Editors Note: A heartwarming feature story about Gary Samuels by Andrea Williams
We all know this life comes with challenges. Gospel artist Gary Samuels seems to have had more than his share. Bouts with cancer, paralysis, partial blindness, sexual abuse, witnessing the shooting of his mother and the death of a child are just some of the life-changing challenges he’s had to endure.
Where others have succumbed to life’s heartaches, Samuels seems to have conquered each one. He knows that it’s only by the grace of God that he’s not only survived, but succeeded. Every problem and its ultimate solution has given Samuels a point of reference to sing from. The multi-octave vocalist, with a golden voice and a tonal quality that rivals some of today’s best singers, is truly a divine instrument.
Raised in Harlem, New York City, Gary was one of fifteen children. Surrounded by music, his mother was a pianist and singer; his stepfather, who did not live in the home with Gary, was a Jazz pianist.
In addition to his parents, his Grand Aunt Madam was a strong influence as well teaching Gary his first song entitled “Wooden Church on A Hill”. He loved music; it was a personal escape, especially after his life took a bad turn.
“Being raised in a home where neither my birth father nor stepfather was present, I was left without the male leadership that was needed,” explains Gary. “A male teacher decided to take me under his wing. The summer that I was to turn nine, two major changes happened. In July, I watched as my mother was shot by my stepfather and then in August, the teacher, who we will call Mr. O, was given permission by my mother to keep me for the remainder of the summer. He did everything that a father would do for his child – except I was molested by him and his friends.”
When Gary mentioned the molestation to his aunt, she accused him of lying. It wasn’t until his mother saw evidence that she and his aunt believed him. But by that time, years had passed and the damage had been done. Mr. O had also introduced Gary to drugs and his life started spiraling out of control.
Promiscuity followed and he fell deeper into drugs. Other traumatic events followed including a face-first fall at a skating rink causing partial paralysis and then while in college the diagnosis of a malignant tumor.
Going back to the one place where he knew he could find answers, he went back to church. Gary found himself at Progressive Baptist Church and heard the message, “There Is Room at the Cross”.
“Rev. Walter Martin prayed for me and asked me if I believed God would heal me. Out of obedience, I said ‘yes!'” Gary’s surrender opened the door to complete healing from drugs and alcohol; shortly thereafter, the cancerous tumor disappeared – while he was listening to Donald Vails’ recording of “Jesus, I Love You”.
In spite of it all, Gary Samuels has always had a song on his lips and a love for Gospel music. As a youngster, he was a member of his family’s singing group called “The Samuels Singers” and the ensemble toured the country.
As an adult, he broadened his musical horizons by singing for countless choirs including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Choir, The United Negro College Fund Choir, The Orangeburg Gospel Choral Union, The Serenity Singers, The Eternal Light Community Singers, Just By Faith Gospel Choir, United In Christ Fellowship Choir and United Eternal Voice In Christ Choir.
As he continued to sing, his love for the musical art form grew, but it always seemed like he was the loudest in the bunch. “I was always referred to as ‘big mouth,'” recalls Gary. “I just couldn’t sing soft – although I tried. People would tell me that in a group of dozens of singers, they could hear me!” Not only was the vocalist a stand-out, but because of his unique gifting of a multi-octave range, he could easily float between tenor, alto and soprano, making it a challenge for choir directors to determine what part he should sing.
“When you ask me what’s in my natural vocal range, it depends of the day of the week,” Gary quips. It wasn’t until he heard vocalist Linda Hopkins sing that he knew he wasn’t alone. At the performance, he heard Hopkins glide between soprano and tenor effortlessly and realized that he truly had something special.
His gift has truly made room for him with opportunities to sing in front of Presidents and the Pope; he’s experienced what some only imagine. Living a dream, he’s been able to act out his life on stage with his play called, “Gospel Of The Blues”. With original music and riveting performances, the play merges two of his musical loves: Gospel Music and Blues. The play is a testament to the power of faith and is a theatrical display of Gary’s testimony.
God’s favor has followed Gary and he’s been blessed to sing for President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, President George Bush, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. He’s performed at The Apollo and Radio City Music Hall. He’s sung with Opera Diva Grace Bumbry and Jazz Great Wynton Marsalis and opened up for Kelly Price, Donnie McClurkin, and Mary Mary. Although he’s thrilled at the many opportunities he’s had to sing for notable people, he receives the most joy from singing at nursing homes, senior centers and prisons.
He’s tackled the role of Minister of Music at Bethel AME Church in Connecticut and his home church, Progressive Baptist Church, as well as Baptist House of Prayer, both in Harlem. It was at the Little Mt. Calvary Baptist Church with Rev. James Peoples that he began to write music; ultimately his musical catalog would encompass close to 200 songs.
In November 2006 just before his mentor Rev. Leroy Ricksy of Church of the Resurrection passed away, he summoned Gary to his bedside and prayed a prophetic prayer that his music would take him around the world, and millions would be blessed by hearing it. Since that time, he’s shared his musical talent overseas singing in Africa, Spain and other countries.
Gary added the titles “Recording Artist” and “Co-Producer” to his burgeoning list of roles when he recorded two CDs, I Believe in 2009 and I Can in 2010. The ground-breaking video for the single, “I Believe”, was entered in the 2010 BET Awards for Best Gospel Video. The first two projects were followed by Grace of God, an EP featuring the title tune, “Grace of God”, and other moving tunes, released in 2012.
But success hasn’t come without a price. The verse, “to whom much is given, much is required”, could have easily been written for the psalmist who has experienced tragedy after tragedy. But through it all, Gary has allowed the Lord to take the lead. Seeing his life as a set of songs, the title of the new Versatile Entertainment CD is called Soundtrack of My Soul. All of his experiences have been poured into his music as God has written songs through him.
“When I sing about God’s healing power and his saving power, it’s not from a movie screen or something someone told me,” says Samuels. It’s what I know. I know it for myself.”
Gary’s testimonies have been the impetus for the upcoming project scheduled to drop in the summer of 2013. His label head and producer, Jaeson Marks, has been in the studio putting the finishing touches on the CD.
Fans of the artist’s unique vocal and musical style won’t have to wait much longer for the forthcoming release. For Gary, it’s been worth the wait. Scripture says that the ending of a thing is better than its beginning. That verse certainly could have been written with Gary Samuels in mind.