There is an eagerness to Gordon Chambers’ music. He wants you to listen, and then listen again. He’s pouring his heart out to you, not in anguish but with gratitude for his skills at using sound and sense to connect with others. The secret to his craft is that life has shaped Chambers into a great listener — and continues to do so.
The choice to release his fourth album, Surrender, on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was an easy one because the Bronx-born artist, and former ESSENCE editor, acknowledges him as a source of inspiration. “I am a child of the dream that [Martin Luther King] spoke about,” he says.
No stranger to the music industry, the Grammy-winning Chambers has accrued two decades worth of accolades, having penned chart-topping hits for icons and legends such as Anita Baker (“I Apologize”), Angie Stone (“No More Rain”), Brandy, Tamia, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight (“Missing You”), Beyonce (“After All Is Said And Done”) — along with three successful solo albums under his belt (with all featuring Grammy-nominated guests Ledisi and Carl Thomas).
And yet, in spite of his success, the prolific songwriter finds himself at a fork in the road. Weathering the passing of five family members as well as his friend and collaborator Whitney Houston proved a challenge for 48-year-old. He almost died, twice — once by a forceful rip current in familiar Florida waters and the other time, by barely escaping the flames of a four-alarm blaze that consumed his house on Valentines Day 2016. That one nearly claimed his spirit.
To the outside world and adoring fans everything seemed perfect but inside, the songwriter confessed that he was “truly tested, crying and struggling with my relevance.”
Now with Surrender, this son of Jamaican parents isn’t shying away from the immediacy of the message. The album features a mid-tempo duet “Back To Love” with Grammy-winner Lalah Hathaway. It also offers an inspirational song, “I Made It” featuring Eric Robertson and Steff Reed; the jazzy track “Imaginary Love” featuring Carol Riddick; a gospel standard “I Surrender All;” and an acoustic tribute to Whitney Houston entitled “My Way.”
“When we can accept that we are all children of God we can appreciate each other’s differences without putting human beings on totem poles,” said Chambers. “President Obama, who led America with the ideal of MLK’s dream, has left office. We are heading into a time of great uncertainty. I think one of the things that can inject some hope back into people is music, and, having traveled the world, I know that music heals and connects.”
As his lyric states: “There is just one sky above/One source of love/If I’ve got one chance, one choice/I’ll sing it from the heart with one song, one voice.”
Upon reflection, he adds, “This is my mantra in a song. If I should die, this could be my epitaph. These are the ideals I hold most high in my heart, and I hope those who buy this album and moved by this song for the same reason.
“Martin Luther King loved music [which] I believe, probably was for this very reason. The song ‘One Voice’ (written with my friend Phil Galdston) echoes these sentiments.”
To that he muses, “I thank Martin Luther King would have been proud of the lyrics of the bridge: ‘A song that heals/A melody of reason and freedom/With words that will speak for the weak/The hopeful and the strong/I’ll sing it for everyone.”
And when asked to share his favorite Martin Luther King quote, Chambers did not hesitate to reply, “This one — ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools — Martin Luther King, Jr.’”