On most Saturday nights, Ignatius Perry Jr. and his band mate, Reginald Payne, are partying at clubs in the Baltimore/Washington area and on most Sunday mornings, they are in church.
In both situations, they’re gigging.
For years, Perry, 22, and Payne, 23, the keyboardist and bassist, respectively, for the Baltimore-based modern jazz fusion band Tribe Inc., have pursued music careers in the secular world at the same time spending most Sundays making a joyful noise unto the Lord in church bands.
Perry has played piano and organ at the Edgewood Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., for about three years, although his home church is actually New Community Church of God and Christ in Waldorf, Md. Payne, despite the fact that his first instrument is the bass, plays keyboards as the music director at his church.
For many up-and-coming artists, and even many who are established, church offers an additional outlet for their artistic expression. It can also provide a boost to their wallets as many churches offer a stipend to their musicians, sometimes equal to what they earn performing secular music at local clubs and other venues.
The Black church has traditionally been a training ground for young performers.
Whitney Houston first stood before a microphone at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. Usher started singing at age 9 in the choir at St. Elmo Missionary Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. Bass player and keyboardist Adam Blackstone, music director for Janet Jackson and other artists, first played in front of an audience in church. Eric Moore, the Black drummer for the metal band Suicidal Tendencies, said on Facebook that he “grew up in the church playing drums and loving music.”
“About eighty percent of all artists started in churches,” said Bo Sampson, 49, an entertainment consultant and booking agent from Northwest Washington who represents hundreds of musicians who play in genres ranging from jazz to hip hop to R&B to rock. “About half the artists I represent still play in their churches, as well.”
Greg “Googie” Burton, 50, of Northwest Washington, has been the sound engineer at Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills for seven years.
Outside of church, he plays bass for the band Soul’A Movement, which performs what he calls a blend of “funk, R&B and old school.”
Burton played in a gospel band in the 90s, but left to broaden his horizons and learn the sound engineering trade.
“I was playing gospel in a church group in the 90s,” Burton recalled. “We weren’t getting many gigs, so the band stopped playing and I really stopped playing the bass for a while after that, too.”
Entertaining in venues considered to be havens of sin can sometimes raise the eyebrows of pastors who urge their members to avoid such places. At First Baptist Church of Glenarden, for example, the Rev. John K. Jenkins Sr. often jokes that the members who attend the noon service on Sundays are “the partying crowd,” while those who attend two earlier services are more pious.
Musicians said they can maintain their walk with Christ even as they perform in clubs and other secular venues.
“The church secretary doesn’t need the pastor’s permission to go work for Sprint, outside of the job that she has at the church, so why should the church musician have to ask for permission to go play—wherever—to make a living for themselves?” said Perry. “You use your skills in any way you can, and that’s how we make a living out here.”
Drummer Samuel Glover, 20, of Upper Marlboro, agreed.
“I think the downside to being a young church musician is that some people won't take you seriously,” he said. “A lot of people assume that [we] musicians do what we do because it’s a hobby, instead of our jobs or our career paths. It becomes very difficult, sometimes, to sustain a steady and consistent income.”
Glover attends and plays for Heart for God Community Church in Clinton, and also plays for Ecclesia Fellowship Church in Greenbelt. He also plays in a gospel band called Walk By Faith and plays many freelance gigs with groups of different genres, including jazz and funk. He currently studies music at Prince George’s Community College and hopes to later transfer to the Berklee College of Music in Boston to get his music degree.
But at the same time pastors may urge their members to refrain from patronizing clubs and even ask them to limit their exposure to secular music, church officials admit that with today’s more demanding members, who have many churches from which to choose, having a top-quality band can put people in pews on Sundays.
Perry and Payne, who are roommates, as well as band mates, are celebrating the release of Tribe Inc.’s debut album, “Road to Destiny,” which can be preordered at www.gofundme.com/tribeincrtd . The band’s Facebook page shows that they recently performed at venues as varied as Eden’s Lounge in Baltimore and the Den in Fort Washington in Prince George’s County.
Payne said despite the fact that many musicians enjoy playing in and out of church, if churches paid better, musicians whose first obligation is to the church wouldn’t have to double up with outside gigs.
“People just need to understand that we need to make a living, too,” Payne said. “I was raised in the church, and if they paid us more, we would never have to work at a club.”