Black Music Month: Rev. John P. Kee

Heaven 600 is celebrating Black Music Month! Black Music Month honors the contributions that African-Americans have given to the music industry and we want to celebrate an artist every day for the rest of the month!

Singer John P. Kee has earned accolades as a top-ranked gospel performer and pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Inspired by the work of the Reverend Dr. James Cleveland, Kee overcame a troubled life of drugs and crime, initially emerging in the late '80s as a powerful vocalist and minister. Whether working as a solo artist or with his New Life Community Choir, Kee's albums like 1994's Colorblind, 2011's The Legacy Project, and 2015's Level Next have made him one of the most popular contemporary gospel artists of his generation, regularly peaking near the top of Billboard's gospel chart.

Born in 1962 in Durham, North Carolina, John Prince Kee grew up in a large family, the 15th of 16 children. Displaying musical talent at a very early age, Kee's parents enrolled him at a special school for musically gifted children, the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where he formed his first choir at age 13. Moving to California, he studied music with his older brothers, Al and Wayne, attending the Yuba College Conservatory School of Music in Marysville and becoming involved with the area's top musicians. While in California, he also played briefly with groups like the Blackbyrds and Cameo. However, his talents didn't save him from difficult times. By his late teens he had begun living a hard-edged street life. That lifestyle took him to California and back again. When he returned to his home state, he moved to Charlotte's Double Oaks community and continued to slide down to a life filled with drugs and violence.

Kee began to turn his lifestyle around in his early twenties after seeing a friend murdered in a cocaine deal gone bad. Surrendering to the Lord during a revival meeting at the PTL, he became involved with the New Life Fellowship Church. Devoting himself to gospel music, he began singing and formed the group New Life Community Choir. His first professional break came in 1985 when he became the first artist to be asked to record lead vocals on two tracks for the Gospel Music Workshop of America's annual mass choir recording. In 1987 he released his first album with the New Life Community Choir, Yes Lord, which was recorded during a performance at the Brethren in Unity Youth Convention. In 1989 he released his debut solo album, Wait on Him.

Kee continued to balance solo albums and recordings with the choir. The early '90s brought the beginning of what became a flood of awards, including more than a dozen Stellar Awards, 20 GMWA Excellence Awards, a Soul Train Award, and two Billboard Music Awards. In 1995, Kee and the New Life Community Choir reached their first commercial peak with the gold award-winning album Show Up, which was also nominated for a Grammy, as was his 1999 album Strength. The same decade, Kee added a full-time ministry to his list of accomplishments, balancing work in the New Life Community Church with his music career. In addition to his own recordings, Kee produced albums by the Victory in Praise Mass Choir, Shawn McClemore and New Image, and Drea Randle.

During the 2000s and 2010s, Kee frequently returned to the recording studio with the choir. He consistently produced albums such as Not Guilty...The Experience (2000), Blessed by Association (2002), and Life & Favor (2012), that used passionate praise & worship music mixed with contemporary R&B and hip-hop to deliver the message of redemption through Christ. In 2015, through Motown Gospel, he released the solo recording Level Next, his 25th album overall. It peaked at number four on the Billboard Gospel chart. I Made It Out arrived in 2019 and earned a GMA Dove Award nomination. (Source: Craig Harris / All Music)

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