Some say that Detroit is to gospel what clouds are to the sky. Schools ought to make that a standard analogy in Motown English classes. Whether hip hop, be-bop or hard rock, if you are a Detroiter, you know that the chu’ch is woven deep into the fabric of the Motor City.
Homegrown gospel talents such as Fred Hammond, Commissioned, Karen Clark-Sheard and the Winans became household names in inspirational music at different times over the past few decades. However, Detroit is also a gospel mecca, whose influence on the joyful noise has had huge impact on the music and ministry of current superstars like Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin.
Hence, Lexi, a thirtysomething Columbus, Ohio, transplant who uses a thunderous soprano to sing God’s praises to anyone who will listen. An original member of Anointed, a popular gospel group from her hometown, the former teacher came to Detroit a few years back at the urging of Hammond. Getting her to Detroit was one thing. Adjusting to the city was another matter.
“I’d never seen women get their hair and nails done and get it paid for by men,” she says, only half-jokingly. “I said, ‘So you can actually get your hair and nails done, and you don’t have to pay for it?’ I was at the car dealership, and one girl said ‘You’re not from here, are you?’ I said ‘How did you know that?’ She said ‘I look at your nails, and your hair, and I can tell you’re not originally from here.’”
Lexi was here for more than free hair and nails, though. She’d already released one album on Polygram Records, Call Her Lexi. Soon after the record’s release, Polygram was absorbed into Universal and Lexi was left to fend for herself.
Through connections, she spent time singing backup for R&B crooner Gerald Levert, took a job in a flower shop, joined Dunamis Outreach Ministries — Hammond’s church — and later signed with Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Records. Her debut for the label, And That’s The Way It Is, gained her notoriety, and she was nominated for a Stellar Award, the gospel equivalent of the Grammys. Now poised to release Something Different (out May 21), she hopes to capture the ear, heart and spirit of anyone willing to listen. She wants to cross over.
Experience has been a good teacher, and Lexi has learned that there are many similarities between the church and the music industry.
“There are people in the church who do not have your best interests at heart,” she ventures. “The church is nothing but a place where people in the community can come and worship together. They still have issues. We still have issues, things we need to work out. Gossipers, liars, fornicators and whisperers, we all come to church because we just wanna worship God. It’s the same thing in the music business. There are people who have your back and people who don’t.”
Christian societies often refer to the world outside of the church as just that, the world. Lexi, whose influences run from the Hawkins family to Kenny Loggins, Celine Dion, Peter Cetera and Jay Z, appears to have found a way to use secular society to attract more people to the faith. It shows in her music, which her publicity team calls “urban inspirational.” But she incorporates popular rhythm patterns and soul vibes subtly enough that her message is not overshadowed.
She testifies, revealing how she has had to trust the word while living in the world, just as her music builds secular sounds on a spiritual foundation.
There was divine intervention too.
“God showed up in my life, actually showed up. Two weeks prior to my graduation from college, I got pregnant. I had an abortion. Something went wrong, and I wasn’t able to have my cycle anymore. My mother is a doctor. She took me to specialists. I’d just gotten saved. Finally, I said ‘I’m gonna believe what it says right here (in the Bible).’ I said ‘By the time I get married, I’m gonna be healed.’ I made myself believe that. A couple of years later, I had my cycle. And when I got married, a year-and-a-half later, I got pregnant. No big deal. Why? Because I believed!
“I wanna get that message across.”
Lexi will perform at Gwen’s Motown Gospel Cafe (17569 E. Warren, Detroit), Tuesday, May 21. Show time is 7 p.m. For information call 313-886-4467.E-mail Khary Kimani Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org