Discover Gospel Singer, Jonathan McReynolds & His Awe Inspiring Musical Journey
Gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds has always been passionate about two things: music and the word of God. The 26 year old singer, already with two successful albums to his name, has been eager to share his story, his music and his thoughts/teachings to all who will listen. I caught up with him on his recent trip to New York City for an interview, where we talked about the music, his surprising rise to success and his new nonprofit organization, Elihu Nation, among other things.
Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Jonathan McReynolds grew up in the church. His mother was a church missionary and he spent his time around the church musicians. He was playing the drums by age 4 and by 8 or 9 years old he had evolved to the church organs. It wouldn’t be long before he realized his talent for singing, but ironically church was the last place he openly displayed his vocal abilities. He did sing on the youth choir, but that was childhood fun. In fact, he stresses that he really didn’t want to get into music when he was young at all, he simply enjoyed being around the other musicians who had become his closest friends.
“God worked on me for a minute and revealed it to me overnight” -Jonathan McReynolds
He developed his chops for singing while in high school, admittedly because he realized the girls were interested in the artist types and the musicians. He would sing R&B songs because “that’s all we really knew we had possibilities for.”
It only made sense for him to study music in college, attending Columbia College of Chicago pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music, contemporary, urban and popular. Asked about his plans for the degree had things not taken off with his career, and he’s honestly taken aback. “I never do anything goalless or planless, but this happened so fast so it’s kinda like, yeah, what was I about to do? I really don’t know.”
It was in college that he firmed up his voice, style and his sound in Gospel music. “It really wasn’t a decision to do Gospel music, it was a decision to be me,” McReynolds revealed. “This is the kingdom I best represent. This is the kingdom I care about. It wasn’t me saying, I want to make Gospel music, naw. I would run out of stuff to say if I was trying to do R&B. I dont have an R&B lens. I don’t look at R&B through the eyes that would require that type of inspiration.” Things for Jonathan came together quite naturally, a recurring theme of his career.
And it did happen quickly, looking back at it. Jonathan recalled the events that helped propel him into a full fledged Gospel career, a nice gesture with somewhat unintended rewards. ” I knew I had some things planned, but not like this,” McReynolds admits. In college he turned his room into a studio and would work on music in his free time. By junior year he had put together a decent collection of songs that he was ready to share. The holidays were coming up and like a regular college student he didn’t have much money. So he decided to go the sentimental route, putting together a CD for close family and friends. “I recorded a first track for my aunt, or sister or my uncle,” Jonathan says of the cd intro. He added five to six songs on each disc and that was the beginning of his success. He titled the project, The Very Unofficial EP of Jonathan McReynolds.
The Very Unofficial EP would make its way on Facebook and then YouTube, and with the help of the internet Jonathan was able to reach a wide audience and an excited fan base. His unintended first single, “No Gray” found its way to radio and that was the first big step in what has been a successful career thus far.
Listen to Jonathan McReynold’s full story about The Unofficial EP here:
By his senior year his music career was ready to take off. He graduated in 2011 and could turn his complete focus to music. Jonathan met with Pastor Jerry Parries, the president of Tehillah Music Group/Light Records and signed a deal for the release of his first album. The debut, Life Music was released in the Fall of 2012, making its way to #3 on the Gospel chart, led by songs like, “I Love You” and the rerecorded “No Gray.” With such a soulful and smooth voice along with effortless writing capabilities, Jonathan McReynolds has been an undeniable talent the last few years.
He calls 2014 his breakout year, with a performance at BET’s Celebration of Gospel with R&B mainstay India.Arie, as well as performances at the Essence Festival and on 106 & Park. That year was also when he developed a friendship with the aforementioned India.Arie, who highly touts McReynolds. While he was doing amazing things in music that year he was also back in school ,pursuing a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies, which he completed last May.
A few months after that success of a master’s degree, Jonathan McReynolds released his sophomore project, Life Music: Stage Two, on September 18th, 2015, just one day after his 26th birthday. “Second album was a different pressure, different expectation level. It was hard for me to be innocent and write like nobody is ever going to hear it,” McReynolds confesses of Stage Two. The album was released this time in connection with Entertainment One Music and partnered him with producers Warryn Campbell, Chuck Harmony, Claude Kelly, and Israel Houghton among others with guest appearances from India.Arie, Derek Minor and Corey Barksdale. It became the number one Gospel album in the country and would be nominated by the Grammys as the Gospel album of the year. He also received five Stellar Award nominations.
McReynolds says he had to take a step back to create Life Music: Stage Two, particularly with the pressure of knowing the fans had high expectations. “I had to tell myself to write from the heart, write like you haven’t been to any award shows. Write like you haven’t become aware of what’s going on around you because I feel like that’s when I write my best stuff.” Looks like that motivation worked wonders.
The album’s latest single, “The Way That You Love Me” is finding the similar success of his previous releases. Co-written by Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony, McReynolds called the creative process “really organic.” He continued, “it was cool to produce and do something different with two people who have been killing it for a long time.”
A few months removed from the album release McReynolds is touring and preparing for what’s next. He recently launched a nonprofit organization called, Elihu Nation. Besides getting that off the ground and always working diligently on the music, that Jonathan McReynolds also teaches at his Alma matter, Columbia College in Chicago.
We talked to him more about the nonprofit, how he enjoys teaching and what’s next musically. Figure his answers were best:
On Elihu Nation:
I just graduated with my masters from Seminary last May. While I was studying it, probably the May before that I had come across this character in Job called, Elihu and he was a young guy. What amazed me about him was that he was kind of listening to the older folks of the group. They had done their soliloquies and they had talked and said what they thought was going on. He was basically like, ‘man, I was scared to say anything because I was young. I figured since you’re older, you’re wiser, buy now I realize wisdom doesn’t really come from age, it comes from the spirit in a person, it comes from the breath of the almighty, it comes from God.
And so I feel like people go with this young and dumb thing. ‘Aye man, you only live once, might as well go ahead and smack your head against the wall a few times and then you’ll learn that it hurts.’ That’s not necessarily how I believe God wants us to live. I believe there’s wisdom in age of course, but I also believe there’s wisdom in listening to them. You can have wisdom right now as young as you are. You can have opportunity and choice and ability to have the same wisdom as somebody two or three times your age. I think that wisdom really needs to come to the forefront of this generation. I think everybody just trying to tell us to be dumb and live like your going to die young. You don’t have to man, you don’t have to. I think there are a lot of principles that we need to know when it comes to this Godly Christian life. And so we giving out scholarships this Fall for people that go to school and want to use it for the kingdom of God. We’re doing teaching classes now for people who want to come in and ask some questions. Christianity is not one of those places where you can’t have questions, you can’t scare the questions out of the people, no, you gotta answer them and you have to see what the Bible actually says and not what we say. It’s all about the mind, it’s all teaching what this life is supposed to be about. That’s what my ministry is about and that’s what my nonprofit is about, Elihu Nation.
Jonathan McReynolds on teaching:
Teaching even now is the best part of what I do. When I get an opportunity to go back to Columbia and teach the little class that I do, I love that. This nonprofit gives me the opportunity to not just teach myself but to expose. A lot of young people around the world, they don’t realize that there are other young people out there just like them. They don’t realize that there’s other Elihus carrying wisdom. Even singing, you got Kiki Sheard, you got Tasha Cobbs and you got Travis Greene, you got all these people 35 and younger that are extremely wise. They are young and gifted. And they have learned some things in this life either from reading the Bible or through life experience.
I’m really going to have a good time being a teacher and an ambassador, a connector of young people who need to know each other.
What’s next for Jonathan McReynolds:
We been working on some follow-ups to this last album. I think there’s a little bit of some creativity left, a little bit more we can squeeze out in terms of even collaborating with other artists, doing some remixes, stripping some stuff down, unplugged and all that other stuff. I got a lot of touring coming up and of course I still teach at Columbia. And the nonprofit. Those are going to take over the rest of the year.
So, what does Jonathan McReynolds do when he’s not making music, teaching or spending time in the church?
Unfortunately I’m not in church that much anymore. I’m just like anybody else, we like playing outside, we like hoping. On my instagram I’m always trying to show off my jumper. I paint a little bit. I do a little arts and crafts stuff around the house just to chill out a little bit, but other than that, I’m watching Comedy Central and ESPN all day. I’m just kind of a normal person. I don’t even think I’m that interesting outside of music. I’m pretty normal to me… Oh and I love traveling, I get a lot of rewards points.
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