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It took some time and imagination…fervent prayers from church mothers, collaboration between management teams, a window of opportunity in everyone's crazy schedule and the cooperative spirit shared among some anointed and talented titans in gospel music.
But after the prolonged wait was done and the strategic plan was finally put into motion, saints were finally able to exhale, as the original cast of Commissioned - Fred, Keith, Mitchell, Michael and Karl - joined forces with Marvin, Marcus and the rest of the Commissioned family to rock and holy roll an appreciative crowd of Commissioned groupies, in the "live" recording and concert, at the city's popular Straight Gate Church.
Yep, this was the series of events that culminated with the concert recording, just a few weeks ago. The event marks as one of the most anticipated "live" recordings in gospel music's short history.
Now, it's not uncharacteristic to see a collection of talented men bellowing notes from their diaphragm. But Commissioned was (and remains) undeniably special. The collection of voices and spirits among the fraternity of singers set a whole new standard of excellence, twenty years ago, that few to this day have been able to match.
One of the visible personalities and audible voices quickly connected with the original cast is the reinvented praise & worship leader, Keith Staten. Keith's lead vocals painted Commissioned with a distinctly colorful style still identifiable ten years after his departure.
As a popular psalmist in the Detroit area with groups like Blessed & The Sounds Of Joy, Keith had developed a name for himself in a city known for soloists. Staten would eventually join with Fred Hammond and Michael Brooks to launch one of gospel music's greatest contemporary groups of all time.
Nine years and six albums later, Keith Staten would eventually leave his musical family in Detroit and spearhead his own music ministry in the safe confines of Orlando, Florida, releasing a series of solo projects (From The Heart, No Greater Love, Worship In The House & Glory In The House) that would earn him Stellar and Dove nominations.
But, it is his association with Commissioned that has won him fame and adoration, wherever he serenades hearts. Gospelcity.com spoke with Evangelist Staten about his evolving ministry, his special relationship with Fred Hammond and his memories with the group hardcore gospel fans can't seem to let go. Keith showered us with insights to make this up-close-and-personal a real delight. Let us know if you feel the same way.
Christopher Heron: Let's begin with the reunion concert and recording in Detroit a few weeks ago, with Commissioned. How sentimental and spiritually rekindling was it to see and sing with the guys again?
Keith Staten: I think it was an awesome experience. Just being with the guys, I think that's the first thing for me coming into the city and getting together. We rehearsed like five weeks for the recording, so that gave us a lot of time to catch up, go out to lunch and that sort of thing.
I think that was an awesome experience for me being with them and having fellowship. I could remember being in rehearsals the whole time with us fellowshipping together but when we got together for the event I could remember that it didn't really hit me the magnitude of what God was doing and the whole flashback feeling hit me the night before the actual recording we were doing some pre-production stuff and actually trying to lay some things down before the audience would get there and there was an awesome feeling that hit me that I'm on the stage again after about twelve years or so, that I am back on stage with the guys that I enjoyed for so long doing ministry with.
On the actual night, the people being there and experiencing the testimonies, the different interviews that we had a chance to talk and hear people talk - the people who were interviewing us were really testifying to us how awesome Commissioned has been to them through the years, and what it has meant, and how we have helped them through college.
I guess that whole month was a reminder of something that ministry and a part of my life that was from twelve years ago it just brought all it back and be reminded of some of the things, I don't think I will never know just like you, myself or anybody who is in ministry touching lives we will never know the impact of how we touched people until the end where we are all being judged for our deeds and getting our rewards.
I think we did get a glimpse of seeing the impact of people coming from all over the country and coming together. People didn't even want to leave the building, they just wanted to stand around and talk about how Commissioned has affected them. So it was definitely an awakening for me, it just seems that things gotta start and anything that God starts he's going to complete it.
CH: When I think back to my introduction to gospel music, in the early 80's, like so many others, it started with The Winans, the Hawkins Family, James Cleveland, and of course, Commissioned thrown in there in the middle.
The first live concert I saw was Commissioned and words cannot express how moved I was by that experience. When you returned back to Detroit for the Commissioned recording and concert, how surprised were you by the overwhelming emotions that thousands of people like me still have for that group?
KS: I think that was pretty much my feelings…I was surprised. Granted now even in my travels when I've gone around the country and out the country doing praise and worship and doing my projects - interviews or people just come up to me from since 90's till this day.
They talk about what we've done and the impact that we've had. I hear so many times "You are the guys that helped me through the rough times in my life", and that's a consistent testimony from people. But I think this event, after being away from it for about twelve years I think it was a real big impact and I think for people to see the original guys and the guys that are involved now, just seeing that at one time and people have been desiring this for so long,
I think people were just free to let their feelings and emotions and all of the memories just come out in those few days and that time I'm telling you it was a big impact and it was really a reminder. You kind of forget the things we could do in our lives, and you forget the impact and what it was, and how God used it.
That was a time of reminding this is definitely something that God was doing, is doing and it hasn't been forgotten. People are still being blessed by it and I have to say that it was a shock that we had the kind of reaction and response from it. I knew it would be good but I didn't expect it would be that kind of reaction.
CH: So with this overwhelming love for the days of old and for the current group, will it take another 10-12 years to bring the entire cast of Commissioned together again to tour and record?
KS: I really don't think so, I really feel like what God did in this project that it brought us all into an awareness that we really need to look at this thing and see the power of what God is doing and what God did and really pay more attention to that. Before the whole reunion thing happened which that was a miracle thing, how fast it happened, people been talking for years what if Commissioned should come back together to do a reunion.
A woman had talked and prophesized to me that it's a great thing that Fred Hammond, Keith Staten, Marvin, Mitch, Carl, you guys are doing different things that are impacting the world but God hasn't forgotten this unit that he has put together.
And although you guys may be doing different things all over the world, God is still saying "you guys will have a part in each others life in ministry forever." When she told me that I kind of said that's cool, that's good to hear, and sure enough a few months after the whole Commissioned thing hit.
I think the camaraderie and the time we had together it was long awaited, I think the timing is right and this is perfect timing but I think we all realized it was a blessing, a good thing to do to come together as a family and watch what God is doing. But I think now we pretty much have it and understand we're Commissioned brothers and we need to continue to do special things more often. If it's going to bless people like we've seen God is showing us then we need to do it.
CH: Many people don't know that over those 10-12 years you and Fred have always maintained ties. He has helped you on your recordings, featured you as well on his most recent compilation album (In Cased You Missed, Verity); people aren't aware that you are also in-laws. Talk about that ongoing relationship that you and Fred Hammond still share.
KS: I think God has blessed even through the years even after I was gone from Commissioned, Fred was gone from Commissioned to really work together. As you mentioned Fred produced my last two projects and I've been involved in things he would do, like you said the "In Case You Missed It" project.
But then there's another part of it musically you know God just blessed us to keep that relationship, but even above that we are brother-in-laws, that's what a lot of people don't really know. I Think some people realize that there is some relations in there that we're relatives, but Fred is married to my sister Kim and we were married in the same year. I was married to my wife Marketa back in 1986 and, Fred and Kim were married in 1986.
I'm really glad that just the success and what God has been doing in Fred's life that somehow I could be still a part of that and I'm always excited to see all the different things that God is allowing Fred to achieve and do. At times I feel like a fan, one hand this is a guy that I've worked with for years, he's my brother-in-law and at times I just see him as somebody whom I could admire and love his music.
CH: During your absence from Commissioned, and as you pursued your own music ministry, you've displayed a very different style to your sound and to your presentation, with praise and worship being the hallmark of your Integrity Music Group recordings.
I guess there really are a variety of sounds and flavors to Keith Staten versus the straight-up funky and urban personae you were perceived to have as a lead singer in Commissioned?
KS: Yes I think that is well said the way you expressed it there. There are other parts and flavors inside of me and I think what I'm coming to understand is the type of music that I do, that I love is praise & worship, and to just explain to people what I mean by that. Sometimes people are confused with what that means - it's vertical music, lyrics that sings about God's goodness directly to God or music that directly speaks to Him. It's your time and your time with God when you're just loving God.
That's what I mean when I say Praise & Worship, just celebrating and proclaiming, speaking about his deliverance and his power, and His might as a praise of thanks. That type of music I've just come to realize has no one flavor or sound to it. I think God has been evolving me in getting closer to a sound that's been in me for years.
I've always liked a variety of sounds, not just necessarily funk but classical, and a more praise type of music that's in me. I think God is using me in different things that I grew up just enjoying and I'm realizing as I'm getting closer to this sound, the sound of Praise & Worship more of a world sound - it's not funk, it's not pop, it's not jazz, it's not classical it's more of a world sound where different nations could hear the sound and just appreciate it.
Because there is a funkiness in me it will always have that soul behind it. I guess that's what I am opening up to more, the sound that doesn't really cater to one type of people but to all people.
CH: Keith, you had one of the most unique and distinctive voices in Commissioned and remain one of the most distinctive and recognizable voices in gospel music. Some would say that in your absence, Commissioned suffered a set back, not to take anything away from the group that I've continued to love and not to take anything away from Bro. Marvin Sapp who came in and represented.
I do love Brother Marvin but there's no denying that something was very different with Commissioned in your absence. Is that fair or is that an overstatement and some people have a love affair with the original group?
KS: I think what it really is, like you mentioned, a person like a Marvin Sapp is extremely talented and anointed; guys like Marcus Cole are just phenomenal singers. I think there was an original sound that people learnt to love and identify with, so it's almost like if you go to your favorite restaurant and there was a certain dish that you've had for years that you associated with that restaurant and then they took it out and put something that tastes even better, there's still something in you that says well I miss that.
That's synonymous with my feelings and thoughts with this place that was one of my favorite places. I think there's a sound that people are used to and grew to love, I think that's the main thing.
CH: Are you happy in your new phase in life in Orlando, Florida as a music minister or do you sometimes miss Detroit?
KS: Obviously there are certain aspects of it that I do miss because I have family and so many friends there. I love Florida, I love Orlando, I think it would be God that would tell me to leave before I leave. I think the one thing that my wife and I both miss is being able to bump into our friends at the mall, or dashing over to my mom's house, or shoot over here to this friend.
But you know God blesses us, we're mobile, we travel a lot so just like the events with Commissioned I was able to be there for five weeks and catch up with a lot of visiting. Not as much as I wish I could've because we were so busy rehearsing, but there are a lot of times that I get to come to the city. I think that's kind of a trade-off because I get to spend time.
I'm really happy in Orlando and right now it's more of a base for us, we're traveling a whole lot and it's a good place. We're just seeking God right now for timing and what ministry would we have in Orlando, what is it that God is saying for us to do in Orlando. So our ears are tuned trying to hear God in that area, what is the significance about even being here and I know there is significance to it, so where kind of in that stage.
CH: That is what I was going to lead up to with my final question. I understand that you're launching your next project on a new label. What are the plans for next release?
KS: Yes, we are going to release our next project on AVA Music and actually myself and a young man by the name of Lewis Bell started that label and we're forming it now and getting everything ready.
I will be the first artist released on the label and we're looking to record the project live in February. We're doing a total live recording whereas the other ones before were studio live where we would record some of the music and background vocals and then take that to a live audience and then sing on it and add to it.
With this one we're going to do it totally live with four productions streams, the whole nine yards. We're going to take it, video it and have an awesome night of Praise & Worship and just get into God and then release it. We're looking to the Commissioned project in March so we're trying to find a good time maybe a month after the Commissioned project, a month or two to give some nice space and then drop it in April/May.