Expressing faith with music

Gospel: With Christian lyrics and jazz, rap and hip-hop sounds, Truth Thomas of Columbia hopes to reach out to the homeless and hopeless.

May 31, 2002|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Gently rocking at the microphone, Truth Thomas shuts his eyes as the mellow sounds of a lone sax waft through the Pure Sound recording studio in Odenton. Thomas' head is shaved, except for the dreadlock dangling down to his tailbone.

The musical styles drift from gospel to jazz to rap, but his passionate lyrics speak from one voice -- faith. "Ain't no situation Jesus won't see you through," the soft-spoken Thomas sings, his hands clenched as he records his lyrics for the gospel melody "The Name" by Kirk Whalum.

Thomas is a rising gospel singer. But he uses his music to reach out to the homeless and hopeless, to the teen-agers grappling with the temptations of the street. His first single, "If The Spirit Is Willing," was released May 1 on the independent label Prayer Warriorz Records.

"My goal is to lift people up through my music, to minister to people and to be the best Christian I could be, to do what God would have me be," said Thomas, 36, who lives in Columbia with his wife, Marjorie, a grants manager, and their son, Soweto, 8. "And I want to be the best musician I can be, combine styles and get it to a certain level where it's unique."

Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Glen Edward Thomas "grew up" in a Baptist church in Washington. "I've been singing as long as I can remember," he said.

To support his music, Thomas, who attended Howard University as an English major, is a database designer. Eight years ago, he legally added Truth to his name. "I had a dream God wanted me to change my name," he said. The dreadlock symbolizes his commitment to one God.

Thomas experimented with several musical styles -- hip-hop, R&B, jazz -- before focusing on gospel. "I could sing in church, but God is calling me to do something musically on my own," he said. "But I'm not a traditional gospel singer. I approach gospel with the freedom of jazz."

Last year, Thomas joined Higher Cause Productions, an 8-year-old outreach ministry in Alexandria, Va., that provides food, clothing, counseling and gospel concerts to needy communities from New York to Virginia Beach, Va.

"Truth is very popular," said Rossie Bratten, vice president of Higher Cause. "He's a dynamic vocalist and songwriter. He carries the ministry with him in his song. He touches a lot of hearts with the message he brings."

Thomas, who founded Prayer Warriorz Records last year and its Web site (www.prayerwarriorz.com) a month ago, plans to include other gospel artists on the label. He is also producing an album also titled If The Spirit Is Willing for release next year.

Gospel radio stations in Maryland and Washington have played his single since its release. "I think he's going to go a long way; he is very focused," said Camille Butler, who recently interviewed Thomas and played "If The Spirit Is Willing" on her Sunday gospel radio program on WPFW in Washington.

The four-minute composition, which features elements of hip-hop and jazz, addresses violence from the perspective of a conflicted gang member who was ministered to -- and the concept of forgiveness:

There's a mother who'll be crying for a child who won't be home tonight. ... Hear some preachers from the church talking about a truce. But I really don't know. Too much money to be made out on the street. But it got me thinking. We made it through slavery. God brought us through. If you respect me, then I will respect you.

His song, said Thomas, has more relevance since Sept. 11. "The song addresses violence, whether it's gang violence on D.C. streets or violence in the Middle East -- no Jesus, no peace," he said. "But if the spirit is willing, we can stop the killing."

To reach an audience that doesn't generally tune into gospel, Thomas will continue to incorporate rap. "The people who need to hear the word of God don't go to church," he said. "You've got to reach people where they are, communicate in their language. Once you have them, you can open up a dialogue. But you have to understand their culture. You have to go out there to them."

Truth Thomas will perform at 10 a.m. tomorrow at My Brother's Place, 3081 Old Washington Road, Waldorf, and in two free Higher Cause Productions concerts: from noon to 7 p.m. June 22 at Sylvan Theater in Washington, and Sept. 22 at the Lincoln Memorial. Information: 301-503-8088.

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