SINGING HIS PRAISES

South Side singer Jonathan McReynolds tak­ing gospel mu­sic to new heights

Chicago Sun-Times - - WEEKEND PLUS - BY EVAN F. MOORE, STAFF REPORTER emoore@sun­times.com | @evanF­moore

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.”

BET/PRO­VIDED

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