John P. Kee

John P. Kee

North Carolina-based John P. Kee, the “Prince of Gospel,” brings his New Life singers and band to perform at the Grand Lodge of Texas on Friday.

Gospel singer and pastor John P. Kee returns to Waco Friday night with undivided time to share with his fans.

Kee came to Waco in 2011 for a Ferrell Center show featuring Dallas gospel great Kirk Franklin and Toledo, Ohio’s Rance Allen Group, but this time it’s just Pastor John at the Grand Lodge of Texas and a set list he wants his listeners to fill in.

“Waco was so kind to me. We’re going to do more than a set concert. We’re going to open up a request line,” Kee said in a recent phone interview. Fans can request their favorite songs in advance of Friday’s concert and the most-requested numbers will move to the evening’s playlist.

Kee, a gospel singer and pastor of New Life Fellowship Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, will bring a six-piece band and singers from his New Life Community Choir to support him. Opening the evening will be Andre Taylor from Austin, N-haRmO’NE and Rob Hall and Company from Killeen, and Waco’s Taushey Sias.

What they’ll deliver is what he calls “old-school gospel” — heavy on songs, heavy on choirs, heavy on feeling and interaction with listeners. He’s got plenty of songs to draw upon, including “Show Up,” “Made Up Mind,” “Wash Me” and “New Life.”

The 56-year-old that some label the “Prince of Gospel” also has a personal story that drives his music and career. The next-to-last child in a North Carolina family, Kee grew up in church music, playing both jazz and gospel on piano in his early teens in Durham. After high school at the North Carolina School for the Arts, He went to California to study music at Yuba College Conservatory School of Music in Marysville, California, where his brothers Al and Wayne had gone.

While in California, he performed with the likes of jazz musician Donald Byrd, soul band Cameo and even James Taylor’s touring band, but after moving back to North Carolina got involved in street crime and drugs.

Witnessing a friend die from a gunshot wound and a Praise The Lord revival in Charlotte played crucial parts in turning Kee’s life back to his Christian faith. In 1981, he started a community choir in Charlotte, one that would evolve into his New Life Community Choir.

Kee’s reputation as a talented gospel musician and writer blossomed in the 1990s with such Grammy Award-nominated albums as “Show Up” and “Strength.” In 1995, he accepted the call to pastor the New Life Fellowship Center in Charlotte, a church known not only for its choir, but its street ministry.

Since then, the gospel musician has recorded more than 20 albums with his choir, released six personal albums and garnered a host of awards and honors for his singing and writing, including 27 Gospel Music Workshop of America Excellence awards and a 2007 induction into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. In addition to being a pastor and musician, he’s a parent, with his wife Felice, of nine children.

New projects

Kee presently is working in some new territory, a film project about a black man whose 1940s dream of creating and recording music was derailed by the Ku Klux Klan, a dream that one son — the 15th of 16 children — would take up and bring to fruition. “It’s my first film to direct,” Kee said, adding that theatrical storytelling is a new experience for him. “I never even attended gospel plays,” he said.

It’s all about gospel music on Friday night at the Grand Lodge of Texas, though, and that’s territory that the old-school Kee knows intimately. “We did not change. This is ‘old-school gospel,’ ” he said. “The grandmothers can come as well as the babies.”

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor