For nearly three decades, Paul Porter has endeared himself to Gospel music lovers around the world. As a founding member, lead vocalist, and songwriter of the legendary group The Christianaires, he earned numerous nominations and awards—including GRAMMY®, Dove, and Stellar awards—and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
While his musical accomplishments are impressive, his personal testimony of triumph over illness is nothing short of miraculous. “In 1996, I had an aneurysm,” Paul shares. I couldn’t walk or talk, and I lost my memory. I stayed in the bed maybe a year and a half. From 1996-2006 I went through all of the transitions—from the bed to the wheelchair to the walker to the cane. In June 2006, I dropped the cane!”
During his recovery, Paul continued to record and to perform with The Christianaires. In 2006, after twenty-five successful years with the group, he made the difficult decision to leave to pursue his solo career. “It has been a great struggle but it has been so much fun,” he explains. “It has been discovering myself and figuring out what I could do on my own. The musical part was the easy part. The hard part was really discovering myself as a solo artist.”
As he developed his vision and sound, Paul also developed a passion to reach a broader audience. His debut project on Tre’Myles Music/Motown Gospel/ Mars On Sunday is reflective of that passion in every way.
For this project, Paul chose to enhance his undeniable gifts as both songwriter and vocalist with the urban genius of one of today’s most successful production duos, Blac Elvis and Harold Lilly. While the high-profile team have served up hits for artists as diverse as Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Fergie, and Alicia Keys, their roots run deep in Gospel. Lilly penned a recent Gospel radio hit, “It’s All God,” recorded by The Soulseekers featuring Pastor Marvin L. Winans. And Blac Elvis’ connection to Gospel began when he was a teenager playing keyboards for Paul and The Christianaires.
Although Paul lost track of Blac Elvis for more than 15 years, Elvis made good use of the musical training he received from Paul. “One day around 2009 or 2010, I was flipping through the BMI magazine and saw an article with Elvis,” Paul continues. “He talked about going through some rough times and being homeless and then ending up working with big R&B artists like Beyoncé.”
Excited to finally learn what had become of his young protégé, Paul reached out to Elvis: “We connected and he wrote a single for me, and that turned into this whole album. The chemistry of Blac Elvis and Paul Porter is so strong because when he was 17-19 year old I pressed him so hard to be excellent. When we got back together in his 30s and me in my 50s, there was a respect there.”
Their unique chemistry underlies every song in this soulful collection.
The energetic “Time For Your Blessing,” glistens with the sweat of old school soul. “Growing up I listened to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, and everybody on Stax and Motown,” Paul recalls. “I was doing all of this studying, not knowing that God was grooming me for what He wanted me to do.”
According to Paul, the musical feel of the song is not the only personal aspect of the track: “The message of that song comes full circle to bless me. After thirty years with the Christianaires and then dropping down to zero financially and in every way. I was sitting at ground zero in my life. When I heard that song and heard the old school vibe of Otis Redding I thought, ‘This is perfect for the record, but this is really perfect for me.”
The title track and first single, “F.R.E.E.,” brings together two of Gospel’s greatest male voices, Paul Porter and Smokie Norful. Although the two had spent years passing each other in airports around the country, this was their first experience in the studio together.
The vibey and soulful track was not the only result of that recording session. The experience of working with Paul and hearing his new direction impressed Smokie enough that he cut a deal with Paul and Elvis to release the project under TreMyles Music, his joint venture with Motown Gospel.
For the album’s only cover tune, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” Paul shines brightly beside two of the music industry’s most flavorful voices, Ruben Studdard and Le’Andria Johnson. “The excitement of that song is that it has been embedded in me for so many years,” says Paul. “My mentor was Frank Williams [Mississippi Mass Choir, Jackson Southernaires]. He told me, ‘Paul, if you ever do a remake, always pick something that hasn’t been touched in a while, but always do it in a way that brings something extra.’ To have Ruben, Le’Andria, and me come together and do this song…I thought it was just a phenomenal idea.”
The reflective, worshipful hymn “Put Him First” features another unexpected collaboration, this time with Charmaine Swimpson, a featured singer with Kirk Franklin. “I knew this song would be at the forefront of this album because of the message,” says Paul. “I did all of the vocals and didn’t know Charmaine would be on the song. After we came back into the studio and sang together, the chemistry was just awesome.”
Without question, the most personal song on the project is the churchy anthem “You Can’t Give Up.” “When I heard that melody, it was so spiritual that I started hearing a song that would give people encouragement off of what I had been through with my illness,” Paul shares. That’s why I wrote ‘You Can’t Give Up.’ God brought me from subzero to 100 percent.”
With F.R.E.E., Gospel legend Paul Porter takes the next step in his remarkable journey as a songwriter, as a vocalist, and as a man. Paul explains quite simply, “Every song on here is part of my life.”
Impacting Radio Now: Paul Porter Ruben Studdard and LeAndria Johnson was originally published on praiserichmond.com