By Bob Marovich
Ed. Note: This is the first of what the Journal of Gospel Music hopes will be a series of conversations with writers of some of today’s most popular gospel songs. It was inspired by articles in the Wall Street Journal about the origins of classic pop and rock recordings.
“Every Praise” by J. David Bratton, on Hezekiah Walker’s Azusa: The Next Generation (RCA Inspiration, 2013)
Minister J. David Bratton as told to JGM’s Bob Marovich
I was born and raised in Vallejo, California. I wrote a couple of songs when I was in high school, but I didn’t get serious about songwriting until 1988, when I came to New York and worked with Elder Timothy Wright. I was his music director for about twenty years. He encouraged me to put more energy into writing my own songs instead of just doing other people’s songs.
The first song I wrote professionally was “Revelations 1,” for a  album by Timothy Wright and the New York Fellowship Mass Choir. The choir included Donnie McClurkin. Maurette Brown Clark sang my song at that recording.
Later, I wrote the verses to Vickie Winans’s “How I Got Over,” and her song, “Alive Alive.” I wrote “Selah” for the GMWA Mass Choir; it was nominated for a Dove Award in 2007. I wrote “Safety in the House of the Lord” in 2003 for Timothy Wright and the New York Fellowship Mass Choir. And I wrote “Psalm 63” for Greater Allen Cathedral.
One Sunday, Pastor Elaine Flake of the Greater Allen Cathedral was preaching a sermon about praising God with everything we have, that everything we do should be to glorify God, that every praise belongs to God, that type of thing. I went home and wrote “Every Praise” that week.
After I wrote “Every Praise,” I thought it was too simple and that nobody would think it was a real song, because it only had a few lines. That’s all there was for three years. Three years later, we added the “God my healer, God my savior, God my deliverer” part.
The first to perform “Every Praise” was the Greater Allen Cathedral Mass Choir of New York. They never recorded the song. It was first recorded by the Edwin Hawkins Music + Arts Seminar in 2009, I believe, but they never released it.
Then, a friend of mine called and said, “Dave, I want to go to a rehearsal of the Azusa Mass Choir, and I know if you go, they’ll let me in!” I went to the rehearsal. My friend never showed, but JJ Hairston put me up to teach [the Azusa Mass Choir] “Every Praise.” Bishop [Hezekiah] Walker was there earlier, but he had left. While I was teaching the song, I saw all these people on their phones, texting Bishop Walker that he had to hear this song. When Bishop Walker came a couple nights later to hear “Every Praise,” some people said it wasn’t the typical feel of a Bishop Walker song, but he said, “This is a song we need to do, and we’re going to do it.”
I taught it to [Bishop Walker’s] choir from start to finish. Bishop Walker said, “Let the ‘God my savior’ part be the intro, and that’s how we came up with the intro.
I went to Allen Cathedral for a rehearsal one night, and Stanley Brown who works for Sony said, “Dave, I’ve got something I want you to hear. This may very well be Bishop Walker’s biggest song ever.” He gave me his headphones and his iPod, and he played the mix of “Every Praise.” I didn’t play a note that night! I must have sat at that rehearsal and listened to “Every Praise” about sixty times!
I started hearing “Every Praise” on the radio like every five minutes, from one station to the next, and then I learned it was in sixty countries and 120 languages, and that the Italy Philharmonic did it for one of their Christmas programs.
I was floored. I was overwhelmed. I’ve been writing songs for years, and many times you never see this kind of visibility or success, but to God be the glory. Ever since then, my life has never been the same. This is the first time I’ve ever written music full time.
“Every Praise” is a very simple song that can be sung by the most talented or the least talented. Just about every musician can play it. I’ve heard it sung with just a guitar and a washboard. I’ve heard it sung with orchestras. It fits Sunday morning worship. I have heard it sung at weddings. I have also heard it sung at services for the different tragedies that have happened. That’s the beautiful blessing about it.
One day I was at the airport, having a problem getting a flight. I went up to the lady at the counter and said, “Do you go to church?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, have you ever heard the song ‘Every Praise?’” She said, “That’s my favorite song!” I said, “I’m the writer of that song!” She said, “Let me get you on this flight right now!”
Here’s the video, shot at Birmingham, Alabama’s famous Five Points: