An interview with Milton Biggham
NewYorkGospel.com's Randy Jones talks one-on-one with the legendary Rev. Milton Biggham.
Randy Jones: When talking about Rev. Milton Biggham, we are talking about a pastor, a performer, corporate executive and a parent. And, when it comes to gospel music, there’s not a whole lot musically or otherwise that hasn’t felt your stamp and imprint. In the business for what seems like forever, you have recorded, produced, written for and performed with some of the biggest names in the music business.
Now Milton, just to let our readers know where things stand, when it comes to choirs, we are talking some of the world’s finest. Everybody from Mississippi Mass, Florida Mass, Dallas Fort Worth Mass, New York Restoration, Georgia Mass, Revival Temple and, of course, my personal favorite (and alma mater) the New Jersey Mass Choir.
Milton Biggham: You better call their names!
Randy Jones: Can I call those names?
Milton Biggham: Especially for New Jersey Mass, yes.
Randy Jones: We’re also talking about legendary artists like Thomas Dorsey, Lou Rawls and Bishop Jeff Banks. Inspirations like that. You worked with Mahalia too, I believe?
Milton Biggham: Well, I really did not work with her, I met her. Bu I was fortunate to meet Thomas A. Dorsey and to do a couple of recordings with him before he died.
Randy Jones: That is really special in itself, but there are some other folks that are still with us who are legends – folks like Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Clay Evans, Inez Andrews and Timothy Wright. Even beyond the “legends” you were also fresh because you were working and making an imprint on the genre’s top contemporary artists as well. Folks like LaShun Pace, Yolanda Adams, Donnie Harper, Donald Malloy, Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin. Those last two names are folks that you had a major role during the early part of their careers.
Milton Biggham: I am thankful that all of those 35 years. My gospel music career has stayed there and it is phenomenal. And I am grateful to God for having had the stamina to stay this long. Certainly, I’m looking to bigger and better things, of course. At this point, I do still produce. We just released the new Georgia Mass album called “Tell It” and that is my pride and joy right now and it seems to be doing well across the country. We just did a southern tour with Wal-Mart when Georgia Mass performed in the stores in southern Georgia that was phenomenal. So gospel music for me is still looking good and I am grateful that I am still in the business.
Randy Jones: Well, that was great. Let’s stay right there and talk about this Georgia Mass album a little bit more. I had the pleasure of hearing that project. It is an awesome album with a dynamic flavor, feel and contemporary style. Definitely, it is you all the way! Is there a particular favorite tune on there?
Milton Biggham: Well, I guess in some ways the song “It’s Not Over.” It is special because my son and my grandson sing with me on that song. So, there are three generations which proves it is not over until God says it is not over. So I believe in that one but the album was a joy to produce and I think it is one of their best albums so far.
Randy Jones: Well, the buzz here and throughout the gospel industry certainly supports that. This album is creating a lot of buzz and interest. It is on everyone’s playlist. I cannot turn on my satellite radio without hearing “Tell It” or some other track on there. It’s working. So, what is next beyond the Georgia Mass Choir? Is there a special project? Are there any new artists?
Milton Biggham: I am looking at some other artists. I’m always looking to do something new and I’ve got some things planned for this year. I’m looking at some choirs. I want to bring the choir back. That is one of my goals. I believe that the era of the choirs is such a great one because it brought music to the everyday person.
Randy Jones: That is right. I agree 100 percent.
Milton Biggham: I mean that when you can sing it church, everybody gets to sing it. All the musicians get a chance to play it simple and I think what I would like to try and do as well is to introduce some more new people into the industry. So I am working on, looking at and listening to some new artists.
Randy Jones: Any names you want to drop and share.
Milton Biggham: Well, there is a church but I am afraid to mention it. But I am looking in Jacksonville, Florida at a church there. I am also looking at some people in Detroit that might be doing something great in the near future.
Randy Jones: Okay. Well, we are going to keep our ears tuned to see what happens next and to certainly follow whatever the next development is. In that regard, I want to, if I could, go back for a minute because I know when we talk about all the artists, choirs and folks that you had the pleasure to support and work with, there is one name that I recall you saying this person, more than anyone, had this biggest influence on you. And that would be the name of the Reverend James Cleveland, is that correct?
Milton Biggham: Certainly, you are correct about that.
Randy Jones: I know from our time together with New Jersey Mass, I was especially pleased and honored that the very first project we did was with Pastor Cleveland. I know you have done other things with him including his last project which was, I believe, a Grammy winner. How was it like working with him?
Milton Biggham: Well it was euphoria to work with Reverend Cleveland. By far, he certainly was one of the most creative gospel music geniuses I have known. His style is unmatched even today. Certainly, it was an opportunity not only to record with him but we wrote a song together. At least two songs and that meant quite a bit to me; and to be close to a man that has created and brought music to another level because I think he was the gap between Dorsey and today – and that kept gospel music alive. I cannot even tell you the wonderful experiences I had with James Cleveland. In and out the studios across this country, watching this guy sit down at his piano, in his home, in his kitchen and listening him talk and do gospel music. There is nothing to compare that I had that opportunity.
Randy Jones: Those are indeed precious memories.
Milton Biggham: Yes.
Randy Jones: If we could, let’s just go back home to Newark, New Jersey and back to the pulpit of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.
Milton Biggham: Well, for the past 20 odd years, I have been a member of Mt. Vernon and of those 20 years, 13 years I have served as pastor. I came to Mt. Vernon playing the piano. From there they called me to preach. From preaching I went to the pulpit. From the pulpit, I am now the pastor.
Randy Jones: Look at God!
Milton Biggham: I thank God for Mt. Vernon Baptist Church. I learned there God had given me the heart of a pastor, and a group of people –about 460 people – that has changed my life for the better. So we are there every Sunday preaching. We are there every Monday in bible study. As well, they gave me opportunities to do what music around the country. But you cannot just be there, Randy.
Randy Jones: No, you cannot. But, you’re obviously a prominent pastor. Even more so, you are prominent in the music industry as a professional, an artist, producer, and songwriter and such. How do you separate your celebrity from your role of pastor?
Milton Biggham: It does not bother me and I don’t even think about it. I am who I am . . . wherever I am! And so, wherever I am, I do what I need to do to get through there and I do not feel like I have to take off a hat when I am in church or when I am doing music or out here as a professional. God has a message in song that now I am bigger and the good thing is that God has given me an opportunity for the past – at least – 15 years to be my own boss. So I make my own agenda and that is great blessing within me.