By Blake Rascoe with additional reporting by Joncier "Ms. Boogie" Rienecker
Gospel veteran Estee Bullock has been rallying souls for Christ through music for over twenty years. As a founding member of the Grammy and Stellar Award-winning group Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir, he has invoked inspiration in audiences worldwide with his ministry in song.
In 2009, he penned the group's lead single "Souled Out," off the album of the same name. The vibrant tune quickly became the mantra of the Christian community and snagged the #1 spot on Billboard's Gospel charts. The success of the single garnered five Stellar Awards for the group, thus catapulting Estee into further prominence as a songwriter.
Estee took a moment to talk to Playback about his career, new projects, and who motivates him.
You are the mastermind behind the #1 Gospel record, "Souled Out," by Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir. What inspired you to write that record?
I was inspired by a sermon about living the best life for Christ and not being ashamed about it. When I got home, I started writing a song and had the lyrics and melody. Once I had the bulk of the song done, I collaborated with Nate McNair, and we finished it. I brought it to my church choir, and the rest is history.
Speaking of Hezekiah Walker, you got your start as one of the founding members of the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir. What was the most important thing you learned from that experience?
It was the best class that I could take in Gospel music. The choir started in '85. I joined in '86. I made it just in time for the album photos. A lot of artists have come out of that choir, such as Aaron Hall and Cheryl "Coko" Gamble (SWV). I was able to sit back and observe so much and have experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I got to see what to do and what not to do in the music business. I've seen people make it and flop. I'm grateful that Bishop Walker has let me be apart of sharing his platform. My connection with the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir has become a part of my journey.
I read that you studied at Berklee College of Music. How did that experience impact your music career?
It was some of the best years of my musical education. I got to learn the theory of music and the business. I got to learn what makes the music industry move. It was a really invaluable tool.
I also read that you are not just a songwriter, but also a vocalist and worship leader. Which of the three do you enjoy the most?
Being a worship leader because it allows me to connect to God and people of the church, at the same time. I'm allowing God to direct me. I never feel afraid because I know that God is working through me.
Recently, you added "author" to your list of accomplishments by publishing the book, Worship: Cause and Effect. Why did you decide to write this book?
I was receiving a lot of invitations to worship seminars. When I was doing these seminars, I realized that people have a misconception about a lifestyle of worship. I also realized there are alot of similarities in situations that worship leaders have around the world. I didn't feel like I was guru, but I knew that I had some insight to share about my observations.
Who are some of your early musical influences and why?
My musical influences come from a bunch of different places, from Hezekiah Walker, John P. Kee, Richard Smallwood, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Bee Gees. The reason why they stand out is because they all have a sound that is distinct. All the people that I mentioned have music that is sung throughout the whole world. My prayer is that the body of Christ would open itself to both Gospel music and Christian music and allow them to merge.
You have had the opportunity to work with Gospel legend, Shirley Caesar, on her single, "Nobody" back in 2009. How did that collaboration come about?
At the time, James Robinson was the A&R of Light Records. He called and asked, if I had anything for Pastor Shirley Caesar. I had a song that I had just started working on. I felt like it told a story, and she is known for telling really good stories. She was going out of town, so I finished up most of the song and sent it to him, right before she left. When she got back, James called and said the song was a go and it was going to be the first single. The next call I got from James was to tell me that J. Moss was going to be featured and PAJAM (Walter Kearney and Paul D. Allen) would produce the song. It was a dream come true.
Describe your first experience as a songwriter.
I was in high school, and I paired up with Jewel Bartholomew and we created a music group called Family. Most of the songs that we sang were songs that I wrote. When we went out and sang the songs, and I saw the reactions to the songs, I realized that God wanted to use me to be a tool to connect to people through music.
How has your songwriting changed since the start of your career?
My methods have changed over time, from my experiences and the knowledge that I have gained. I used to write just because I knew I could. Now, I write because I'm inspired and I believe in the message that I'm writing about.
What do you think makes your style of songwriting different from that of your peers?
My lyrical approach; it's relevant and I don't confine myself to one style.
What are you working on, currently?
I'm working on projects for Maurette Brown Clark, Zebulon Ellis, and a few contestants from "Sunday Best."
If you could re-make one Gospel song, which song would you choose?
I haven't given it much thought, but if I had to choose, it would be a song by Gospel group Commissioned.