All of us are born with a destiny and calling. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, God tells the Old Testament prophet: "I knew you before you were born...I sanctified you and appointed you as my spokesman to the world."
Karima Kibble, Ebony Trotter, Shavonne Sampson and Negelle Sumter-better known today as Virtue-were all born into houses full of music, and with hearts for the Lord. And on the group's latest release, Get Ready, those voices shine more brilliantly than ever. Under the sure hand of some of Gospel's hottest producers-including Mitchell Jones, formerly of Commissioned, and Take 6's Mark and Joey Kibble-both quiet elegance and joyful abandon meet in a Gospel/urban/R&B/pop amalgam that is nothing short of spectacular.
Is it really Gospel? Absolutely. The Good News and the Church which sings its praises permeate everything Virtue touches. Is it serious, no-nonsense urban/r&b grooves? Believe it. These ladies can cook with the best. And pop? Virtue seamlessly sews together diverse influences into a garment that fits people of all persuasions, propensities and tastes.
Call it any or all of the above. Or better still, just call it Virtue.
With an ear to the street, and eyes on the Lord, Virtue delivers a message of relevance and urgency. And Get Ready is a profound journey into that rare, anointed place where entertainment, inspiration and worship meet in perfect harmony. At the natural intersection of Gospel and contemporary R&B, Virtue has defined its sound, and along the way changed the landscape of contemporary Gospel.
"All of us had musical families, and just grew up singing," Negelle relates. "We had all sung in other groups before the four of us got together, but we knew from the first moment that this was from God. We didn't have to work at singing as a group. We had a natural blend, and we also were of the same mind regarding the purpose of our singing. We were thinking ministry. We would have remained happy to serve God as a local voice. We didn't even have a finished demo, but it found its own way to Verity and they signed us. It was something that God brought to us totally unexpectedly."
On an album filled with hits-in-the-making, it's hard to pick any one track over another. Still, several songs literally jump up and command attention. With heavenly harmony, the group proclaims the wonder of Divine angelic interaction in the lives of humankind on "Angels Watching Over Me."
"This one is a group favorite," say Negelle. "It's full of individual testimonies. Each of us sings a verse which is very different lyrically, but each one tells in its own way how faithfully God cares for us. The truth in this song connects passionately, in a way that made it difficult for us to get control over our emotions long enough to get through the recording of it. We are overwhelmed by the love of God and the knowledge that everywhere we go, God's presence is there, watching over us. He constantly gives us gifts-tangible and intangible-to help us through this life.
"I have a five year-old-niece who I was taking to school one day, right before we recorded that song," Negelle remembers. "She was buckling the seat belt on an empty seat and I asked her what she was doing. She said, 'This is where my angel sits.' That statement hit me so hard. If we could all just find that kind of child-like faith, imagine what God could do through us."
"Get Ready" is an irresistibly catchy mid-tempo jam that gives caution of Christ's imminent return. "You might think you're stuck where you are and things aren't ever going to change, or maybe your life is comfortable now and the future is not something you think about much," says Negelle, "but Christ is coming back, and once you've let Him into your life, you're going to see all kind of amazing changes taking place."
The steady-rocking groove of "'Super Victorious'" pours out praise to the Almighty. "It's a song of praise and worship and celebration," Negelle says. "It has an infectious beat and the message is so 'in your face' about how great and how good and how victorious God is."
At every turn Get Ready brims with the excitement of artists who truly know the Lord they sing about, while joyfully blurring the distinctions of age, race and easy musical categorization. Singing since they were children, the girls' musical influences range from traditional and contemporary Gospel to mainstream pop and R&B, as they fuse the inspirations of their musical mentors with cutting edge '90s sensibilities and an uncompromising Gospel message to create a sound entirely their own.
"We've been influenced by artists from the Hawkins Family, Commissioned, and Take 6, to Michael W. Smith, Kathy Troccoli and Amy Grant," says Negelle. "Our music builds a bridge that our message then travels across.
We've been surprised and thrilled to find that although we did not target a particular audience for our first album, it found its own way into the embrace of both the Gospel and contemporary Christian markets. We have varied musical backgrounds and tastes, and a sound that is able to reach a wide range of listeners, and break down some barriers along the way as well.."
The group's debut album, released in the spring of '97, earned nominations for three Stellar and two Dove Awards, landing a major hit on the Gospel charts with "Let the Redeemed," and a top 10 Contemporary Christian smash, "Greatest Part of Me."
"We want to touch those who have been raised in the Church but do not yet have a relationship with Christ," says Negelle. "Each member of Virtue has a story to tell along these lines. Though we went to church all of our lives, there was a time when we were just going through the motions, until somebody said something that made Him real to us.
"And we want to reach people who are still wandering out in the world and don't know Christ at all. Jesus commissioned us to go out and be fishers of men and we take that charge seriously."
With a calm self-assurance that's characteristic of Virtue, each member holds visions and dreams for the future that are remarkably of one mind. Negelle emphasizes that the group did not choose its name lightly.
"We would hope that people see Christ in us all the time-not just when we're singing but in every aspect of our lives. We take the name Virtue very seriously. We didn't choose it because we felt that we were virtuous in and of ourselves. We want to show people that if you strive to be like Christ and let Him work in your life, then you are a virtuous person."