By Bob Marovich
“I want to give people a sense of empowerment that they can do whatever it is they have in their heart to do,” Henry Hall said about the purpose of his new live recording, Declaration of Dominion.
Hall might well have been talking about himself. His own life is a lesson in striving to be all one can be.
Born across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in Camden, New Jersey, Hall lost his mother when he was just eleven years old. By age twelve, he and the rest of his family started attending church. Their worship home was Second Baptist Church in Burlington, New Jersey.
Second Baptist was where Hall’s music journey started. Although initially uncertain about the scope of his singing proclivity, Hall joined the church’s 125-voice youth choir. The director heard something in the young man and asked him to lead a song. Hall’s success with that song led him to fronting the choir on other occasions. When Pete Holland, whom Hall considers his first mentor, took over the youth choir, Hall also began directing the group.
As an undergraduate at New Jersey’s Rowan University, Hall pursued a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, but he also followed his artistic passion, minoring in music with an emphasis on choral directing. He joined Rowan’s gospel choir, under the direction of Craig Hayes. Performing Hall’s first-ever song composition, “Victory Shall be Mine,” the Rowan Gospel Choir took second place at the National Black Gospel College Choir Workshop in Atlanta.
Hall was writing more and gaining additional experience in gospel music performance, but his Rowan professors had other plans for him. They saw the young man’s university level instruction as leading him to become the area’s first African American junior choir director, steeped in classical repertory. “But I really wanted to do gospel, Christian, sacred music,” Hall said. “And when I told my professor, who had been training me for four years, he was very upset!”
After graduation, Hall scored his first music minister position, at Impacting Your World Christian Center in Philadelphia. He began incorporating more original songs into the church’s worship services. He also organized a small gospel group, Covenant Praise, to appear throughout Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Delaware.
With Covenant Praise, Hall recorded his debut album, a live recording called It’s Harvest Time. To ensure that his music would go beyond the four walls of the church, Hall filled the CD with his original songs. It’s Harvest Time exceeded expectations, rising to Number 7 on Philadelphia’s Gospel Highway 11’s Top 11 Countdown, winning a Newsome Award, and earning Hall a Stellar Award nomination for Best New Artist that year.
Hall is back with another live recording, Declaration of Dominion, which features a new constellation of vocalists, the New Dimension Worshippers. Hall describes the group as a multi-denominational assembly “of committed singers, worship leaders, and musicians from the churches I’ve sang with over the years.”
He added: “Every one of [the New Dimension Worshippers] could rightfully step out and produce their own project. I’m honored and humbled that they would come together and bring their talent to make this project great.”
Declaration of Dominion also benefits from contributions by top-shelf producer the Reverend Franklin “Bubby” Fann (Kurt Carr Singers, Donald Lawrence), who Hall cites as “one of the best producers in the country.” Parris Bowens, who worked with fellow Camden native Tye Tribbett, is another contributor, as is bass guitarist Kevin Stancil. Stancil, whose mother is Lorraine Stancil, alumna of First Baptist Church of Nutley’s famed Angelic Choir, has worked with the likes of Richard Smallwood.
The album’s first single, “You Were There,” available for purchase in January 2017, puts Hall’s church and university training on display, especially in its rich harmonic texture and compelling dynamics. Hall said the single is getting good radio airplay.
“We’re a small ensemble but you definitely hear the choir feel,” Hall explained. “There’s a movement to bring the choir back, but there’s also a movement to bring back the music you grew up on in church. We have a song [on Declaration of Dominion] that is a foot stompin’, hand-clapping song called ‘The Word Works.’ You would think you were in grandma’s church 20 years ago! It’s important that we don’t lose the historic value of gospel music.”
Although Declaration of Dominion will not be available until February or March 2017, Hall is already organizing songs for his next album. “We’ve got some things lined up,” he said. “’God Did It Again,’ ‘The Nations Are Waiting,’ about how all the nations go back to God, ‘He Turned it Around,’—we’ve got some stuff!”
Hall cites Fred Hammond and John P. Kee as his main musical inspirations, and of all the gospel singers with whom he would love to work someday, Yolanda Adams tops his list.
“I’m not a musician by training,” Hall said. “I did it just enough to do what I had to do for my music minor in college. The training I had is in choral directing. My niche is getting people to work together, it’s singing out in front, and it’s writing. From choral directing, I know where all the pieces go. I can hear it. It’s a gift.”