The “Gospel” According to David Archuleta
David Archuleta, when asked about one singer who influenced him the most in a Newsweek American Idol roundtable, had this to say: “Right now, I have Kirk Franklin on my mind. He’s definitely one of the people that have had a major influence [on me]. He has a concert tonight here. But I can’t see it because it’s already on right now. He really introduced the soulful side, the emotional side of music that had a huge impact on me.”
This of course is the context for that one “Twitter” message a few weeks ago: “Bummed I can’t go to the Pink OR the Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Smokie Norful, etc. concert that are both tomorrow! ARGGGHH!”
Such comments immediately brought to mind David’s unabashed reverence for the root of all soul music: gospels (which itself is rooted in one of the most American musical expressions – the spiritual). Very early, during his run on American Idol, David had championed his love for Kirk Franklin on his official Idol page, and when he had unwittingly given us access to his personal You Tube channel, I was struck by the number of Kirk Franklin and other gospel videos he favorited (among an eclectic collection, mind you).
Anyone who is well versed in the gospel music tradition can pick up on where David learned how to work in those vocal improvisations, skilled inflections and runs (like one of my other favorite Idols, Ruben Studdard, who not only told David in this roundtable that he “killed” The Long and Winding Road, but also told the press at last year’s finale how David “was on fire” – remember how we were all feeling it?). Such vocal stylings he certainly did not learn from the LDS church (which I believe David said their church songs tend to be “calm” – ha ha!).
Hence why David could lay down this explosive, “soulful” and “emotional side” to a hymn like “How Great Thou Art”:
This, my friends, is how you spread the gospel! I’m always amused how, among the Archie fanbase, discussions abound about his religious faith. However, David – as devout as he is – has never proselytized about his religion. He doesn’t even reference how much it has shaped his daily life or even his musical tastes (for all his recommended song choices, not once has he mentioned a gospel song).
And yet, David doesn’t have to be overt about his faith. All you need is The Voice to convince you of divine existence, and all David cares about is the music and what song can do for your soul. Which is why he may ask his fans to keep in mind his favorite charities, like the Invisible Children, but he will never bug you about it. However, the most assertive he will ever get (if we want to call it “preaching”) is when he wants you to check out so-and-so’s music or to seriously listen to his “song for the day.”
And so many of us can attest to the wonderful discoveries of certain artists and songs, thanks to David’s suggestions. If there is to be a Gospel According to David, it would look something like the Psalms of David (without all the cursing and wars) – all love, peace, and Soulllllllllllllll (to quote from that Soul Train mantra back in the day). Which is all good and the kind of faith I could get on board with.
As a listener of gospel music, one Kirk Franklin song that immediately gets me thinking of David and his effect on me has got to be “Why We Sing.”
The refrain – “I sing because I’m happy / I sing because I’m free / His eye is on the sparrow / That’s the reason why I sing” – is a direct allusion to “Eye on the Sparrow.” And I would give my eye-teeth to hear David do a remix of the traditional hymn with Kirk Franklin’s tune. It would simply slay me … and every other Arch Angel I know.
But what are the chances that we will get such a track on his next album? If Jive is pushing for a Disneyesque David at the moment, not sure they will get on board with Soul David (and even assume there isn’t a market hungry for that particular sound). If, as Brooklyndawn once mentioned in the comments a while back, David “toned down” his soulful side to be more “mainstream” on American Idol, I fear he’s already imbibing a horrible message about what mainstream pop music is supposed to sound like.
Which irks me to no end. Take Justin Timberlake, for example. Growing up in Memphis and the black church, his roots were in soul music. But Disney repackaged him as a mouseketeer, blanched out the soul, rewrapped him in a “boy band” sound, and only when he got to be a “grown up” did he fully embrace the R&B, hip-hop soul sound. Among African Americans, there is this ongoing debate that someone like Justin is guilty of cultural appropriations, which is a more academic way of saying he’s a “cultural thief,” without realizing he’s not “stealing” a musical expression, he’s actually returning to his roots – although the racial politics that allow him to be more popular and “mainstream” with soul music still complicates the reception of someone like Justin in the pop music world.
When David finally gets to unleash his “soulful side,” I will be the first coming to his defense – should anyone accuse him of being a “cultural thief.” There’s a difference between stealing (or even borrowing) and immersing oneself in an art form and making it your own (that reminds me: a blog post on the differences between David and Elvis Presley is absolutely going to be in the works – stay tuned).
In the mean time, is it too much to ask that David get to lay down a gospel track on his next album? There may be a fine line separating singing the gospel and preaching the gospel, but The Voice already puts many of us in a spiritual frame of mine anyway.
If I don’t get to hear the Eye on the Sparrow/Why We Sing remix, then perhaps a secularized version of Smokie Norful’s “I Need You Now” will do the trick.
Just imagine this song, not as a “prayer” but a pleading song to his lady love.
Slay me now!