Pittsburgh gospel group finds global avenue to spread word

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

William D. Hawkins III grew up in a working-class home in the North Side, but he was always rich in encouragement from his mother.

She loved to hear him sing, he said.

“That was my encouragement — her wish was to see me sing, and so it was like a tribute to her,” he said of his 27-year membership in a gospel singing group, Voices for Christ.

Hawkins, 59, and the four other Pittsburgh-area Voices for Christ members — Rick Young, Henry L. Biggs, Jonathan McMiller and Wayne Walker — took their love of singing into a studio to record their first international album. “More Like You” was released internationally on Tuesday through Tate Music Group, a family-owned, Christian-rooted company in Mustang, Okla.

“It's a good feeling,” Walker said.

Voices for Christ recorded two other albums that were released locally. This time, the group hopes to expand its reach by tapping into up-to-the-minute technology, including iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and Spotify.

“This is a new technology, and we're glad to be part of it,” said Walker, of Wilkinsburg, who, like Hawkins, is an original member of Voices for Christ.

The group recorded “More Like You” over two years, finishing in the summer at Soundscape Studios in McKeesport, Walker said.

Walker, who writes some of the group's lyrics, described its style as contemporary gospel.

“I write from the Scriptures,” said Walker, 74.

The 1986 founding of Voices for Christ was the idea of a former member, Linda Ross Brown, who had been a Pittsburgh Public Schools choral teacher.

Brown's background, as well as Biggs', another former city schools choral teacher, helped form the group's unique sound, Biggs said.

“Everyone always mentions how articulate the group is and how you can hear every word that we sing,” said Biggs, of Stanton Heights, who declined to give his age.

Several members said they grew up singing in church choirs and then strayed into performing secular music before joining Voices for Christ.

“The expectations (for the album) are first and foremost, for me, just to fulfill the purpose that God put on my heart and this ministry,” said Young, 59, a Penn Hills resident who joined the group in 2005.

The group performs locally at churches, correctional institutions, senior citizens facilities and other venues.

Group members see their music as a way to “minister to people through song.”

The release of “More Like You” will allow them to expand that ministry, said Mt. Oliver resident McMiller, 56, who joined the group in 1996.

“This is about God blessing us, the group Voices for Christ, to get out his word,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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