The Oneness Of Take 6 (Interview With Claude McKnight)

“The human voice is still the best and most intricate and most wonderful instrument and no matter how interesting technology gets you still can’t really duplicate the human voice.”

Take 6’s vocal harmonies have circled jazz, R&B and even country before returning back to their home of gospel-rooted messages and melodies. The synergy of their six voices building and re-building gospel standards while traversing Black pop transformed them into world-class vocalists some 25 years ago. The burnish of their collective timbre eclipsed the gospel genre and found them working with Spike Lee, Stevie Wonder, k.d. Lang and Quincy Jones who branded them as the “baddest vocal cats around.” Their longevity places them as the only contemporary vocal-oriented ensemble rooted in spiritual music to have broad audience appeal for over two decades. One is their newly completed orbital trip to the music that started their musical oddyssey when they were students at Huntsville, Alabama’s Oakwood University in the ‘80’s. Claude V. McKnight III spoke with Kickmag about One and the human need to always connect to the voice.

Why did you all decide to make gospel the most dominant sound on this album?

It was a very conscious decision. Each record that we do we try to have a theme for it. And we thought about the fact that we’ve always been a gospel group. And for whatever reason, whether it’s the chords we sing or the fact that some of our songs might be considered more contemporary than others. We decided on this one,‘Let’s go overtly gospel lyrically’ and for the most part from a genre standpoint as far as the melody the old school gospel songs, the songs that we all sang growing up our parents and grandparents sang to add that feel to the record.

Are there any songs on this CD that hold a particular significance for you?

For me personally, probably “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” which is a very old school song. Probably everyone who has ever gone to church has sung, so I love that song. We did an arrangement of “Alleluia” which Mark Kibble again did a pretty good arrangement of it. I really enjoyed those two.

Do people ever say to you ‘I’m not a fan of gospel but I like Take 6?

When we first started out we did get some of that. I think what we came to understand was that this thing of music is a huge pie and you may not like every slice that it comes with. Even gospel or spiritual music or jazz, rock or whatever all come with different flavors. And I think the flavor or what it is that we do may be appealing to some who may not listen to traditional gospel music or R&B gospel music or other genres. We understand it and we appreciate people who gravitate towards what it is we like to do. I think this album is a natural progression for us from even the very first CD because there were more spirituals and songs of that nature on the very first CD. We wanted to come back to that and even do more of that kind of thing it’s been received very very well. Like I said we’ve always been a gospel group but for whatever reason people outside of the gospel realm thought we were a straight ahead jazz group. And secular people thought we were a gospel group so we’ve all been somewhere in between.

I really like your version of “Noah” was that a Jubalaires song?

Yes. I think it was it goes back quite a few years but Mark really did an incredible arrangement on that.

Why do you think so many vocal-oriented shows like The Sing Off are so popular right now?

I’d to think it’s because the human voice is still the best and most intricate and most wonderful instrument and no matter how interesting technology gets you still can’t really duplicate the human voice. So to be able to hear what it can do in a solo show, a group show or a harmony show it’s still a wonderful thing and it gives you goosebumps. That could be part of the reaon why there are so many vocal shows out there now.

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You all sound very good much like you did in the beginning with “Spread Love” how do you maintain your voices?

That first album literally came out 25 years ago and we were kids. I think one of the things we realized is that because the voice is basically our instrument we have to take care of our bodies in general. And you take care of your body you’re your voice and your instrument will follow. I think we’ve done well with that. Our voices have changed some as you get older your voices gets lower as a man. So some of those early arrangements because I sing on top I can definitely tell you some of those notes are a bit of a stretch to get but on a good day I can still get up there.

I see you’re considering an orchestral sound for the next album?

We’ve talked about it internally. We’re not exactly sure what the next project is going to be but we’ve toyed with the idea because we do orchestral shows. We’ve been doing it for years. Some of our standard acapella songs, we actually have orchestral arrangements but what we may end up doing is some of those and doing new orchestral arrangements of newer songs or songs that might even be ours.

What’s the meaning behind One? Is it oneness with god or unity in the group?

Yes, it’s all those things you absolutely hit it on the head. We believe that there’s one Jesus. There’s one thing that we know we believe in that takes us to the father and that is one. As a group we are one we’ve been doing this for a long time and the only way we can continue to doing it is to think and feel and be and respect each other as one.