THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER
Reaching the infectious chorus of the deep bass driven title track from The Junction, their first album in nearly a decade, The Manhattan Transfer brings their trademark seamless four part harmony to a lyric that doubles as an eloquent, wit-filled mission statement for this next phase of the 10 time Grammy winning vocal quartet’s storied career. Reaching a uniquely inspiring crossroads on their 45-plus year musical journey, they sing: “At the junction/it’s not a physical place you see/That’s not it’s function/Let’s work together, it’s stronger with you and me…it’s really more of a state of mind. . .so leave your old fashioned attitude and penguin suit behind.”
One of the co-writers on “The Junction” – which draws inspiration in part from The Transfer’s classic 1975 version of Glenn Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction” - is the group’s new member, bass vocalist Trist Curliss, who began subbing on the road for band founder Tim Hauser in 2013 when he was ill and officially joined after Hauser’s passing in late 2014.
Welcoming Curliss – a founding member of famed Los Angeles a capella group M-pact – to the fold, Janis Siegel (alto), Alan Paul (tenor) and Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) embrace a new dynamic and fresh possibilities for their legendary sound that artfully incorporates his low range into their established blend. The Junction was produced by another master vocalist, 5-time Grammy winner Mervyn Warren, a renowned film composer, arranger and producer and one of the founders of gospel/R&B a capella legends Take 6. In addition to his intricate vocal arrangements, Warren wrote the album’s first single, the soulful ballad “Sometimes I Do.”
“It’s a whole different ball game, but one we feel is still musically very viable and exciting,” Siegel says. Paul adds, “The concept of The Junction is that this is a special meeting place, a junction of merging our four and a half decade musical legacy with something new. It wasn’t exactly a seamless transition because Tim is irreplaceable, and he and Trist are very different singers. We weren’t looking to replace Tim’s unique personality, but found in Trist someone who could add a new element to the group and take care of the bottom of the quartet with his true bass.” Curliss reflects, “My personal desire was that the album would sound like The Manhattan Transfer, keeping what they’ve done but bringing a new energy that would come naturally with my strengths as an artist becoming a part of theirs.”
Coinciding with the release of The Junction is a highly anticipated PBS Special featuring The Transfer performing with Take 6 in a dual show the groups call “The Summit.” Part of the public television network’s legendary Soundstage concert series, “The Summit” was taped before a live studio audience at WTTW’s Grainger Studio in Chicago in January 2017. The two groups, which have been touring their richly produced, interactive vocal extravaganza for the past three years, create a unique brotherhood onstage, with songs incorporating their combined 10-part harmony, lively segments including “Battle of the Bands” and a repertoire that includes songs neither band has ever recorded.
While well-renowned for their spectacular re-imaginings of classics like “Java Jive,” “Birdland,” “The Boy From New York City,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “Route 66,” one of their most acclaimed albums was 1991’s The Offbeat of Avenues, which featured numerous group originals amidst the cover songs. In many ways, The Junction harkens back to that approach, with members of the group writing or co-writing five songs.
Paul’s co-write “Swing Balboa (Down on Riverside)” mixes the classic Balboa swing sound (which originated in Los Angeles in the 1920s) with edgy, modern electro-swing. Paul’s lyrics also re-fashion a 50’s Martin Denny recording called “Paradise Found” into the hopeful and calming, tropical flavored, “The Paradise Within.” Bentyne penned sly lyrics to saxophonist Grace Kelly’s moody, film noir-ish “Blues for Harry Bosch” which reference numerous classic detective movies. Siegel co-wrote and sings lead on the hip, uptempo “Shake Your Boogie (Galactic Vocal Version),” whose story cleverly incorporates a playful element of “Star Wars.”
The songs that The Transfer chose to re-imagine via cool new twists and Warren’s sparkling vocal arrangements perfectly reflect the band’s forward thinking aesthetic and the world they live in late in the 2010s. They launch the ten track set by finding new joy in harmonizing the classic rap of Us3’s early 90’s hip-hop/jazz hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” (based on Herbie Hancock’s soul-jazz treasure “Cantaloupe Island”), which the quartet fashions into “Cantaloupe (Flip Out!)” They also bring newfound pleasures and party energy to one of their biggest live crowd pleasers “Tequila,” with Paul adding a colorful lyric line he calls “The Way of the Booze”). Balancing these optimistic bursts are more pointed social commentaries like XTC’s “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul” and Rickie Lee Jones’ alternately harmonic and dissonant “Ugly Man.”
Beginning with their first performances in the 1970s, The Manhattan Transfer – originally launched by Tim Hauser with a completely different lineup in 1969 - have become cornerstones of contemporary music, known for their amazing versatility, incorporating pop, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, swing, symphonic, and a cappella music. After being signed by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun to Atlantic Records, the group made their recording debut with their self-titled album in 1975. Then known primarily as an East Coast cult act, they expanded their following by starring in their own 1975 CBS-TV variety series as a summer replacement for the iconic Ed Sullivan Show. Beginning as an underground group in New York City, The Manhattan Transfer garnered international popularity when “Chanson D'Amour” from the 1976 Coming Out album became a number one hit in Europe. Paul and Siegel joined in 1972, and Cheryl Bentyne joined after original vocalist Laurel Masse left in 1979.
Defying easy genre categorizations, The Manhattan Transfer became the first act to win Grammy Awards in the pop and jazz categories in one year, 1981: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Boy From New York City” and Best Jazz Performance Duo or Group for “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket).” In 1985, their album Vocalese made history as the single greatest Grammy nominated album in history in one year with 12 nominations. Vocalese earned two Grammys: Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group; and Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for “Another Night in Tunisia” (won by Bentyne and Bobby McFerrin). This album, which featured jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter, and the Count Basie Orchestra, changed the perception of The Manhattan Transfer from superstar pop artists to formidable jazz singers.
For Siegel, performing “Birdland” in 1979 at The Grammy Awards was one of her personal highlights, along with singing twice at The White House, and performing at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 with Little Jimmy Scott. She says the group was blessed to know giants of the music business. “Working with Ahmet Ertegun, Arif Mardin. Artists who are no longer here like Laura Nyro,” she reflects. “We caught the tail end of an era.” The Manhattan Transfer has also sung with musical greats Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, Bette Midler, Phil Collins, B.B. King, Chaka Khan, James Taylor, and Frankie Valli of The Four Seasons.
“As our work on The Junction, and the theme of the album, reflects, democracy is the fabric of the group, and has been from the beginning,” says Bentyne, who took leave of the group several times while undergoing treatment for Hodgkins’ lymphoma in the early 2010s, but has since made a complete recovery. “We all have a different take on music and appreciate different styles, so each member brings something to the table that is unique and something the others haven’t thought of. We have tremendous faith in that process. This album is completely us, a true snapshot of who we are right now, having survived so many hardships but looking forward to exciting new chapters in the band’s story. We all give great credit to Mervyn, without whom this project would not have come together as beautifully as it did. His participation, oversight, brilliant arrangements and production helped us make one of the strongest musical statements ever.”
On “Shatterproof,” the hard driving pop/electronica title track that kicks off her hit 2016 album, Julianna Zobrist hits the listener with force and eloquence all at once, letting the world know, in no uncertain terms, that she was finished with the spiritual game we women play with one another.
Her audaciously defiant lyrics find her calling out the way people attempt to use guilt, shame and fear to manipulate one another to adhere to their preferences - while forging a liberating path towards true emotional and spiritual freedom. She sings: “Dear doubt, dear fear . . . I’m done with your games. . .I know what I’ve done/But I won’t let my past define me. . .I’m shatterproof/I won’t let you break me . . .You’re not gonna shake me. . .Dear guilt, dear shame. . .loose your grip on me.” The song quickly became an anthem of female empowerment, a mantra of unshackling and uplift that women across the country needed and wanted to hear. The overwhelming response to the song and its conversation-sparking themes have now inspired Julianna’s breakthrough book Pull It Off: Removing Your Fears and Putting on Confidence.
Discovering a deeper courage behind her convictions than she ever imagined possible, “Jules,” in the volume’s 13 chapters, dynamically and pointedly fuses empowerment with vulnerability, mingling heartfelt and authentic personal stories with research and anecdotes from her life’s three main passions, psychology, science and art. The book is designed to inspire Christians and secular women alike who share a common humanity and a need to understand their true identity and release themselves from what she calls the “shoulding” and expectations of people, culture and society. Yet the rural Iowa City bred “preacher’s kid” also occasionally taps into the heart of stories and timeless lessons from her own faith tradition.
Shining through on every page is Julianna’s unique sense of individualism and desire for others to dare to express who they are, who God made them to be, no matter what their family, friends, place of worship, community, society or culture may say. This ethos extends to the book cover, which shows the singer and author draped head to toe in billows of pink, purple, green, yellow and blue tutus – yes, the kind ballerinas wear. This is truly a fearless dance for the wife of Chicago Cubs second baseman and outfielder (and 2016 World Series MVP) Ben Zobrist and mother of three kids – Zion (age 9), Kruse (age 7) and Blaise (age 2). Unlike most MLB moms that stay at home when their husbands are on the road, Julianna is determined to keep the family together as much as possible during the baseball season. Adhering to a “six day rule” – “so the kids never have to spend more than six days apart from their dad” – they pay their own way to one city per road trip.
Since the release of Shatterproof , Julianna has performed at numerous events and venues around the nation, including a special guest appearance at Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series where she sang a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” She has been featured by top media across the globe including Forbes, ABC News, Huffington Post, CBS, FOX News, and Sports Illustrated, among others. Her husband also featured Julianna’s single “Alive” as his main “walk up” song during the 2016 MLB season with the history making Chicago Cubs.
The title Pull It Off partly comes from people constantly asking her how she “pulls it off” being a working musician and recording artist married to a ballplayer and raising three kids. Her response is always: “Who’s telling me that I can’t?” She adds, “So much of the book is driven by my desire for both women and men to push themselves to be who it is they want to be. I want them to ask themselves, ‘What do you want to accomplish?’ You only have one life to live. What is it that you want to pull off?” Another reason behind the title is related to her wildly colorful sense of day-to-day fashion. After Ben and her son and daughters, she dedicates the book to “the “Color Kids” like her – and devotes a segment of the book humorously explaining her choice to be a “color kid” herself.
“Throughout my musical career, I have always been a communicator – not simply up there singing and entertaining, but speaking my truth from the stage, sharing my heart and getting people to think,” says Julianna, whose two singles from Shatterproof hit the Billboard charts, with “The Dawn” reaching #30 on the Christian AC Indicator chart and the second single “Alive” hitting the Top 50 on the Christian Digital Songs chart.
“When the album came out I was invited to speak to groups of women about the themes I bring up in the song. There was an overwhelming response from those who wanted me to talk about what I have lived and what so many others have gone through. These feelings of being not enough or too much, desperately needing the approval of people in our lives and wondering if God approves of us the way we are. Doubt and shame are weapons we use to control one another, and they keep us handicapped and bound to the perceptions other people have of us. Yet when you come right down to it, it is impossible to live our lives trying to tiptoe around the consciousness of other people. For me, authenticity is the birthplace of freedom. I became comfortable in my own skin once I realized that I am perfectly created to be the imperfect person I am and God made me to be!”
The opportunity to touch so many women via these live presentations inspired Julianna to embark on a seven month journey of planning and writing that challenged even someone who describes herself as annoyingly organized. She locked herself in a room for five hours a day for seven months – a laborious process made more difficult because of family responsibilities and the reality of having to write a lot in hotel rooms on the road when Ben was traveling with the Cubs.
Pull It Off is divided into three parts that address the key issues of authority, identity and security, in order to reveal the root issue of where our fears stem from. As Julianna writes, “We can then maximize our true identities and lean into our unique gifts due to a grounded belief in our acceptance of others, our acceptance by God, and ultimately the acceptance of ourselves.”
One of the freshest and most impactful concepts that Julianna introduces is her signature phrase “Don’t Should on Me.” Though Julianna explains that the word “shoulding” originated with a friend, she is in the process of trademarking it as a concept that helps people understand a better way to express their opinions – offering them lovingly (“What do you think?” as opposed to commanding, “guilting” and shaming. She writes, “Society loves to should. We like to should on other people. We allow other people to should on us. How you should look. What you should not have worn. What you should say. How you should parent. When you should speak up, when you shouldn’t. What your love relationship should look like. The feminine and masculine expectations attached to living are pregnant with shoulds.”
Julianna continues that it was when she was “neck-deep” in a pile of should that she started to see it all for what it is: “deeply personal preferences about living, based upon an individual opinion or life experience, being directed toward someone else.” She immediately offers a suggestion to help the reader combat the temptation to buy into these “shoulds”: “You are unique and individual, with a unique and individual life. Strangers have not earned the right to speak into how you should be living. Allowing someone to speak directly into your life is an intimate right reserved for very few. Because, of the estimated 108 billion people to have ever walked on planet Earth, who has lived your life?”
Another remarkable aspect of Pull It Off is Julianna’s raw, no holds barred honesty. She wants the reader to know they’re not alone in their times of confusion, doubt and insecurity. She’s been there, done that and dug out of it. She’s not afraid, for instance, to offer the secret to how she and Ben have maintained such a fun relationship: they flirt. “If Ben and I don’t want to grab each other’s butts, laugh while whispering something in the other ear, or kiss a little longer than necessary, I know something is off- with either me or him.” Yet on the flip side, she also remembers their days of struggling, years back when he was earning only $400 a month in the minors – and later, her frustration with seeming to get pregnant every time she was in the process of releasing a record. “Once baby number three entered the world,” she writes, “I traveled all over supporting my husband’s career with one kid on my hip, one holding my hand, and another in the stroller, while still trying to keep my dream alive, writing music until the wee hours. It was exhausting. Is this uncharted territory or is this illegal trespassing? Am I even cut out for this? The self-doubt and uncertainty left me yelling at the top of my lungs.”
Several of Julianna’s most intensely emotional pages follow this revelation in the “Identity” section of Pull It Off. She thought perhaps reading books by “experts” on womanhood and “a woman’s purpose” would help clarify things. She read works by both Christian and secular writers – and after examining her notes, came to a startling conclusion about what these writers were saying: “Our femininity and womanhood are apparently defined by being a mother, a wife, or a maid. Female existence can be boiled down to how we juggle domestic roles and duties.” She spends numerous paragraphs asking the “what ifs” about her own two little girls – and concludes that these books are “full of bull.” She doesn’t fit the stereotype one bit, they may not someday either, and that has to be okay. Years earlier, however, a week before she was to marry Ben, she felt that kind of doubt creep in and even called him to half-joke, “I hope you realize you’re marrying me and not someone else. You see, I hate cooking.” Julianna admits she was always battling against the unspoken expectations of femininity that she, and most likely culture, had placed upon herself.
Pull It Off is full of hard-won truths and revelations by a woman who is still largely a work in progress, but has learned enough about herself and the world to help others break through these stifling ways of thinking. As someone who spends her life in the public eye, Julianna is no stranger to public expectations of what she should do, how she should act, even how she should raise her kids (wait till you read the scene about the woman in the hotel elevator!). Yet in her signature sassy voice – and now in her compelling, equally audacious writing style – she has learned a retort that she hopes will become part of a national conversation about women’s issues: “Don’t Should on Me!” In writing the book, her hope is that others will find the same freedom she has to confront and dismiss the “shoulds,” lean into their unique God-given gifts and live a bold, fearless and confidently vulnerable life.
“I won’t sugarcoat it,” Julianna laughs. “Writing is not easy, and there were times when I would rather have been in labor and had ten more children without meds than get that next paragraph done! But I am proud of the way I persevered, sacrificed time with Ben and the kids and other friends, and fulfilled my commitment to myself to write five hours a day for those seven months. Now I’m excited to share it with the world with the hope of impacting many others – and to leave a legacy for Zion, Kruse and Blaise, and show them what they helped their mom accomplish.”
TRIM HEALTHY MAMA
Somewhere in the midst of raising their large families, living the whirlwind mom lifestyle and home schooling the 19 kids they have between them, sisters, rural Tennessee next-door neighbors and future business partners and New York Times Bestselling Authors Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett made a groundbreaking lifestyle decision. They traded years of fad dieting for a healthier, more delicious lifestyle that would change their lives, those of their loved ones and ultimately the eating habits and dietary lifestyle of millions of women (and men!) worldwide. Their collective epiphany led to the creation of Trim Healthy Mama, a fad-busting healthy lifestyle revolution that includes hundreds of thousands of passionate members, bearing testimonies of THM’s amazing, life changing results.
They are now world renowned as the down to earth personalities and entrepreneurial spirits behind an organically developed, ever-expanding multi-media empire. Expanding their trademarked brand into a wide variety of marketplaces, THM has sold millions of consumer items, ranging from a line of beauty products, health tips and food ingredients/cooking products (most recently, chocolate and protein bars). They have launched a quarterly E-zine, opened their first retail brick and mortar store 75 miles down the road in Nashville, started the “Trim Healthy Podcast” (which garnered over one million downloads in just six months) and most recently, a nationally syndicated radio program called “The Serene and Pearl Show.” THM currently has over 35 affiliated Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of members, and the membership community on the THM website finds 17-30,000 people engaging with each other at any given time.
In 2018, the charismatic siblings with the fun loving rapport but no nonsense information are still working in the same kitchen where they formulated the 250 recipes at the core of their bestselling self-published flagship book Trim Healthy Mama. The volume, which was ranked the #1 Amazon title for its 2013/2014 Health and Wellness Category and became a New York Times and Barnes & Noble bestseller, included proven ways to lose weight, fresh concepts for keeping hormones balanced, ways to re-fire one’s metabolism, tips for making skin glow, a section on igniting marriage intimacy and a simple and effective exercise plan. Its success launched Pearl and Serene with no formal advertising or marketing machine, to the forefront of their ultra-competitive industry. Their two follow up volumes, “Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook: Eat Up and Slim Down with More than 350 Healthy Recipes” (2015) and “Trim Healthy Mama’s Trim Healthy Table” (2017), also became bestsellers.
Behind those incredible stats are thousands of stories like that of The Coers Family, who wrote an empowering article called “One Year on Trim Healthy Mama.” Amanda Coers wrote: “It’s our Trimaversary! My husband and I have been on the Trim Healthy Mama plan for a full year and together we’ve lost almost 100 pounds. We’ve not only lost weight, but our overall sizes have shrunk dramatically. Trim Healthy Mama has changed the entire trajectory of our lives- giving us lower blood pressure, increased energy, and steering us away from diabetes and other health issues.” Her blog includes tips for success, a list of yummy THM dinners and THM food essentials for their home.
THM has also won over thousands of skeptics like the writer of the Creativlei blog, who says, “I’ve never been happier to be so wrong. If you’d have told me I could give up sugar, that I could adjust to using stevia, that I could enjoy creating grain free sweets, I would never have believed you. I feel more freedome now than ever before attempting to follow THM. I know I can have a meal that is off-plan without carrying guilt or shaming myself into limiting my next meals to salads. I know that one less than healthy choice, doesn’t mean my day is shot. I get to choose again in just a few short hours.”
Serene and Pearl’s current status as bestselling authors and increasing influence as cultural role models helping transform the lives of people across the globe were the furthest notions from their minds in those early days when they spent every spare moment in each other’s kitchens creating dynamic, tasty recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. Back then, everything was created with their own health and that of their families in mind. With Serene having borne nine children (she and her husband adopted five more from Liberia) and Pearl raising five (ages now, 13 to 23), they had their own figures and fitness to think about.
The passion for creating a healthy lifestyle plan for their family also went deeper than that. Pearl’s husband is 15 years older than her, and cancer ran in Serene’s husband’s family (with his dad and he both having had it). It’s great to want to look good and stay healthy, but truly in their families, survival was at stake. Being “supermoms,” they also wanted to create healthy plans the whole family could enjoy and partake in, rather than, as Pearl says, “the adults eat mini-meal diet foods while the kids eat a frozen pizza. We wanted to create something whose deliciousness the whole family could enjoy.”
The sensible plan the sisters formulated was one that balanced blood sugar and reduced insulin spikes while working in synch with one’s metabolism. It included the groundbreaking concept of eating protein, veggies, carbs and fat – as long as they avoided eating both carbs and fat in the same meal. Pearl and Serene’s extended friends heard about and began implementing the plan, saw the results for themselves and spread the word. The sisters quickly realized two things: 1) there was a huge need out there for women, especially “mamas,” to experience true “food freedom” that involved not limiting calories; and 2) they were so tired of taking phone calls that they decided to put all their recipes, knowledge and healthy lifestyle tips into what became their first book.
“We thought it was too wordy and way too expensive to self publish, but we believed in Trim Healthy Mama enough to take the risk,” Pearl says. “It caught on and connected in ways we could never have expected. Women would read the book and cry, telling us until they tried the THM approach, they had experienced so much inner turmoil and their kitchen had become such a war zone that they were ready to raise a white flag. We were delighted to hear that many of these women were even putting their husbands on the plan and both were getting incredible results.”
“Over time,” she adds, “we have realized that the food freedom movement has caught on because it releases people into a new way of looking at food and health. Replacing binging and purging is a daily celebration of food and life. We’ve created a simple, effective way to ensure that everyone eats the right proportions of the three macronutrients – fat, protein and carbs – resulting in satisfaction, energy and weight loss.”
Those charming accents heard via their website and YouTube videos, podcast and radio show stem from their roots in Australia and New Zealand, where the two split their childhood years until moving to the states with their family at 20 (Pearl) and 14 (Serene) and settling in Tennessee. The two maintain the classic big sister-little sister dynamic to this day. “Pearl’s always been my big sister,” says Serene, “and growing up, it was my job to be the annoying little sister and let her play that role. I do what I’m told just like when I was six and she told me to make my bed. With the business, it’s the same, she gets the details down, says it’s gonna be this or that and so it is.”
Pearl says the spirited, fun-loving chemistry that people see and hear is the real deal: “Serene and I just love spending time together and talking about food. It’s not just a job, it’s what we love! When we’re not doing that on camera or for the podcast, it’s on the phone. What we do professionally is a continuation of real life. I’ll call her and say, ‘Guess what I had for breakfast?” Serene adds, “I think people like the fact that we’re just real family people, devoted wives and moms, sharing what we love with them. We’re not in a lab wearing doctor coats and talking medical jargon. We’re living what we talk to everyone about. We make a healthy lifestyle tangible for everyone. We feel like we’re in the trenches with them, and our lives are not much different day to day from theirs. We’re basically telling them, hey, this works in our lives and it can work in yours, too!”
Despite their mutual passion as foodies and health-minded culinary creators, their common business ventures and connected lives with families living just down the road from each other, Pearl and Serene also have a cool yin and yang dynamic that plays into both the story of their great success and their immense relatability. Their approach to creating dishes, for instance, is radically different. Serene is a food purist, makes bone broth, has an organic kale garden, uses kombucha mushrooms to create a fermented drink, grows grains, uses raw dairy products and bakes bread from homegrown sourdough cultures in her kitchen. Pearl’s all about cutting corners and buying every ingredient from the store.
In business, Pearl is considered the aggressive go-getter, the responsible one and Serene is very laid back, super-creative but “the naughty one,” late to every meeting. Yet off the clock, it’s the opposite. Pearl’s more the chill one and Serene is a bundle of energy. Pearl laughs, “I never know what Serene will do next. She’s a wild card. When we’re shooting our videos, even though I still feel I’m the older sister, she’ll do something crazy like pull the lint off my shirt. It’s an adventure every minute!”
Both Pearl and Serene admit they never set out to be entrepreneurs and attribute their ability to sustain and grow their business to their husbands, family members and staff behind the scenes who take care of the important details. They are in charge, however, of all the recipes and lifestyle choices that go into written and spoken word and product they produce, and despite their fun-loving natures, are very serious about the importance of their mission to help people – and especially women like them across the world.
“It’s wonderful to realize that we are helping women find their joy again,” says Pearl. “It’s not about the challenge of losing weight, it’s the joy of losing weight. Because when they’re feeling overweight, there can be blood issues and sugar inflammation. And if they have those problems, they can’t be the ultimate wife, mother and friend. We want to facilitate that and help them do life again while making it an enjoyable journey. We’re honored to welcome these ladies into our lives as sisters and to be part of this growing collective sisterhood where everyone’s story is of equal value and importance.
“It’s growing because nobody is putting on airs and people are truly feeling that they are part of something special,” she adds. “As we move forward, all those who have joined our THM movement are aware that Serene and I are with them every step of the way. We’re not on the outside teaching them. Rather, we’re all in this together, teaching each other, like a big beautiful living room full of gals.”
Crossover: Live From Music City
Growing up with a mother who was a minister and choir director, Travis Greene says that gospel music “was like oxygen in our house, always part of my life,” and no artist inspired him and strengthened his passion for God more than 12-time Grammy winning legend Kirk Franklin. Now an inspirational trailblazer in his own right, Greene’s masterful fusion of music and ministry these past few years prompted Franklin to anoint him as one of the artists who are the “future of gospel music.” Continuing on his global mission to “bring the cool back to the worship experience, and get people, especially the unchurched, excited,” the two time Grammy nominee debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart with his latest album Crossover: Live From Music City. Its lead single “You Waited” hit the Top 5 on the Hot Gospel Songs chart.
Much like Franklin in his early heyday, Greene’s meteoric rise has been chronicled everywhere from Billboard, Rolling Stone, TMZ and the New York Times to prominent magazines like XXL, Rolling Out, JET, Ebony, ESSENCE and Vibe. At the 2017 Stellar Gospel Music Awards, he won in seven key categories, including Song of the Year (“Made A Way,” which also hit #1 on the Hot Gospel Songs chart), Male Vocalist of the Year, CD of the Year (The Hill, which also reached #1 on the Top Gospel Albums chart), Contemporary Male Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary CD of the Year, Recorded Music Packaging of the Year and Praise and Worship CD of the Year. All told, he has been nominated for 13 Stellar Awards, 3 Dove Awards, 2 Billboard Music Award and a Soul Train Award. In 2016, Billboard named him Gospel Airplay Artist of the Year.
In 2016, the singer and his wife, Dr. Jackie Greene, launched Forward City Church in Columbia, South Carolina, which he describes as “a church for the unchurched and over-churched.” While pastoring the quickly growing congregation at home and extending scholarships and mission work to thousands of people in Africa, Greene also embarked on a world tour. He brought his cultural boundary crossing music to many African countries, including Nigeria and Ghana; the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica; Dubai; and to London, Montreal and Toronto. “I’ve been called to minister in many different ways,” Greene says, “but I see my gospel-centered activities not as finding a balance but as more of a rhythm, fully aware of what God has called me to do.”
With 13 of its tracks recorded at Skyville Live in Nashville on February 1 and 2, 2017, Crossover: Live From Music City follows in the live recording tradition of The Hill, which also featured all original material. The newcollection includes two studio tracks, “Love Will Always Win” (co-written and produced by Travis with Jason Ingram and Paul Mayberry) and “Finally Found” (co-produced with Bernie Herms). “The album title comes from the Biblical notion of being able to cross over and leave what was and embrace what is waiting for you, as the Ancient Israelites did after they were freed from bondage,” Greene says.
“That thread is interwoven into every song, reflecting on what crossing over looks like at different times. Some seasons, we have to be still and wait on God, but we also celebrate the fact that God waits on us as well. I want people to be encouraged in the midst of bondage and darkness, to know that the light, and your time to cross over out of darkness, is coming. I like to bring a blend of energy and thoughtfulness to my songs, and my goal with both the lyrics and rhythms and instrumentation is to make the music inviting. I want my music to allow people to let down their guard and be vulnerable enough to hear the voice of God.”
While most artists create live albums of concerts featuring their best loved hits, Greene – who launched his recording career with the independent release The More in 2007 – prefers the synergy that comes from sharing fresh material with eager audiences. Like its predecessor, Crossover: Live from Music City is an opportunity for longtime and new fans alike to partake in an experience that brilliantly captures the artist’s passion, excitement and charisma onstage - and his ability to reach hearts with the gospel through music.
“For me, it’s all about the shared energy, the adrenaline and connecting with the audience,” Greene says. “Performing live is a more honest demonstration of what I can offer people musically. In the studio, I can mimic what I do live, but there’s nothing like the way an excited audience can help me take my gifts to another level. Unlike when you do conventional recording, you instantly see the impact the music makes. When I’m able to see those tears streaming, hands lifted high and people jumping around with joy, I know that God’s message is getting across through me.”
Greene’s fascinating life story begins with miracles that show grace in his life even before he began pursuing his musical gifts. He was originally still-born but was resuscitated, and at the age of four, while living in Germany where his father was based in the military, he was brought back to life after a four-story fall from a building. Though his father passed away when Greene was only five, he grew up a “military brat” who developed a unique appreciation for and understanding about many world cultures – all of which laid the foundation for his ministry today. Though he didn’t perform for people until participated in his mother’s prison ministry in their adopted home state of Georgia when he was 18, Greene’s passion for music was an important part of his early life. “It was God’s way of giving me an escape from tragedy and crisis,” he says. “I turned to the keyboard instead of to drugs and life on the streets. Any instrument I put my hands on, I as able to play.”
Though certainly less dramatic than the early-life miracles, Greene attributes his pursuit of his musical career to a moment of divine intervention. It came in the form of his piano instructor at Georgia Southern University, where he majored in business and minored in music. Just before graduation, she asked him his plans. He said he was going to get an MBA and then move to New York and work a corporate job. She asked him what he was passionate about. When he said, “music and ministry,” she told him he needed to pursue those. Greene says he was a pretty good piano player, but “her discipline forced me to crawl and not run, not jam as much and play more melodically and fluidly.” While attending Georgia Southern, he played keys at a local church and one day the pastor heard him singing and told him he should lead worship.
These moments of encouragement led Greene to develop his raw talent further and set his sights on making gospel music for a living. He bought a laptop and got some recording equipment and software, believing he was following God’s plan for his life. He struggled for years, having to move out of a foreclosed house he was living in, subsisting on grits and Wendy’s, and had a car that broke down every other week. His dedication to music meant he only worked part time, usually at churches where he attended. He went through the ups and downs of having limited success and resources, and even when he achieved Billboard chart success and airplay with his 2010 album Stretching Out, he was barely making enough to survive.
“This is an example of why I sing about our patience with God and His patience with us,” Greene says. “Things happen when they are supposed to and when we are ready. The struggle forces you to be persistent and learn a lot of necessary lessons. I literally lost everything in pursuit of the dream God placed on my heart. I believed I heard his voice during those seasons of what I call ‘radical faith.’ The interesting thing was that even when I was in lack and didn’t know where my next meal or rent payment was coming from, I still felt fulfilled because I was in His will. I was driven and knew without a doubt what God was going to do. Peace was part of the journey.
“At the end of the day,” he adds, “I simply want music to be my vehicle to inspire people and make them feel right about choosing God. I want to use these opportunities to encourage people, and maybe in the process help redefine the way Christianity looks in our contemporary culture and reveal God in a different way. I appreciate the ability to make an impact and help people change their perspective. Encouragement from legends like Kirk Franklin is a huge honor, and makes me want to be more diligent and transparent in what I am called to do. Besides raising my two young boys go grow up with a godly example, I’m really excited to raise up the next wave of worshipers and those called to share the love of God through music. I want to be part of helping carry the torch into the future.”
Positivity…we all want it and we all need it. Yet when the challenges of day-to-day life, increasing stresses, and bombardment of negativity take hold, it seems more and more elusive.
Jon Gordon was once one of us, frustrated with his circumstances, blaming everyone else for his troubles, fearful, negative, miserable and trying to figure it all out. Now, the worldwide bestselling author, keynote speaker and leadership expert is the guy everyone is turning to for major breakthroughs in successful team building and powerful inspiration. In the decade-plus since the publication of his critically acclaimed book and Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Energy Bus (10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy),” Gordon’s principles are continually being put into practice, making a huge impact in America’s boardrooms, locker rooms, classrooms and beyond.
His powerful speaking skills have played key roles in fostering significant results for numerous Fortune 500 companies including Southwest Airlines, Campbell Soup, Publix Supermarkets, BB&T Bank, Avon, and West Point Academy; sports organizations such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, Clemson Football, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars; and school districts, hospitals and non-profits across the country. Gordon’s impactful speeches at annual leadership conferences for educators have resulted more than 100 schools (and counting) across the country adapting programs based on his Energy Bus principles to create a positive school culture and develop future positive leaders.
In his latest book, “The Power of a Positive Team,” Gordon shares the proven principles and practices that build great teams – and provides practical tools to help them overcome negativity and enhance their culture, communication, connection, commitment and performance. In sharing his innovative strategies, the author draws inspiration from various teams from many realms – including the writing team that created the Showtime hit show “Billions,” the national champion Clemson football team, the World Series contenders Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Heat, the Navy SEAL’s and even marching bands.
“The Power of a Positive Team” is a follow-up to his 2017 best-seller “The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World.” In that pioneering volume, Gordon provided a comprehensive framework on positive leadership filled with proven principles, compelling stories, practical ideas and practices to help anyone become a positive leader.
These are the latest in a long line of bestselling books by Gordon, which include a mix of metaphor rich inspirational fables and straightforward principle-driven narratives. The fables he wrote after “The Energy Bus” all feature lead characters related in some way to those in that first story, so as to create a familial through line. His transformative works over the past decade include “The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work,” “Training Camp: What The Best Do Better Than Anyone Else,” “Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture,” “The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life;” “The Positive Dog: A Story About the Power of Positivity;” and “The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All.” One of Gordon’s current goals is to turn “Training Camp” into a movie. He is also tapping into his influence to develop lines of apparel, food products and other items called Positive Brands.
“It’s never been a straightforward journey for me,” says Gordon about finding his ultimate purpose as a writer and speaker. “After years of working in other fields, from being director of business development at a dot com to owning and running a small chain of restaurants, the lightning bolt inspiration that drove me to write “The Energy Bus” changed everything. When that book started taking off, and more and more people wanted me to speak to them on its principles, I realized that my God-given purpose was to encourage others, to inspire and empower as many people as possible, one person at a time. My main theme is positive leadership, and helping create positive leaders has evolved naturally into helping build great teams. I think my talks resonate because every one of us has to overcome adversity and challenges, and these are how we ultimately define ourselves and how we individually and collectively achieve success.”
“People tell me they can relate to me because I am imparting simple but powerful information,” he adds. “I’m not sharing rocket science, but important steps that we can all take that have a big impact on ourselves and others. I take the complex and break it down in simple ways that everyone can connect with – and in turn, they can use those principles to take meaningful action in their lives. As I wrote in ‘The Energy Bus,’: ‘No one goes through life untested, and the answer to these tests is positivity. The optimism, trust, enthusiasm, love, purpose, joy, passion and spirit to live, work and perform at a higher level, to build and lead successful teams; to overcome adversity in life and at work; to share contagious energy with employees, colleagues, and customers; to bring out the best in others and in yourself; and to overcome all the negative people (whom I call energy vampires) and negative situations that threaten to sabotage your health, family, team and success.’”
The 1.5 million-plus people who have been lifted and empowered by “The Energy Bus,” and the hundreds of thousands more who have read Gordon’s other books and/or have had the privilege of hearing him speak and change cultures and mindsets, might be whimsically inclined to believe that he just dropped down from a heavenly realm full of innate pep in his step from the get-go. Not even close. In fact, as he writes early on in his 2008 book “The No Complaining Rule” – his follow up to “The Energy Bus” – he was a professional complainer, from a long line of complainers. Like George, his protagonist whose life transforms after hopping on the bus, Gordon complained about his house, his lack of success, his wife, his weight, his lack of money, and just about everything else.
Ironically, this was even after the Long Island native found great early success in his professional life. A government/economics graduate of Cornell who received his Master’s in Education from Emory University, he owned his first restaurant/bar in the Buckhead area of Atlanta at age 24, and ran for city council at 26. He reflects, “I was the guy who when I was in my 20s people said, ‘Wow, you have the world ahead of you, so much potential. I was considered one of the up and comers in Atlanta, a rising star – someone who was making a difference in the community.” But circumstances were dramatically different just a few years later: “I was so emotionally immature. Didn’t know how to deal with my stress. Didn’t know how to deal with my fear. Didn’t know how to deal with the pressure of being a young dad with two kids to support.” At one point, Gordon nearly went bankrupt – and he almost lost his marriage.
When his wife Kathryn threatened to leave him, he had no choice but to take a long, hard look at himself and realize how his complaining and negativity were manifesting in everything that was wrong in his life. “I was dying every day instead of living,” he wrote. His survival instincts kicked in and he began to research the positive effects of being positive and the harmful effects of being negative. He was fortunate to meet renowned author and management expert Ken Blanchard, who became a true role model. Over the years, developing a healthier mindset led him to write, speak and consult with businesses and organizations and ultimately led him to create “The No Complaining Rule.” This being the pre-social media days of the early 2000s, everything started with a weekly email newsletter, sent to all his personal and business contacts. He coined the term “Thank You Walk” meaning a daily walk of gratitude and took it from there.
Sharing the fruits of all he was learning, Gordon wrote about counting our blessings, the way nature and music can energize and uplift us, and why it’s wrong to compare ourselves to others. He also wrote about having compassion for those who are less fortunate than we are. Helping others, he quickly learned, was the best way to become a better person himself. These weekly tips generated a great deal of local interest in his adopted home of Jacksonville, and he was soon invited to give inspirational talks to people at the local New York Life office, employees of Cingular Wireless, the Jaguars’ sales team and other prominent business people. Truly engaging in a crash course in learning his future profession on the job, Gordon quickly amassed some 80 free talks, with one gig paying $500.
When he lost his dotcom job, he took a huge financial risk by second mortgaging his home and maxing out his credit cards to invest in one, then ultimately three Moe’s Southwest Grill franchises to support his family. While the restaurant and his financial health were hanging on by a thread, his first Moe’s earned its first profit as the last dime came out of his bank account. Jon says it really was an answer to a prayer he made in desperation. His struggles, then success with the restaurants, combined with his growing renown as a speaker, earned him positive media coverage. He laid the foundation for “The Energy Bus” and all that came after with his first book, “Energy Addict: 101 Ways to Energize Your Life and Career,” which earned him several appearances on “The Today Show.”
As “The Energy Guy,” he drew inspiration from a number of religions and belief systems. The stalling of sales for that volume coincided with a powerful spiritual transformation to following Jesus – “and it was during this process that God started to change me and made me realize there was something more.” Gordon admits that when “The Energy Bus” started taking off, he didn’t have a lot of confidence in his ability to live up to people’s widening expectations. He attributes his ability to overcome all of the obstacles and challenges in his life to his deep faith.
While “The Energy Bus’” initial success led Gordon to become a popular figure with everyone from NFL coaches to high-level corporate executives, the author is most gratified that it’s still being discovered by new readers a decade later. Perhaps because of the evolving socio-political culture in America, more people are now talking about positivity and the need to overcome the negativity in our lives. He’s a natural born teacher too with an advanced degree in education, so he is also excited about its ongoing influence among principals, educators and whole school districts nationwide.
“Another wonderful aspect to fulfilling my destiny as a writer and speaker spreading the importance of positivity is that it continually inspires me to adopt the principles I espouse,” Gordon says. “My books represent the best in me, and I now spend my life incorporating those concepts and living up to what I’ve told others are necessary to live a joyful, fulfilled life. When I talk about being positive, it’s not ‘Polyanna’ positive. It’s living by practical principles. My life is proof that you can become a more positive and better version of yourself. Contributing to the well-being of others, I am able to live the life I always dreamed of and enjoy the blessing of hearing personal stories about how something I wrote or said impacted or even saved someone’s life. When my time comes, I will die hopefully having left a legacy and having made a difference.”
Those bursts of optimistic energy you hear emerging from Windsor, England aren’t cheers still echoing from a recent much publicized wedding there, but the grooving, up-tempo joy of “All I Ever Wanted”- the latest single by The Rua – a group comprised of three musical siblings, Roseanna, Alanna and Jonathan Brown, that make this small town near the River Thames their home.
Produced by the legendary Bob Rose, who’s worked with everyone from George Harrison to Julian Lennon, the track – from the trio’s still in progress full length follow up to their critically acclaimed debut Essence - captures the group’s exciting trademark dynamic of Roseanna on lead vocals and guitar, Alanna on keys and vocals, Jonathan on violin, guitar and vocals.
The project is being recorded in Rome at the Forum Music Village, a studio co-founded by Oscar winning film composer Ennio Morricone, located underneath the famed church Sacro Cuore di Maria. Complementing their core sound, The Rua is backed by a handful of renowned rock veterans, and five or six tracks will feature full strings by the 50-piece Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecelia, the first Italian orchestra (founded in 1908) devoted exclusively to symphonic repertoire.
The majority of the album will be written by The Rua, with Jonathan taking a lead vocal on his own composition “Gasoline.” The siblings are also collaborating with several prominent pop songwriters, including “Emergency Exit” with Nick Southwood (“Lost Stars” from the film Begin Again) and Shelley Poole from the popular duo Alisha’s Attic; and “Secretly Mesmerized,” with Marv Woods and Neil Athle.
Formed six years ago at the urging of their father and signed in 2013 by international indie label FOD Records, The Rua became an immediate international critical darling and quickly charted on the Billboard Adult Top 40 chart with their singles “Fire and Lies” (#30) and “Without You” (#38). A Dance remix by Love to Infinity earned “Without You” a #3 Breakout spot on the Billboard Club/Dance Songs chart, eventually peaking at #17.
Essence earned Billboard’s praise as one of “Tomorrrow’s Hits,” with a vibe that sounded like a mix between Taylor Swift, The Cranberries and The Corrs. In their 4* review, Q Magazine wrote, “Essence is an astonishingly assured collection with barely a whiff or artifice. At times, you can hear the ghosts of Fleetwood Mac and Corrs albums past. But when The Rua pitch into (their music), it’s all their own work and comparisons fall away.” France’s Le Figaro called them “a breath of fresh air arrived from England,” while Rolling Stone Germany wrote, “If there is any justice, this great debut will take the world by storm.”
During their first U.S. tour in 2015, The Rua were featured performers at numerous radio station sponsored festivals where they opened for artists like Rachel Platten, Adam Lambert, LeAnn Rimes, Karmin, A Great Big World, The Score and Third Eye Blind. In 2016, they opened for Wrabel, Parachute, Train, Blue October, Walking on Cars and Andrew McMahon.
Growing up in Windsor, Alanna, Roseanna and Jonathan – whose age spread totals over 7 years but who are adamantly “ageless and never getting older” – all played violin and piano, sang in choirs and performed together from the time they were children. With deep family roots in Ireland, they spent a lot of time in the neighboring country, playing music and taking part individually for many years in prominent competitions like The Feis. When their father bought them a Mac Book with music software, the three started writing songs together, which led them to start doing local open mics.
The confidence they gained from the audience response to their covers of songs by Fleetwood Mac and another legendary family group, The Carpenters, inspired them to continue to write and later send some of their demos to Bob Rose, who eventually helped them sign to FOD Records, a Toronto based company driven by global thinking when it comes to working with and marketing artists.
Another noteworthy element of The Rua’s story is their strong theatrical backgrounds and involvement in some very prominent films. They have all appeared in the film “Stormbreaker,” whose cast included Mickey Rourke and Ewan McGregor. Alanna was in the film “Closer” (with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen), Netflix’s “The Crown” and four Harry Potter movies. Roseanna has appeared in three Harry Potter films as well as “Snow White and The Huntsman (with Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart) and “Thor.” Jonathan appeared in one Harry Potter film and “Dark Shadows.” The siblings each studied music at A Level at Ashbourne. Roseanna received a degree in Music from Royal Holloway and Alanna earned her Master’s in Science.
“We loved Essence and the wonderful reaction it received,” says Roseanna, “but while many of those tracks had a rockier edge to them, these new songs are slightly more on the pop side, a little more upbeat, with more lighthearted, happier songwriting.” Alanna adds, “It’s more ‘poppy’ for sure, but we like the fact that it’s more love oriented thematically and shows definite musical progression, which comes from a mixture of growing up and writing what we want to write about and we’re excited to start singing them live and being part of those special moments when the audience feels the emotion right along with us.”