Thank You, Melvin Crispell

Melvin CrispellThe music community has lost another musical giant in the person of Melvin Crispell, who passed away May 29, 2014. In our music community, we often herald and recognize the genius of those who sing center stage or serve as the leader of their musical aggregation. Certainly Crispell did have his own musical aggregation toward the end of his career, as Melvin Crispell & Testimony made their mark within the last five years. But for those who are unfamiliar with Crispell’s name, you are very familiar with both his pen and his sound.

The pen of Crispell wrote countless hits in the last two decades for choirs such as Hezekiah Walker & LFC and James Hall & Worship and Praise. Hits such as “I’ll Be Satisfied”, “The Storm”, “Caught Up”, “Jesus Is My Help”, “Never Shall Forget”, and countless others became the soundtrack for church youth choirs in the 90’s and 2000’s. His musicianship ushered in a new sound in gospel music filled with unique chord structures that have been described as “gothic” and “cluttered”. Crispell was one of the industry’s most sought after musicians who could make a Hammond B3 do things that only most could dream of. He helped take the Brooklyn choral sound to the world at large, all while remaining humble and beloved.

This loss has hit so many hard for a number of reasons. Perhaps it was Crispell’s incredible gift as a musician to create a sound that was unique, distinct, and fresh all at the same time. Maybe it was his ability to share timeless truths about our God in song in a way that was creative and innovative. Perhaps it was his humility that endeared him to countless thousands around the country.

100_8127For me, it was all of the above. His sound was so recognizable yet unpredictable. He was without question, my favorite organist. His ability to interpret and arrange a song is still mind blowing. One listen to the solo project from Tunesha Crispell (Just As I Am) will give you an idea of his ability to take a familiar hymn and turn it into something special. I had the opportunity to meet him formally in Aug. 2007 at the Stand OUT live recording for Tye Tribbett & G.A.. He was humble, funny, and appreciative of me knowing his catalog and his work. We would stay in touch on occasion from that point and I was honored to be able to air music from his aggregation Melvin Crispell & Testimony.

Crispell inspired me to listen to music differently. His work was the soundtrack to my collegiate days at Virginia Union University and still finds its way into my personal playlist for any road trip to New York. The music was always honest, creative, unpredictable and vertically focused. He talked of holiness and Heaven often in his music.

In a culture where musicians and artists are often consumed by the allure of their gift, Crispell remained humble and allowed his work to speak for him. He taught us that our lives are as important as our gifts. He also taught us the value of creating timeless music, as his songs sound just as fresh today as they did when they were first released.

To the casual gospel listener, please understand the depth of the gift we have lost and that Heaven has gained. His pen was powerful. His arrangements were authentic. His musicianship was mesmerizing. He was God’s gift to us wrapped in a cloak of humility. He took the background, creating the foundation for other artists to shine, while inspiring generations of musicians, singers, and writers. His music became the soundtrack to many lives. He was Melvin Crispell, one of the earth’s greatest musicians. Now, he’s taken his talents to somewhere better than South Beach. I’m sure he’s creating a great groove for the Heavenly choir.

Thank you Professor Crispell for your contribution to our lives. We are better because of you.

Relive Crispell’s work courtesy of our two part tribute to him found on the May 30th edition of The Morning Show and The AfterParty.

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