/You turn to Higher Ground.”
That was the essence of the Whitney that I knew, but that is also the essence of Gordon Chambers that many friends and most fans don’t know as well. I am now revealing more of that side of me with Surrender.
AG: “I Surrender All” is a traditional gospel song. Were you aiming for the Christian audience this time?
GC: I grew up going to an Episcopalian church with my Jamaican parents in Teaneck, New Jersey. But during my teenage years, musician friends from the neighboring town Englewood, New Jersey (home to Regina Belle, Dizzy Gillespie and others) started inviting me to “sit-in” on trumpet at local Baptist churches.
I then also started hearing amazing albums by 80’s contemporary gospel icons Walter and Tramaine Hawkins, Commissioned (featuring Fred Hammond) and The Winans. These messages and melodies moved me.
Whitney Houston’s close friend Cece Winans recorded the gospel standard “I Surrender All” and her rendition has always moved me to tears. I decided to record it and make it the title track as a tribute to the gospel artistry that touched my soul as a teenager.
AG: Are the other songs original?
GC: The rest of the songs are all original songs, either written or co-written by me. Some other songs are written by new songwriter-producers that I mentor like Ken Pen’s “Love” and “Help Somebody” that I just love and wanted to record. It reminds me of “Man In the Mirror” so it’s my tribute to Michael Jackson. It’s a call to action against gun violence and police brutality.
Mentoring and discovering talent is part of the amazing joy of recording my solo albums. I’ll never forget that Anita Baker and the late Phyllis Hyman took a chance on a young unknown songwriter in the 90’s and recorded some of my material. I am honored that I can now do that for other writers as well. I do all that I can to keep R&B alive!