Sounds of Blackness

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Sounds of Blackness
OriginMinneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
GenresGospel, R&B, soul
Years active1969–present
LabelsPerspective Records
A&M Records
Zinc Records
Atomic K Records
Malaco Music Group
Associated actsParis Bennett, Cynthia Johnson, Alexander O'Neal
Past membersRobert J. Jones[1]
Ann Nesby
James "Big Jim" Wright (deceased)

Sounds of Blackness is a vocal and instrumental ensemble from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota who perform music from several genres music including gospel, R&B, soul, and jazz.[2] The group scored several hits on the Billboard R&B and Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts in the 1990s. Cynthia Johnson of Lipps Inc. and Ann Nesby are the group's most prominent alumni.



The group was founded in 1969 by Russell Knighton at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the group was called the Macalester College Black Voices. It was in 1971 when current director Gary Hines took leadership over the ensemble, and the group name was officially changed to Sounds of Blackness.

The chief lead singer of the group was Ann Nesby until 1995 when Nesby left the group to pursue a solo career. The group continues to perform internationally. The group performed the original songs for the 2000 Disney animated short John Henry (based on the folklore character) as part of Disney's American Legends, the short was re-released in 2015 as part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection. The original songs were written by Gary Hines and Billy Steele, with a score by Stephen James Taylor.

On September 30, 2018, group member James "Big Jim" Wright was found dead at his home in Rockford, Illinois.[3] Outside of Sounds of Blackness, Wright was best known as a frequent collaborator of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and an in-house producer for their company, Flyte Tyme Productions.

Awards and honors[edit]

Star honoring Sounds of Blackness on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue

The group has received three Grammy Awards, four Stellar Awards, one Emmy nomination, the International Time for Peace Award, the International Dance Music Award, five NAACP Image Award nominations and 1 NAACP Image Award.

Sounds of Blackness's "Time For Love" was nominated for the 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for R&B Song of the year.

Sounds of Blackness has been honored with a star on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue,[4] recognizing performers that have played sold-out shows or have otherwise demonstrated a major contribution to the culture at the iconic venue.[5] Receiving a star "might be the most prestigious public honor an artist can receive in Minneapolis," according to journalist Steve Marsh.[6]


Vocalists and Instrumentalists, past and present (partial list):


Ronnie Allen, Melissa Belfrey, Jayn Bell, Jamecia Bennett, Michael Bowens, Kimberly Brown, Quintin Brown, Salimah Bryant, Ashley Commodore, Nneka Constantino, Charles Cooley, Core' Cotton, Ayenna Davis, Tim Davis, Bridget Dawkins, Amy Petersen Demps, Doriel Demps, Steve Dinkins, Melody Doyle, Robert Edwards, Rodney Fair, Graydon Francis, Elwyn Fraser Jr, Terrence Frierson, Lacie Glasper, Marie Graham, Alecia Russell-Hammonds, Reginald Haney, Carrie Harrington, Sandy Harris, Angela Henderson, Quan Howell, David Hurst, Dr. Robert Jones, Chreese Jones, Geoff Jones, Len Jones, Alexandra King, Russell Knighton, Patricia Lacy, Timothy W. Lee, Wanda Lewis, Yulanda Lunn, Ann Nesby, Chanel Perry, Carl Pertile, Cheryl Reeves, Charles Robinson, Greg Sears, Cydni Shepard, Lynnette Simpson, Mike Smith, Aaron Keith Stewart, Dorothy "DT" Townes, Andrea Tribitt, Libby Turner, Victoria Udeh, Anthony Valentino, Tamika Wade, Jennifer L J Whitlock, Freddie Winston, and David Young.


Daryl Boudreaux - Percussion, Brandon Commodore - Drums, Trenon Graham - Drums, Gary Hines - Music Director & Keyboards, Solomon Hughes - Guitar, Paul Johnson - Bass, Jeanine McAdams - Keyboards, Darold McCray - Guitar, Juan Navarro - Trombone, Larry Robinson - Drums, Larry Sims - Trumpet, Mike Scott - Guitar, Louis James Wilson - Tenor Saxophone, Billy Steele - Assistant Director & Keyboards, David Wright III - Baritone Saxophone & Flute, Frank Wharton - Alto Saxophone, Kevin Whitlock - Congas/Percussion, Solomon Parham - Trumpet

Emeritus Members[edit]

Gregory Adams, Diane Beckley, Rochelle Graves Berry, Dorothy Brown, Gordon Bruce, Keith Bushnell, Ethylon Butler, Demetria (Jones) Carter, Dara Ceaser, Ginger Commodore, Rita Commodore, Robert Commodore, Pat (Webster) Foreman, Theo Foreman, W.D. Foster, LaSalle Gabriel, Michael Graham, Kelli Hickman, Wendy Ingram, Cynthia Johnson, JoAnn (Hollies) Johnson, David E. Jones, Renee McCall, Valarie (Johnson) McCullar, Otis Montgomery, Dorothy "Dot" Shelby, Audrey Smith, William "Bill" Smith, Eugene Stump, Craig "Rojeem" Taylor, Bob Thomas, Tim Thompson, Gennise (Jones) Wilson, James "Big Jim" Wright, and Joe Young Jr.


Studio albums[edit]

  • The Evolution of Gospel (Perspective, 1991)
  • The Night Before Christmas... A Musical Fantasy (Perspective, 1992)
  • Africa to America: The Journey of the Drum (Perspective, 1994)
  • Time For Healing (Perspective, 1997)
  • Reconciliation (Zinc, 1999)
  • Soul Symphony (Sounds Of Blackness, 2002)
  • The Night Before Christmas II (Atomic K, 2004)
  • Unity (SLR/Lightyear, 2005)
  • Kings & Queens - Message Music From The Movement (P-Vine, 2007)
  • The 3rd Gift - Story, Song & Spirit (CC Entertainment, 2009)
  • The Sounds of Blackness (Atomic K, 2011)


  • Journey Of The Drum Remix Collection (Perspective, 1995)
  • The Very Best Of Sounds Of Blackness (A&M, 2001)
  • The Collection (Spectrum, 2003)
  • The Best Of Sounds Of Blackness - The Millennium Collection (20th Century Masters) (A&M, 2007)

Other appearances[edit]

  • Mo’ Money: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack ("Joy") (Perspective, 1992)
  • A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield ("Amen" with Elton John) (Warner Bros., 1994)
  • Soccer Rocks the Globe: World Cup USA 94 ("Gloryland" with Daryl Hall) (Mercury Records, 1994)
  • Whistle Down the Wind ("Vaults of Heaven" with Tom Jones, "Wrestle With the Devil") (Really Useful Records, 1998)
  • Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Image Entertainment, 2004)


Year Single Peak chart positions Album
US 100
US R&B HipHop
US Dance
US Gospel
1991 "Optimistic" 3 17 45 The Evolution Of Gospel
"The Pressure Part 1" 16 1 71
1992 "Testify" (US only) 12 7
"Optimistic / Testify" (UK only) 28
"Pressure (Pt. 1) (CJ Mackintosh Remix)" (UK only) 49
"Joy" (US only) 27 Mo' Money OST
"Soul Holidays / Joy" (UK only) 79 The Night Before Christmas - A Musical Fantasy
1993 "I'm Going All The Way" (UK only) 27 Africa to America: The Journey of the Drum
1994 "I Believe" 99 15 1 17
"Gloryland" (with Daryl Hall) 37 36 Official Theme Song Of World Cup USA 94
"Everything Is Gonna Be Alright" 29 10 29 Africa to America: The Journey of the Drum
"I'm Going All The Way" 39 41 14
1995 "Black Butterfly" (US only) 86
1996 "Children Of The World" 90 19 141 People: A Musical Celebration Of Diversity OST
1997 "Spirit" 29 35 Time For Healing
1998 "The Pressure (new remixes)" (UK only) 46 single only
"Try" Reconciliation
2005 "Unity" 29 Unity
2011 "Fly Again" 93 22 The Sounds Of Blackness
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Robert J. Jones". Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Official Website of Sounds of Blackness". Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  3. ^ Gay, Gregory. "The Passing of Big Jim Wright". Gospel Flava. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  4. ^ "The Stars". First Avenue & 7th Street Entry. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
  5. ^ Bream, Jon (2019-05-03). "10 things you'll learn about First Avenue in new Minnesota History Center show". Star Tribune. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
  6. ^ Marsh, Steve (2019-05-13). "First Avenue's Star Wall". Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
  7. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - US Hot 100". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  8. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  9. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - US Dance Club Songs". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - US Hot Gospel Songs". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  11. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - Swiss chart". Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  12. ^ "Sounds Of Blackness - UK Chart". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 17 September 2014.

External links[edit]