Things are looking up for The Harlem Gospel Travelers, who return with a new album, a new lineup, and a new lease on life. Produced by Eli Paperboy Reed, Look Up! marks the group’s first full-length release as a trio, as well as their first collection of totally original material, and it couldn’t have come at a more vital moment.
The music still draws deeply on the gospel quartet tradition of the ’50s and ’60s, of course, but there’s a distinctly modern edge to the record, an unmistakable reflection of the tumultuous past few years of pandemic anxiety, political chaos, and social unrest. The songs are bold and resilient, facing down doubt and despair with faith and perseverance, and the performances are explosive and ecstatic, fueled by dazzling vocal arrangements punctuated with gritty bursts of guitar and crunchy rhythm breaks.
Born out of an non-profit music education program led by Reed, The Harlem Gospel Travelers—singers Ifedayo Gatling, George Marage, and Dennis Bailey—released their debut LP, He’s On Time, to rave reviews in 2019. The record charted on Billboard, earned the Travelers high profile fans like Elton John (who invited them to appear on his Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music), and landed them festival slots everywhere from Pilgrimage to Telluride Jazz.
Singer-songwriter Ifedayo Gatling has a deep history in the church and gospel music. “! am what we call a gold star PK (preacher’s kid),” he reveals. “My mother and father are both pastors. My stepdad is a bishop. My aunt and grandmother are both reverends. I am the minister of music for our church.
“I grew up with a strong faith based family. I went to Christian school for the first part of my life. I was a huge VeggieTales kid (Christian kids show). I even used to play church and preach in my living room to my family. Faith played a huge part of my up bringing. You can even hear it in how I communicate. I’m famous for saying ‘help father’ and other faith based statements.
“For the first part of my life I only listened to Gospel. I grew up on the sounds of Richard Smallwood , Darrel Coley, John P. Kee and Donald Laurence . I grew up singing in choir and credit that to why I have such a strong belt.
“I grew up watching my mom sing before she would preach. She would sing ‘just another day that the lord has kept me.’ She would light the church on fire. Eventually she started having me sing the song for her before she would preach. That was my first ever solo.”