I grew up Baptist, and if you were Baptist in the 90’s, you knew usher boards, shoulder pads, and singer by the name John P. Kee. I distinctly remember my Sunday school teachers raving over Pastor Kee’s vocals at an event, speaking above and beyond the inside voices they so vigilantly insisted that we use, seemingly transporting themselves back into an ecclesiastical Holy Ghost fit over Lily in the Valley. Without a doubt, the classroom understood that Pastor Kee wasn’t just singing songs, he was creating experiences.
I had the opportunity to catch up with the legendary singer songwriter in the midst of his busy travel schedule, and I will admit, I was somewhat star struck upon hearing him confirm his name at the beginning of the conference call. I heard the voice that blasted through my mother’s miniature bathroom radio on Sundays before 11am service. I heard the songwriter responsible for first Sunday choirs praise and worship song. I heard my childhood over the phone, and with an exclamation of excitement, I met Pastor John P. Kee.
Pastor Kee, can I just say that you embody everything I understand about gospel music. You’re a trailblazer and as a pioneer in the gospel community at large. This journey started in 1995 for you. Tell me what it’s been like on this journey?
Thank you, I give all honor and glory to God. It was a calling on my life, even when I was at lower points of my life. I dealt in drugs – selling and using. It wasn’t until I saw a friend of mine being shot right in front of me that I really answered the calling. He actually got killed a block away from where I pastor right now. It was a rude awakening for me, but it was the thing I needed to really turn my life all the way around. I accepted my calling out of obedience. Now, we perform outreach all over Charlotte. We’ve been able to touch thousands and thousands of lives through our outreach and it’s not only been a blessing to me personally, but to the community that my church resides in, Double Oaks.
Tell me more about your pastorship at New Life.
The thing I love about New Life is our open door policy. We invite any and everyone who’s willing to listen. We offer a judge free atmosphere, and our mission isn’t to shame you into change, but to love you through it. We offer an experience, and I think that’s what people are looking for from the church – an experience that teaches the word through love and positivity.
I think that’s so important. We live in a society that glorifies the idea that instantaneous results should happen the moment we get to work. How have you been able to relate to your audience through the years?
I think it’s important to remember that there is absolutely nothing new under the sun, it just has a different face or name. In order to understand what’s going on, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and out of your four walls. For me, that’s the point of outreach.
How do you think your church is set apart from other churches?
It lies in our core beliefs. Our purpose is to give and teach. I can’t have a vision for a successful congregation if all I’m doing is requesting offerings from my congregation. We teach our members how to pay bills, we HELP them with their bills, and we’re still debt free as a church. We teach financial literacy, and we offer assistance to those who are in need. We have an HIV and awareness program, we have a night court program, which invites young males to play basketball. We have a substance abuse program. At the end of the day, knowing better means learning how to do better. Creating an educational platform has to be implemented, otherwise we aren’t properly pouring back and develop our members.
As an advocate for spiritual healing and growth, have you ever felt compelled to speak on mental health and the importance of mental health within the community?
My goodness, yes of course. Is prayer necessary for healing and mental health? Yes, of course. God wants us to be of a sound mind, and you can’t be of a sound mind if you don’t have proper treatment. We have to remember that faith without works is dead, meaning, you aren’t doing the work if you’re sitting on the opportunity to not seek help for a mental health issue.
I could not agree with you more. I often refer to myself as bipolar disorder survivor, to remind myself that Im not a victim of my illness. It’s so important that we start talking about it more, especially in the black community at large.
Switching gears, you have a new project being released on September 19th! Tell me about it!
Yes, I’m so excited.
I have a new single out titled “I Made it Out,” and it features Zacardi Cortez. I wanted it to be that song that people can play when they’re going through. We all have a story, and this song is the bridge that brings us together. We’re bringing back choir music, and it’s an amazing feeling. There’s so much worship material on this project. It’s an amazing feeling to actually see so many people participate in the I MADE IT challenge, because it shows that we’re missing the core of where it all started.
Along with that, we’re also shooting a new movie that tells the story of my father’s life. The movie is centered around my father, who was actually of the coldest singers I had ever heard, and I thought it was important to tell his story as precisely as possible. The story takes place in 1947 as my had just gained a record deal, and he convinces 29 people to go with him to New York. Due to the prejudice of the south at that time, the bus gets turned around in Smithfield, North Carolina, which creates a series of events. I wanted to maintain the authenticity of the film, because I felt that it was extremely important to tell his story and the amazing people he encounters, who eventually become legends in their own right. The film features actor portrayals of legends such as James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, and others. Rance Allen actually plays my dad! The story is the biography of my father, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the project will be out soon.
Pastor Kee, Its been a true honor, and pleasure to catch up with you. Any last words?
Let me say, I’ve been out of the box from day one. I believe that when we get hung up on labels, we lose the mission and the vision of what we’re called to do. We have to come out of the box, and include that authenticity, that’s where the blessing is.
Images courtesy of Entertainment One
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