by Alexis Clark
From Black spiritual to contemporary, musical experts say Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands anticipated gospel album is a conceptual journey of faith that embodies the evolution of gospel music told through the lenses of an HBCU band.
Titled The Urban Hymnal, the album has 10 tracks filled with organic sounds that were created in the Land of Golden Sunshine. The history-making album features trailblazers within the gospel music industry.
When Dr. Reginald McDonald was promoted to ‘director of bands’ in 2015, he was told by his predecessor to dream big for the band’s legacy, to ensure a high level of national prominence, and to be known as one of the top bands in the country.
AOB’s most recent main stage accomplishment was performing at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans, sponsored by a partnership with McDonalds, highlighting African American culture.
“And as a result of that performance, so many mega artists within the gospel community have now asked to be a part of the project,” McDonald said.
It is executively produced by AOB Assistant Director/Professor Larry Jenkins, Grammy award-winning songwriter and artist Dallas Austin, two-time Grammy award-nominated songwriter and artist, Sir the Baptist, and platinum recording artist, TSU alum Dubba-AA.
The album is in the final stages of production and will include features from music moguls and acclaimed artists such as Jekalyn Carr, Fred Hammond, Kierra Sheard, John P. Kee, Louis York, Dubba-AA, Sir the Baptist, Prof. Jenkins, Take 6, Mali Music, and more.
“For me to be the band director of Tennessee State is nothing short of divine intervention. This album can do something to solidify the branding of not just the band, but the university for decades,” McDonald said.
“This will be the first [album] from us. It won’t be our last.” He said he is grateful to have the ability to transition students, “from dreams to reality.”
TSU senior Arianna Scott, said she wasn’t sure about playing the piccolo in high school, but historic moments like being a part of the album made her instrumental journey worth her while.
“All this legacy that we have. A gospel album is huge for us,” Scott said, describing how excited she was to hear herself playing the piccolo on the recorded album.
To add this milestone onto AOB’s lengthy list of accomplishments over the years, Professor Jenkins, who also contributed to composing the album, said this is yet another first for the band, putting them in position to lead the way for bands all over the world.
“All the opportunity that comes from this—getting credit on an album that we need to get a Grammy for. That’s what really makes me feel good about it.” Jenkins has hopes of the album receiving a Grammy in the gospel roots category next year.
“It feels amazing to be a part of something so unique, so progressive,” he said, noting that the process of creating the album is a family affair for AOB and the university.
TSU alum Dubba-AA couldn’t agree more.
“This band program isn’t just a program. This is my family,” he said. “It [the album] is going to make you want to get closer to God. This album will touch souls.” He said he is honored to be a part of the project, working besides trailblazers in the music industry, and ‘doing things that no one has done on an HBCU scale.’
Sir the Baptist, who received an honorary degree at TSU last spring alongside Dallas Austin, said the album is a game changer.
“We will bring back to life some of the hymnals, but in an urban way,” he said. “To have support from so many people and brands. It means a lot and shows us that we are on the right track. “This is really going to change culture.”
The album is set to be released no later than mid- September and will be available on every major platform.