By Bob Marovich
A lot can happen in two years. Just ask Christon Gray.
In 2014, the Christian artist released his solo debut album, School of Roses. It caught the attention of Kirk Franklin, who signed Gray to his Fo Yo Soul Recordings/RCA label. On Friday, March 11, 2016, The Glory Album, Christon’s second solo album and first for his new label, hit the streets.
“The album is doing well,” Gray told the Journal of Gospel Music. “Kirk Franklin told me to be myself, to have the freedom to do what I want to do. His validation was very encouraging. He didn’t have much feedback other than he loved the record—that’s a great sign, right!?”
Gray is no stranger to music. He described his childhood household as a place “where if you sang flat in the shower, you would hear about it from the kitchen!”
His father, a classically trained pianist, was choir director at a prominent African American church in Columbus, Ohio, for 24 years. His mother, soprano Leigh Ann Gray, toured Europe with the Golden Gospel Singers. She was also part of the T. D. Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed recording. “She can hit the Mariah Carey opera notes that break the glass!” Gray said. His grandmother was also classically trained and his brother is a writer.
Growing up in church, Gray was exposed to gospel artists such as Kirk Franklin, Richard Smallwood, Rev. Milton Brunson, the Winans, and Thomas Whitfield. “I was very attracted to the classical element that was added to gospel,” Gray explained, “but I was also a huge Stevie Wonder fan. Hall and Oates, Steely Dan, Elton John, Michael McDonald, Anita Baker. A lot of rich, soulful music. Then as I got into my early teenage years, I was introduced to hip hop.”
About his debut album, School of Roses, Gray said: “[Collision Records] was putting out albums like hotcakes. It was my turn on the label and I wanted to pull from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. I started writing that album right after my wife had our daughter.”
School of Roses reflects both his diverse musical palette and immersion in spirituality. “It was my way of trying to express how to love God through relationships,” he explained, “and how to love people by loving God more. The ‘School’ was the learning and the love was represented by the ‘Roses.’”
Upon its release, School of Roses received some criticism because it was musically and lyrically different. “I appreciate other opinions,” Gray said. “My job with that album was to remind Christians that we are human, and I knew that would cause a little bit of conflict. It’s an invitation to non-believers to see a very realistic, honest view of humanity and the need for a Savior, as opposed to a church that looks like it has it all together, which has probably set us back in history.”
He added: “Someone also told me I didn’t say Jesus on [School of Roses], and I didn’t even realize it. But the album was very Biblically-based, very Christian-based. Every song, every lyric was based on the Bible.”
Notwithstanding the critique, School of Roses debuted at #5 on Billboard’s R&B chart, and garnered attention from Kirk Franklin, who signed Gray to his FoYoSoul Entertainment/RCA label in June 2015. The first product of this collaboration is The Glory Album.
“School of Roses ended unanswered,” Gray said, “so The Glory Album is Chris is trying to pursue a higher level in relationship with God.”
Two songs on the new album sure to pique curiosity are “Blackmail (Black Male)” and “My Love Is Real.”
About “Blackmail (Black Male),” Gray explained: “The church is still one of the most segregated establishments on a Sunday, even throughout the week. We are supposed to be the leading answer to this racial injustice, so I wanted to bring this up by talking about an interracial couple who’s trying to learn how to love each other through this process and consider the generations ahead of us.”
“My Love is Real,” is an unapologetic love song to his wife. “I understand the danger that can come with glorifying the creation as opposed to the Creator,” Gray said. “But dive into books like Song of Solomon, and you will see how important the institution of marriage is in the body of Christ. Just listen to this record with your spouse and be glad that it is coming from a Christ perspective.”
Referencing his enthusiasm for Stevie Wonder, Gray said: “I’m hoping The Glory Album will be remembered as somewhat as a Songs in the Key of Life, or maybe [School of Roses and The Glory Album] together, since that was a double album!”
Christon Gray has already written eight songs for his third album and even has a title in mind.
He laughed. “I work pretty fast. It seems like a blessing and a curse sometimes, but I’ve got a lot to say, and I don’t know how much time I will have to say it.”
For more information, visit: www.christongray.com