John P. Kee
A religious calling turned John P. Kee from a seedy lifestyle to a career as a top-ranked gospel performer, producer, and pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a 1996 interview he explained, "God delivered me in Charlotte's inner city from a life that mirrors the ills that we still face today." Inspired by the work of the Reverend Dr. James Cleveland, he quickly came into his own with his studio recordings. His releases through the 2010s, whether issued as a solo artist or featuring his New Life Community Choir, made him among the most popular contemporary gospel artists of the late 20th century and early 21st century. They regularly peaked near or at the top of Billboard's gospel chart.
The 15th of 16 children, Kee (born John Prince Kee) showed musical talent at a very early age. After studying at a special school for musically gifted children, the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, he formed his first choir at 13. Moving to California, he studied music with his older brothers, Al and Wayne, attending the Yuba College Conservatory School of Music in Marysville and becoming involved with the area's top musicians. While in California, he also played briefly with groups like the Blackbyrds and Cameo. However, his talents didn't save him from difficult times. By his late teens he had begun living a hard-edged street life. That lifestyle followed him to California and back again. When he returned to his home state, he moved to Charlotte's Double Oaks community and continued to slide down to a life of drugs and violence.
Kee began to turn his lifestyle around in his early twenties after seeing a friend murdered in a cocaine deal gone bad. Surrendering to the Lord during a revival meeting at the PTL, he became involved with the New Life Fellowship Church. Devoting himself to gospel music, he began singing and formed the group New Life Community Choir. His first professional break came in 1985 when he became the first artist to be asked to record lead vocals on two tracks for the Gospel Music Workshop of America's annual mass choir recording. In 1987 he released his first album with the New Life Community Choir, Yes Lord, which was recorded during a performance at the Brethren in Unity Youth Convention. In 1989 he released his debut solo album, Wait on Him.
Kee continued to balance solo albums and recordings with the choir. The early '90s brought the beginning of what became a flood of awards, including more than a dozen Stellar Awards, 20 GMWA Excellence Awards, a Soul Train Award, and two Billboard Music Awards. In 1995, Kee and the New Life Community Choir reached their first commercial peak with the gold award-winning album Show Up, which was also nominated for a Grammy, as was his 1999 album Strength. The same decade, Kee added a full-time ministry to his list of accomplishments, balancing work in the New Life Community Church with his music career. In addition to his own albums, Kee produced albums by the Victory in Praise Mass Choir, Shawn McClemore and New Image, and Drea Randle.
During the 2000s and 2010s, Kee frequently returned to the recording studio with the choir. He consistently produced albums, such as Not Guilty...The Experience (2000), Blessed by Association (2002), and Life & Favor (2012), that used passionate praise & worship music mixed with contemporary R&B and hip-hop to deliver the message of redemption through Christ. In 2015, through Motown Gospel, he released the solo recording Level Next, his 25th album overall. ~ Craig Harris