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Billy Steele of Sounds of Blackness will be here

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church plans special Rivertown Days services July 20

By Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

Composer, musician, member of two nationally-recognized groups and ordained minister Billy Steele (and Friends) will lead the worship services at 8 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and 10:35 a.m. Sunday, July 20, at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church Church, 400 Ninth St. W.

Steele is a composer, keyboardist and record producer who works with various artists, including the Steeles — with sister Jearlyn and his other siblings (he’s the youngest in the family). He’s also a member of the Minnesota-based Grammy-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness. His voice can be heard on the Disney DVD “John Henry,” from the American Legends series, and on soundtracks with Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross and others.

Steele is currently the assistant director for the Sounds of Blackness. The group was first formed more than 40 years ago, making it one of Minnesota’s longest running musical groups. It began in 1969 in St. Paul under the name Macalester College Black Voices. Current director Gary Hines joined the group in 19871. The named changed at that time.

Though often referred to as gospel group, Sounds of Blackness embraces many different influences – their most acclaimed album, “The Evolution of Gospel,” has them combining gospel with modern-day R and B to create songs to other Minneapolis sounds of the era. The album was produced by famed duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and helped pushed Sounds of Blackness into the national spotlight.

In 1992, “The Evolution of Gospel” was awarded the Grammy for best gospel choir. They have performed at the White House five times during the Clinton presidency and performed at the 1996 Olympics. They have since won two more Grammys, four Stellar Awards, an Emmy nomination and an International Time for Peace Award.

For 35 years, Sounds of Blackness has performed its holiday show, “The Night Before Christmas – A Musical Fantasy.” The show combines dance, storytelling, gospel, jazz, hip-hop and R and B.

The Sunday services are open to the community.