The Toledo Journal caught up with Dr. Tracee Perryman, who has been very busy these days. Earlier in the year, the Journal covered her successful ELEVATE program, which helped close the achievement gap among Old Orchard Elementary students. In September, we witnessed the success of the Center of Hope ENGAGE and Family Navigator programs, which help families navigate the juvenile justice system, receive parenting support, and land jobs with decent pay. Now it looks like Dr. Perryman is taking some time to invest in herself. She recently released a new album, Today, and is planning an album release concert and live recording for November 18th. This event will feature comedy by the comedienne Anna Douglas, who is very well known through social media. The Toledo Public Schools, Pastor Willie L. Perryman, and the Jerusalem Baptist Church will also perform. The event will take place at 6pm at the Second Baptist Church, Monclova, 9300 Maumee Western Road. Pastor Jerry L. Boose is the event host. The concert is open to the public, with the doors opening at 5:30pm. There is no admission charge. More information on the event can be found at http://tperrymanphd.org/artist/, or you can follow Dr. Perryman on facebook @PerrymanDrP.
In this article, Dr. Perryman answers some of the most common questions she is asked about her singing career.
Q: Tell us about the Live Recording Event on 11/18. What can we expect?
Dr. Perryman: For starters, we were very careful to design the event in a way that encourages people to come out and enjoy themselves. There is no admission charge, but we do encourage you to come and purchase a CD or download card. You can expect a lot of laughs from Anna Douglas, and great music!
I’m so excited to introduce this body of music, which is personal. This album reflects my thoughts, feelings, my experiences with God, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m also excited to introduce my producer and musical director, Marcus Devine to the city. We had a ball collaborating on this project! I enjoy working with him because he’s secure. He doesn’t mind me being the CEO of my music. It’s an honor to work with him, because he has such a strong resume. Marcus wrote and produced 4 songs on the new 112 album. He has produced Charlie Wilson, Destiny’s Child, Dave Hollister, Levert, Day 26, Men of Standard, the Christianaires, Beverly Crawford, and Deitrick Haddon.
Q: Tell us about your new album, Today. How would you describe its style?
Dr. Perryman: Today the album reflects a blending of styles. Currently, we see a lot of divisions within Gospel or inspirational music. It has to be either traditional gospel, OR contemporary gospel, OR praise and worship. Today blends R&B and soul sounds with contemporary gospel, praise and worship. As spiritual beings, we should not put so much focus on the sound of the music that we miss the message of the music.
Today reflects an array of messages. It speaks to the process of connecting with God to find peace and strength. The album walks listeners through the process of self-reflection, acknowledgement our short-comings, working on our relationship with God, so that He can help us make sense of the world around us. The songs foster a spirit of communion with God so we can hear His voice more clearly, and allow Him to lead in daily decision making, so we can move forward. The songs on the Today album also speak to self-esteem. Not arrogance, but confidence because we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Because God made us and because He is ever present, all seeing, and all powerful, I also included songs that challenge us to stand boldly. As His ambassadors, we should be strong, of good courage, and should be instruments of His will.
Q: How did you get your start making music?
Dr. Perryman: I am a third generation musician. My father followed in my grandmother’s footsteps as a pianist. He was the founder of the University of Toledo Gospel Choir, and then went on to serve as Minister of Music at a local church for 26 years. I started singing at 18 months, and then began playing keyboards at the age of 4. As a young child, I would pretend to sleep while my father worked in the late night hours learning songs, and preparing to teach them to his choirs. I would pretend to sleep when singers would come over, practicing and recording music for him while my mother hosted. My mother also would offer feedback on the sound and choices of songs. Then, when my father would go to work, I’d sneak and play his Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, mimicking the songs that I would hear him play the night before. In my household, you were recognized for your gifts, but you were required to refine those gifts with hard work. In later years I learned the building blocks to forming chords, playing and arranging both vocals and musical compositions. I went on to study jazz piano and African and Latin Percussion from Gene Parker and Scott Kretzer. Like my father, I started a Gospel choir at my school, St. Ursula Academy, and post high school graduation became the Minister of Music at Center of Hope Ministries. I’ve been the organist and choir director for 20 years.
Q: How did you start writing music?
Dr. Perryman: To be honest, I started writing music out of necessity. When directing church music ministries, you manage volunteers. Volunteers come and go. Over 20 years, you direct different groups of singers at different times, with different strengths. I have never been one to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. If a song or a genre did not match the strengths of the singers or the percussionists, then I would look for ways to adapt the song or genre to the group with which I was working. I also would look for fresh ways to adapt music that had been sung for years. After a while, I thought, “Why spend so much time working on someone else’s music? You should spend that time creating your own compositions.”
As I grew and matured, I also recognized that I needed a way to process my life experiences. The years have gone by, and I’ve experienced many joys and many accomplishments. But I’ve also experienced many disappointments and crises. The culmination of these experiences have taught me so many life lessons. I decided that composing music would be a way to share those life lessons with a broader audience, particularly with the societal and generational shifts in their views of religion and spirituality.
I’ve also been a part of the Baptist Church for over 30 years, and I have witnessed the multigenerational conflicts first hand. So many times I’ve heard people young, and older, ask how or if the “Gospel” and/or Gospel music speaks to the daily stresses, concerns, fears, or joys of the 21st Century experience. I’ve listened as people wrestle with whether a situation is God’s doing, the Devil’s doing, or if there’s something in themselves that needs to be changed to improve the situation. I don’t claim to have “the” answers or “any” answers. My contribution is using musical compositions to describe my life experiences, and how God has been a consistent presence throughout those experiences. My music describes how God has made me better, and taught me so many life lessons as a result of my challenges and triumphs.
Q: What is your process for writing a song?
Dr. Perryman: I approach lyrics and the musical arrangement as separate, distinct pieces. Oftentimes, a song begins as a thought, or a theme. For example, one of the tracks on my album, Today, is “He Will.” The lyrics were inspired by my appraisal of our current society – turbulent and tense. That inspired me to write a song about peace in the midst of that turbulence – a song that points to the assurance that whatever the situation, God will supply our needs as he has done in the past. I am always working on musical arrangements. I document those that come to mind, and then evaluate the mood of the arrangement. What kind of mood does the musical composition convey? Then I match the mood of the lyrics to the appropriate musical composition.
Q: How do you know when a song is complete?
Dr. Perryman: I evaluate the completeness of a song by using various guidelines. The first being, does the mood of the musical arrangement and the lyrics match the theme that I started with? Does the song have all the proper components: verses, a chorus, bridge, and vamp? Are the lyrics full? When I say full, do the lyrics tell a complete story? Can the listener identify the intended theme by listening to the lyrics? Are the musical chords sound? Do the progressions of the musical chords flow naturally? Does the melody of the song fit the overall mood? Does the song leave a strong impression of reverence to God? Does the song encourage a stronger relationship with God, a relationship that includes praise and worship, but a relationship that extends beyond Sunday worship.
Q: We know that you earned your PhD while working full time, but how do you balance your music career with the demands of your non-profit, Center of Hope Family Services?
Dr. Perryman: I believe that most people have a hobby or interest outside of their primary employment. I’ve been singing and playing music, nearly all of my life. Music is something that I can create after I have expended my useful time in my professional career, so I’ve never abandoned it. Plus, my hobbies have always revolved around developing a skill of some sort.
It took me approximately 2-3 weeks to write the “Today” album, and approximately 5 days to collaborate with producers, and record the album. One benefit to recording and performing Gospel/religious/spiritual music is that these services are typically requested on the weekends, when I am not (or at least should be) working.
Q: Who have been your biggest supporters?
Dr. Perryman: My family are number one! I have to give credit to my father, Dr. Donald L. Perryman for sending my work off to established producers and artists without my knowledge. Had he not done that for me, I wouldn’t be in this space today. When I received a lot of resistance, he didn’t give up. He worked around me again and connected me with Pastor Jerome Graham, at the Mix 95.7. From there, I was connected to Rocky Love, who opened up so many doors. One of the most important doors is Mr. Lamonte Hayes of BWP Marketing in New York City. He has been my big brother, and is the ultimate professional. I thank my mother and stylist Willetta Perryman, who helped me put together the look needed to gain the attention necessary to move to the next level. I thank my sister, Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark, who has taken over a lot of my local singing so that I would be able to do more professional work. I also thank Pastor Boose for his mentorship as he is also a recording artist.