SINGING HIS PRAISES
South Side singer Jonathan McReynolds taking gospel music to new heights
Chicago gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds has a lot going on. Along with his singing career, McReynolds, who grew up between South Shore and South Chicago, continues to release content (three full-length studio albums and one EP), teach gospel band at his alma mater, Columbia College, and run his nonprofit organization, Elihu Nation.
And all of this is fresh off his BET Awards performance last month with country singer Kane Brown.
“Our songs had a type of continuity blend,” said McReynolds. “It went really well. It was beautiful; we taped it down in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium, which is a big deal, particularly in the country [music] world. And so it was really cool to see how many people were appreciating the fact that I was given that platform, and also even discovering me from it.”
McReynolds is also one of the judges for BET’s “Sunday Best,” a gospel-based singing competition. The show stopped filming amid the COVID-19 pandemic and rebooted as a virtual series that premiered Sunday.
McReynolds, a recent inductee of Mensa (the international high IQ society), says as a judge, he’s looking for someone to lead the gospel music genre into the next generation.
“I’m working with another artist I can’t wait to show to the world,” he said. “For the next few [weeks]... I’ll be on screen every Sunday morning TV for BET’s ‘Sunday’s Best.’ I do my best to not be gospel’s Simon Cowell, but that’s what they tell me sometimes.
“I always think of it as we’re looking for somebody to join the team. I look at the whole gospel world, especially when we have to go into other places like the BET Awards and other things that aren’t necessarily gospel shows. We’re carrying a message of hope and love and joy and all that other stuff. We’re kind of picking a new teammate that’s gonna come from the next generation and really help us continue this charge in this way.”
McReynolds, a three-time Grammy Award nominee, also finds the time to give back to his community through his nonprofit organization, Elihu Nation, through which he hopes to help “expose a generation to the wisdom of God” via scholarships and mentorship. The organization recently awarded $30,000 in scholarships.
“While in grad school [at Moody Bible Institute], I read a [bible] story about Job, where he had a character in the story named Elihu,” said McReynolds. “It really spoke to me because he was a young guy. … He didn’t have the same wisdom and understanding as everybody else in the room. But something gave him a boldness to step out regardless of his age and say his peace. And that’s really kind of what I wanted to do. Put forth in this generation the pursuance of wisdom.
“We have all the enthusiasm in the world. But when it’s coupled with wisdom, we can really make some changes and so I try to create content that could build up the wisdom of my generation. We give money just to celebrate young people who are going after wisdom and knowledge to become a greater asset for the kingdom.”
McReynolds is fast on his way to becoming a bonafide star in gospel music. His new album, “People,” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel charts in April. His first album, “Make Room,” also debuted at No. 1 on the gospel charts, while garnering 1.3 million streams in the first week.
McReynolds puts his success in perspective amid the pandemic, police killings, and the protests in their aftermath.
“The songs are really strangely relevant to where we are right now,” said McReynolds. “It means a lot more when you can’t even go to church. It means a lot more when you can’t go to the cathedral, to actually become one in your own. … Even though I certainly was not expecting this time when we started.”
The singer says his next projects will hopefully include a collaboration album, a Christmas album, a children’s album and a country music album.
“You never know,” said McReynolds. “I’m actually good friends with Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts; I promised him if he helps me out with some country, I’d help him out with some gospel.”