Debra Henderson
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Debra Henderson

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Since the late James Cleveland traveled to the West Coast to pursue greater ambitions in his recording career up to his passing, the talent that emerged from the Pacific remained vigorously strong and became one of the most popular regions for artistic exposure within the music industry. Valuable vehicles such as Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar and the mega-chapters of the Northern and Southern California GMWA remained driving forces in the elevation of rising talent new to the scene. Ever committed to Cleveland’s vision was Northern California’s chapter; led by Dr. Helen Stephens. And at the turn of the 21st century, Northern California continued to show forth the talent resting in their cabinet and proved that with the big public revealing of newcomer songwriter Patrick Bradley and his highly-favored composition “Standing In The Need Of A Blessing.” The song was chosen and selected as the album title cut for their 2000 convention album release and featured lead vocalist Debra Henderson. The song became a radio favorite and established fertile ground for Henderson to step into a promising career as a solo artist. Now she is finally walking in her season on the independent album release of Higher Ground; a studio project filled with traditional-baked gospel and mesmeric worship numbers complimentary to her gritty soulful voice.

Produced by Melvin Seals, Higher Ground is perked up by a supporting local musical staff - virtually unknown to outsiders but capable in their performance. Seals may be remembered for the development of the 1980s small music label, Secret Records, which recorded albums for Wanda Nero Butler, Chicago Mass Choir, Gene Viale, Arvis Strickland-Jones and Rev. James Moore.

From the very start, the album captures its listeners with Patrick Bradley’s “We’ve Come To Bow Down And Worship”; a gospel-spiced worship number primely fueled by light string synths and a commanding vamp featuring a full voiced set of background singers. Bradley also contributes the fiery, traditional soul number, “It’s A Blessing.” The vamp goes to higher heights and showcases Henderson’s strength on such big gospel numbers. A song like this, in the eyes of tough critics, may have been suited for strong, dynamic personalities like Beverly Crawford or Angela Spivey, but Henderson using her thin, but fearless vocals owns the song and instantly marks the song as one of the album’s standout triumphs. Renowned GMWA composer Steven Roberts (“He’ll Never Let You Down”, “Nobody But Jesus”) pens a familiar chorus around the slow burner “Psalm 51.” It has some of the same likeable features of the previously-mentioned “It’s A Blessing”, even with the same transition towards the vamp. But even though there’s a lot of repetitive composition traits circulating from one track to the next, Henderson has a way of decorating the same old traditions with fresh, convincing ad-libs. She even works her way into a R&B charmer, “Just Right For God.” With its Isley Brothers-esque synths and midnight soul effects, the song glows with effectual purpose while the encouraging lyrics aims to lift the downtrodden from their despair. Proof of that abides in the verse’s closing lyric: “When it’s too big for man and you’ve done all you can, it’s just right for God.”

Towards the middle of the album, Henderson pays homage to classic hymns such as “Higher Ground”, “I Need Thee Every Hour” and the congregational call-and-response classic “I Love The Lord, He Heard My Cry” - using little or no musical instrumentation. There’s even a revisit to the country gospel hymn “Put Your Hand In The Hand”; a song that was successfully recorded by black artists like Shirley Caesar and Donny Hathaway in the seventies. The song losses some of its jumpy bounce and is slowed down with a slight bluesy-like tempo adjustment.

The biggest point of criticism that may surface is the lack of contemporary uptempo tracks. Much of the album runs on slow ballads and soulful warm-uppers - probably where Henderson is most comfortable musically. While the album is consistent to her style, it’s not consistent for today’s album standards. And while songs like “Stand Up” and the funky Dottie Peoples-styled “God’s Still Got The Power” boosts the album’s pace some, the fiber of the instrumentation isn’t as updated and thick to match the song’s possible achievements. With a little more funk and a better polished sound, there would have been enough conviction to believe Henderson could handle ‘70s-meets-‘90s contemporary gospel. From a few careful listens, it’s best to state that she is definitely on the right street when recording gutsy, churchy numbers.

For an independent release, Higher Ground is an ear teaser. In certain places, the raw takes of the background singers are not as cleanly recorded as they should be; harming the album’s integrity and replay value. But through and through, the project is a good start for Henderson and places her gift in the right direction. - M. Cobb


TBGB Reviews....Debra Henderson

Higher Ground
Debra Henderson
Alpha 7 Ministries 2007
http://www.alpha7ministries.com/

I must admit I’m not a big fan of the Praise & Worship style of sacred music, so when I heard “We’ve Come to Bow Down and Worship,” the first track on Elder Debra Henderson’s CD Higher Ground, with its overly-dramatic synth intro and lovely but understated vocals, I was a bit anxious.

But make no mistake: though Higher Ground is bookended with P&W tracks, the rich, delicious inside is straight-up gospel music in all its bluesy, uptempo glory.

The Hammond organ appears like a familiar friend in the second track, “It’s a Blessing,” on which Elder Henderson renders a low-down gospel blues vocal. “Stand Up” and “Saved” are uptempo charmers, though the title track is the real church wrecker: accompanied once again by Hammond organ, Henderson takes “Higher Ground” slow, wringing every ounce of emotion out of the lyric until there’s not a drop left.


The most pleasant surprise on Higher Ground is the inclusion of a lining hymn, “I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry.” It’s delivered with the haunting a cappella unison singing of an old-time church congregation. If I were to pick a favorite track, it would be this one.

Elder Debra Henderson’s sophomore outing Higher Ground, produced by Melvin Seals, demonstrates that the Bay Area artist is not one-dimensional but capable of delivering gospel music in a variety of shades.

Three of Four Stars



- Bob Marovich


Discography

1995 "Just Right For God"

1999 "Standing In the Need of a Blessing" (GMWA)

2007 "Higher Ground"

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Bio



Debra Q. Henderson

In every generation, the Lord raises up women of God to speak to this particular time with a word that is both relevant and heart changing. Elder Debra Henderson is just such a woman. Anointed to preach the gospel, she speaks to the hearts of women, men and youth compelling them with the love of Jesus Christ and encouraging them to reach new heights in their Christian walk.

Elder Henderson was licensed to ministry in July 1999 and ordained as an Elder in June 2005. She is a sought after speaker for women retreats and fellowships all over the greater bay area. She is a member of several community organizations such as Bay Area Clergy Against Family Violence, the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment, and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

She is also an accomplished psalmist and is well known as the featured soloist on the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) recording "Standing In The Need of a Blessing".

Debra has traveled extensively spreading the gospel through song. She has shared her gift of singing and ministering across the country and internationally. She completed her first European tour in 1996, promoting her first solo CD “Just Right For God”.

She has been awarded the title Best Female Vocalist Of The Year 5 times by the San Francisco Bay Area Gospel Academy Awards. She was also the director of The Voices of Joy, the first place winner in the Quaker Oats Young Voices of Tomorrow Competition. In March 2007, Debra was nominated by Black Music Association of America for
Best Gospel Performance Female and Best Recorded Gospel Performance.

Debra continues to sing about the Lord’s blessings on her new solo recording “Higher Ground”. Traditional Gospel at its finest, this CD shows Debra’s diversity and passion for the Church, as she ministers in song to the entire body of Christ. With songs penned by well known gospel writers Patrick Bradley & Steven Roberts, it includes songs that many church choirs will be singing on Sunday morning as well as original Praise & Worship songs. Debra also remembers her roots and those saints who still appreciate some of the old time devotion songs. “Higher Ground” is currently in national rotation on radio stations throughout the country, including the Sheridan Gospel Network. It’s been added to the play list of the Bobby Jones Gospel Radio program and recently charted on Radio and Records.

Debra has a heart for developing the body of Christ, specifically women and youth, to reach their goals and become the women and youth that are armed and dangerous for the Lord!