After more than four decades on the gospel music
scene, the legendary Vanessa Bell Armstrong still has the energy and
contemporary R&B style that has defined her career from the beginning.
A multiple GRAMMY Award-nominee and Stellar
Award winner, Armstrong helped to redefine contemporary gospel music. In
recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the gospel music industry,
she was presented with the Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones Legends Award at the
26th Annual Stellar Music Awards in 2011.
Her first CD project with Music World Gospel, to be
released January 31, features some of her greatest hits and most beloved
songs that she has recorded and performed over the years.
The EP is titled
Timeless, an apt description for the songs of this award-winning
performer whose fans span several generations and multiple genres. Her fan
base includes the "fan in chief," President Barack Obama, who has said that
Armstrong is one of his favorite gospel artists.
While the six songs on the EP were originally recorded in 1983, Armstrong
brings a contemporary vibe and sophistication to this recording that gives
each song a fresh anointing. The first single from the EP, "Nobody But
Jesus," was originally recorded by Armstrong in 1984 for her sophomore
album, Chosen. The contemplative
and powerful song became a signature hit for Armstrong, and this rendition
is sure to connect with a whole new generation. Other songs on the EP
include "Walk With Me," a contemporary R&B take on a spiritual standard,
which was also on her sophomore album,
Chosen; and "Peace Be Still," an updated recording of the song that
launched Armstrong's career as a solo artist, and for which she is still
best known. The song was originally released in 1983 as part of the album by
the same titled.
The EP also includes a recording of "Shine On Me" the upbeat theme song from
the television sitcom Amen, which starred Sherman Hemsley. This is the first time
Armstrong has recorded the song as part of a music CD. The last song on the
EP is "It's Over Now," from her 2007 album,
Walking Miracle. Armstrong wrote
the song as a message to her children--particularly her son who has Multiple
Sclerosis (MS) and her daughter, who was going through a divorce at the
time--to hold onto their faith in difficult circumstances and they can get
Armstrong was born in Detroit, Michigan and began
singing at age four.
She was raised in the Church of God in Christ,
where her father Elder Jesse G. Bell was a minister. Before becoming the
pastor of the Greater Mt. Everett Church of God in Christ, Reverend Bell was
an evangelist who organized revivals and preached at churches around the
Detroit area. From an early age, Vanessa sang lead solos in the choir at the
church and she also would accompany her father to sing when he preached at
When Bell was 13 years old, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (mother of the members of
the renowned gospel group, The Clark Sisters), a pioneer in gospel music who
directed the Southwest Michigan State Choir heard Armstrong sing. Clark
became a mentor to Armstrong, who began traveling with Clark, singing in her
various choirs and sharing the stage with gospel titan such as Rev. James
Cleveland, Shirley Caesar, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Williams
Brothers. Armstrong's other early musical influences included, Aretha
Franklin, and Mahalia Jackson.
Armstrong recalls that when she was a young teenager, she told people that
she wanted to get married and have five kids and sing. That is precisely
what she did. When Armstrong was 20 years old she got married, had five
children, and settled into raising her family. She eventually went back to
pursuing a professional singing career and in 1983 she recorded her debut
solo album, Peace Be Still, on
Onyx Records, a label under Benson Records.
Armstrong was a trailblazer in gospel music, bringing a strong R&B style to
the songs she sang. She has recorded 15 critically-acclaimed and
award-winning albums and had a string of number one hit songs. Following
Peace Be Still, her sophomore
album, Chosen, was released by
Onyx in 1984 and re-released in 1991. Armstrong was criticized in some
quarters for her style of singing gospel songs, but critics and gospel
record buyers loved her music. Her third album,
Following Jesus, released in 1986, was actually the first solo album
that Bell had recorded. However, executives at Onyx delayed the release of
the project out of concern that the album's contemporary style might be
rejected by the gospel music community. After the success of her first two
albums, the label released Following
Jesus, which earned Bell a Soul Train Music Award for Best Solo Gospel
During the late 1980s, Armstrong also had success as
an R&B recording artist. She signed with Jive Records in 1987, and her
self-titled album, released that year, featured the crossover R&B hit, "You
Bring Out the Best In Me," as well as the club favorite "Pressing On."
Her 1990 release,
Wonderful One, featured, "True Love Never
Fails," a duet with Jive label-mate jazz guitarist Jonathan Butler. The
track was also included on Butler's acclaimed
More Than Friends album. In 1990, Jive released
a CD version of Armstrong's greatest hits, along with the highly praised
Truth About Christmas.
Armstrong was the only gospel artist on the Jive
label. After she recorded Something On
The Inside, in 1993, Jive created the Verity Records for gospel and
inspirational music. In 1995,
became one of the label's first recording artists. There she released
The Secret Is Out,
(1995) and her first live album, Desire Of My
in Detroit, (1998). This project
was special to Armstrong because she had wanted the challenge of doing a
live album. She also wrote the title track to the album, which was the first
time one of her own compositions had been included on one of her releases.
She also served as the album's co-producer. Verity later released three
compilation albums: The Best of
Vanessa Bell Armstrong (1999),
Sing to Glory (2005), and Praise
and Worship (2006).
Armstrong brought in the new millennium with a new recording on a new label.
Brand New Day was released by
Tommy Boy Records in 2001. She moved to EMI Records, where she recorded
Walking Miracle (2007), and
teamed-up with award-winning producer, composer and recording artist, Donald
Lawrence, to record The Experience
Throughout her career, Armstrong has worked and collaborated with numerous
artists, including Pastor Shirley Caesar, Tramaine Hawkins, Yolanda Adams,
Fred Hammond, Marvin Winans, The Winans, John P. Kee and the New Life
Community Choir, among others.
The multitalented Armstrong enjoyed success beyond
recorded music. In 1987, she was chosen to record the theme song for the
popular television sitcom Amen.
"They told me they were looking for a singer who had the soulfulness of
Aretha Franklin and the range of Patti LaBelle," said Armstrong. "I was so
honored to be compared to those two artists who I admire greatly."
That same year she made her Broadway debut in
Don't Get God Started at the
Longacre Theatre, where she co-starred with Giancarlo Esposito, BeBe Winans
and Chip Fields, among others. In 1989, Armstrong also had a role in Oprah
Winfrey's critically-acclaimed ABC miniseries,
The Women of Brewster Place.
While Armstrong has worked in various media and musical genres, her heart
has always been in gospel music. "Music is my career and my ministry," she
says "I have so many people that have called or emailed to say that they had
been right at the end of their rope and something in a song that I sang
turned their lives around. That's ministry. That's rewarding. I thank God
for letting me use my voice to minister in that way."
Armstrong now lives in Houston, Texas, but tries to
get back to Detroit at least twice a month to visit her family. She
currently is signed to Mathew Knowles' Music World Gospel label and working
on a new CD that will follow the release of
Timeless in 2012. She also is writing a book about her life and her
music, which she hopes will be published this year.