TRAVERSE CITY — Derrick Hall raised his powerful voice in “It’s Your Season To Be Blessed,” the chords and riffs of his organ driving the upbeat song.
It wasn’t a church service but rather “Gospel Brunch” on the deck of Clinch Park’s Rivertown Café. And listeners donned shorts and swimsuits instead of their Sabbath Day best.
The new Sunday afternoon series is the creation of M’Lynn Hartwell and Peter Murphy of Freshwater Events, which focuses on bringing world cultural events to the community and on crafting sounds not heard elsewhere in the area. Hartwell said Gospel Brunch was inspired by churches in the South, though it’s more about "gospel as a music genre.”
“My son was in Memphis and he was across from a Methodist gospel church and the music coming across the street was phenomenal,” she said. “I talked to Peter and he pulled a band together. Nobody else here is doing gospel and it’s fun, it feels good.”
The music was a long time in coming for Hall. He moved to the area in 2002 to play the Holiday Inn circuit.
“It’s rare in northern Michigan,” said the musician and music producer-engineer, who was raised in the gospel tradition. “For the whole time I’ve been up here I’ve been looking for this.”
The naturally gifted keyboardist discovered his talent in an unconventional way and took only a year of lessons.
“At 6 years old I had a dream that I could play,” he said. “We had a piano in our house and so I woke up from a dream and tried to play what I heard in my dream. And I could play!”
He started performing in bands in the 1980s, eventually touring with an R&B dance band. But something "wasn't right," Hall said. He quit the band and moved to Atlanta, where he helped produce his brother, also a musician, and worked as a security guard with his brother’s company.