Persevering in excellence
2021 proved to be an eventful year for the Twin Cities-based ensemble Sounds of Blackness. Along with a highly acclaimed single, new album, and an appearance on Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ debut, the group also celebrated its 50th year anniversary highlighting a year of accomplishments and recognized milestones.
2022 looks to be just as promising following the group’s recent NAACP Image Award nomination for their 2021 single “Time for Reparations.”
Nominated in the category for the “Most Outstanding Gospel/Christian Song,” the musical collective joins a list of nominees that include Kirk Franklin, CeCe Winans, Tamela Mann, and H.E.R.
This year’s celebration will take place on Saturday, February 26, and will air live on BET. Longtime musical director and original member Gary Hines spoke with the MSR about the recognition and how the group continues to build on its legacy 50 years after its inception.
“This nomination means the world to Sounds of Blackness, especially as we continue to celebrate and commemorate our 50th anniversary,” said Hines.
“For radio, ‘Time for Reparations’ and our previous singles ‘Sick and Tired’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ represent an aberration and departure from our sound. But protest music is in our roots and has been a part of us since we were students at Macalester College 50 years ago singing songs like ‘Young, Gifted, and Black’ and ‘Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’.
“The fact is ‘Time for Reparations’ got very little airplay other than a few Black stations, but the NAACP saw past that and saw the record as an anthem we were trying to make for the movement. People don’t realize that it’s harder to get nominated than it is to win, and that’s why this nomination is extra special.”
Last fall, the group unveiled its latest release“The Justice Project,” which features a compilation of songs that were created in the aftermath of social unrest. Driven by the ever-mounting concerns of social injustice, the collective also looked to history as an added source of inspiration.
“Every phase of our movement for justice and equality has always had an anthem to it,” explained Hines.
“As we go back to the Civil Rights Movement of the late ’50s and ’60s, we had all sorts of songs, but everyone knows that the primary anthem for the movement was ‘We Shall Overcome.’
“Fast forward 10 years later, and we have songs by Aretha Franklin and James Brown, like ‘Young, Gifted, and Black’ and ‘Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,’ so the movement has always had an anthem. We can’t call ourselves Sounds of Blackness and not be in the vanguard of the movement, which is why we started writing and recording anthems and assembled them on ‘The Justice Project.’”
As tensions in the Black community continue to rise following the turbulent events of 2020, 2021, and the early part of 2022, Hines recognizes the importance of music and how it can contribute to healing, as he explained.
“Healing is so needed right now. What happened to Amir Locke, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Daunte Wright were basically lynchings, which has happened to our people in one form or another for the past 400 years.
“Music, in the African tradition, has always been about life and healing. It’s never just been about art just for the sake of art. Music is also very functional.”
He continued, “Before we got to the shores of North America and through the transatlantic slave trade, music was a survival mechanism. It guided us through the Underground Railroad and kept us from losing our minds when our children were sold or when our women were raped and beaten in front of us. Music is in our blood and in our tradition.”
As Sounds of Blackness enters its 5tst year, Hines is appreciative of the love and support the group has received over the years but is most proud of their legacy that continues to evolve since their days at Macalester College.
“The thing that I am most proud of is persevering in the tradition of Black excellence,” said Hines.
“We believe God looks for us to do things in excellence, so we’re always striving for it. The late, great football coach George Allen once said, ‘The ultimate measure of excellence is consistency.’ As the musical director for Sounds of Blackness, I’m blessed to have been surrounded by so many amazingly talented musicians and singers.
“When I look at our current membership, I see many offspring of original Sounds of Blackness members, so it’s kind of like ‘Sounds of Blackness, the second generation.’
“Over the years, we’ve been able to persevere by the grace of God and through the dedication of our musicians and singers. We know that we represent a culture, and that’s what Black excellence is all about.”
The 53rd NAACP Image Awards will take place on Saturday, February 26, and will air live on BET. For more information, visit www.naacpimageawards.net.
“The Justice Project” is available on all streaming platforms. For more information on Sounds of Blackness, visit their official website at www.soundsofblackness.org.
Marquis Taylor is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.