|Back to Article|
Clarence Powell is more than just a great singer. He’s also a dreamer, and a man with the patience, faith and love of his Lord and his work to make those dreams come true. The title of his Axiom Records debut, Made It After All, could not be better chosen or say more with fewer words about a boy who early in life sensed God’s calling on him, and held fast to that vision, continually honing and perfecting his talents until it came his time to step out of the wings and into the spotlight.
Made It After All was recorded live in April, 2004, in Boston at New Covenant Christian Center, one of the city’s largest churches. Produced by Mar Copeland and Freda Battle, president of Axiom Records, as well as New Covenant’s Minister of Music and a longtime luminary of Gospel music in the Boston area, the album’s ten songs are moving, impactful and exciting expressions of praise and worship to the Lord, as well as perfect vehicles for the stunning vocal prowess of Clarence Powell.
Backed by a tight five-piece band led by composer/pianist Mark Copeland, and a 11-voice choir conducted by Battle, who also wrote most of the album’s songs, along with Parkes Stewart, Jason Clayborn and Michael Manigualt. Clarence is given the chance to truly soar, and soar he does.
“Greater Works” is smooth, steady and soulful Gospel/R&B. “This is really my testimony song,” says Clarence. “There’ve been so many great gospel artists I’ve watched and been inspired by over the years, and I’ve always harbored the hope of one day getting the chance to have that same chance to go where they’ve gone and even further. I don’t want to just sing and have people say I sound good. I want them to hear and be affected by God’s word. It’s my goal to do even greater things because of the dedication and risk-taking of all who’ve gone before and made a path for artists like myself to follow in.”
Clarence pours both his heart and formidable vocal chops into “I Worship You,” a powerful ballad of love and devotion to the Lord, while “Without Faith” floats atop a jazzy groove punctuated by a hot horn section. “With All My Heart” has a lilting pop feel, with Clarence and the choir in perfect call and response with each other, and the smoking “Thank You Jesus” is classic hand-clapping, foot-stomping Gospel, that defies anyone to sit still.
“That’s one of my serious church songs,” Clarence says with a chuckle. “I can sing that anywhere and everywhere, and without fail it will bring to the people to their feet with their hands raised to the Lord. It’s exciting musically, and it’s also a straightforward message that everyone can relate to. No matter what you’ve been through, are going through, or will go through, you can always find something to say `Thank You, Jesus’ for.”
Clarence was born and raised in Boston, where he still resides today with his wife of five years, Patti Powell. A naturally gifted musician, his immense talents began to shine while he was still a toddler, when he sang his first solo in church at four years old, and had taught himself to play the drums by the time he was seven. He was brought up in a strong Christian family, actively involved in Boston’s Highway Church of Christ, of which his pastor-grandfather was the founder, and where he estimates he spent what seemed a good 50% of the waking hours of his life. When he reached 16, Clarence was named director of the church’s choir, a position he held for 15 years until stepping down only recently.
His father was a salesman while his mother stayed home to care for her husband, and Clarence and his five brothers and sisters. She was a devout Christian woman, always on guard against the wiles of the world and it’s often un-Christian ways and culture, including most of its music. Clarence laughs heartily at the thought of his mother ever allowing even the first note or word of non-Gospel music to be played, sung or listened to in her house.
“In my mama’s house, and my grand-mama’s house you did not even think about listening to anything but Gospel music,” he said. “They were strict Apostolics, and they weren’t having any of that stuff! I didn’t even sing in the choir or any musical programs at school. It was all in the church.”
So while Clarence’s formative musical years were spent with the glorious sounds of Gospel greats the likes of James Cleveland, Andrae Crouch, Shirley Caesar, and James Moore soaring throughout the house, he and his siblings had to “slip away” somewhere—or wait for a moment when “Mama” was not at home—to listen to the great secular artists of the day, including Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five. And while Clarence admits he found pop and R&B music an enjoyable diversion, and even cites R&B legend Vandross as an influence on his own vocal style, his heart and his gifts were always firmly rooted in Gospel.
Upon graduation from high school Clarence studied business management at Newberry College in Boston, before leaving for a steady paycheck in the workaday world, even though a career in Gospel music was his lifelong dream and ambition. Today, however, he is once again in school, soon to obtain his bachelor’s degree and begin studies for a Master of Divinity degree, both at Boston’s renowned seminary, Gordon Conwell University. And his dreams of a life centered on both music and ministry become an ever-greater reality with each new day.
Regardless of either the vocational or educational demands of his life, Clarence always remained active in music and a cornerstone of his church, in addition to being a well-known musical figure throughout the Boston church community. Clarence’s path toward his own dreams of being a gospel recording artist began in the early ‘90s when he met Freda Battle, who as a gifted singer, songwriter, worship leader, gospel radio announcer, and worship leader was, and remains to this day, almost a one-woman institution of Gospel music in Boston.
Freda, who assumed the presidency of Axiom when it was founded by New Covenant in 2002, often crossed paths with Clarence in Boston Gospel music circles and immediately recognized his talent. He wrote for and sang on several projects that Battle released on her own label throughout the ‘90s, and sang in a choir she led which was part of the renowned Thomas Dorsey Workshop, called Bay State Chorale Chapter. By the year 2000, when she was at work on a new project and the seeds of Axiom were just being planted, she told Clarence that she wanted to sign and record him once the new label was up and running.
Clarence continued to sing whenever he could, work his day job, and wait for all the pieces of the perfect plan that bore his name to come into place. Made It After All is more than ample proof that Clarence’s patience and dedication to his dream have indeed only just begun to yield many years of good and godly fruit. But even as he steps up to the national platform he’s waited and worked so hard for, his goals are very focused on fostering one-on-one relationships with Christ, rather than attaining any personal glory.
“If this album reaches 20 million people, that would be awesome,” Clarence concludes. “And if only brings one single soul to Christ that otherwise would have been lost, I still will have done my job. Either way, and anything in between, I can hold my head up and know I succeeded at what God put me here to do.”