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Former Detroiter Fred Hammond comes home for a concert

Mary Chapman
Special to The Detroit News

A former lineman on Mumford High’s football team and bass player at Greater Grace Temple, gospel icon Fred Hammond feels extra inspired when he performs in Detroit. That will happen again Friday, when the Grammy-winning artist brings his soul-stirring sounds to the Fox Theatre as part of the Festival of Praise 2016 Tour.

One of gospel’s most popular and influential artists over the past 30 years, Hammond will share selections from“Worship Journal Live,” his first live recording in 19 years, which debuted this month No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel chart.

Fred Hammond will share selections from his first live recording in 19 years.

Although the sound is fresh, Hammond said, the message is consistent: God is in control. “With all that is going on, all the tension in the streets and all the violence with police and young black men getting shot, plus this whole presidential election, the reminder is that God is our refuge,” said Hammond, who moved to Dallas around a decade ago. “We can always run to Him.”

The 12-track album features the popular single “Father Jesus Spirit.” Hammond, a singer, songwriter, musician and producer known for his live performances, is joined on the 50-city tour by Hezekiah Walker, Israel Houghton, Karem Clark Sheard, Regina Belle and Casey J.

From left, Festival of Praise 2016 Tour members Earthquake, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton, Casey J, Regina Belle and Karen Clark Sheard.

Hammond said artist collaboration is particularly important during what he considers a praise music lull. The genre has dropped off since the golden period of the 1980s and early ’90s, he said.

“The reason we know it was good because we know what we’re experiencing now,” he said. “The attitude can’t be, this is the Lord and y’all should be happy. People love hope, and I’m not taking away from that. But we still have to be careful we’re not doing the same old thing. This tour offers a bundle: We come out all together and sing each others’ songs. We’re on stage the whole time together, and we think that’s a plus.”

Through it all, Hammond remains spiritually grounded. He says he rises early to read his Bible, and often listens to scripture on headphones. “Look, the reality is that commerce is up and it’s down, but faith doesn’t have to stop,” he said. “Even in the good times, the Lord will allow things to happen in your life that will buffet you, keep you humble.”

The worst of times was his divorce more than a decade ago from his wife, Kim, of 18 years. The pain, he said, lingers, although he is friendly with her and her husband. Both their children have performed with him. “The Bible didn’t say all things would be good. It said all things work together for good,” he said. “Losing my mother was terrible.

“And then to try and do this on this level, it’s a constant cross to bear. It’s not as easy as people think. Sure, we get to make a little money, and meet some great people, but when the lights come down you still have to deal with trying to forge ahead. And in the end it teaches you that whatever comes, be it trouble or good times, you’ve got to keep things in perspective.”

One of the headiest times in his career came in the early 1980s when he, along with fellow members of the group Commissioned, first heard one of his songs on the radio. The group was in Pennsylvania on its way to a concert when “I’m Going On” pierced the middle-of-night silence. “Our hearts started racing, and I realized — we all realized — that doing what we do would allow us to pay our mortgage, and buy groceries for our families,” he said.

Hammond’s big break came with the legendary gospel group The Winans. Before then, he said, the Clark Sisters was basically the only young gospel group making a mark. “Then the Winans started doing things. They had a band and horns, and were writing their own music. I found myself following them around, especially when I heard they needed a bass player. I must’ve called Marvin Winans every day.”

And every time he was rebuffed. That is, until one fateful day. Having been invited by another family member, Hammond was at the Winans’ house one day while the group was rehearsing. “Finally Marvin gave me something to do on the bass, and I did it. He asked me to do something else; I did that. Then he asked me to do ‘Flying Away,’ and I jumped on it because I’d been practicing it so hard. After that I was the bass player,” he said.

“It is an amazing part of who I am. There is no me today if that doesn’t happen.”

Hammond credits classes at Mumford for exposing him to classical music and teaching him to read vocal music. “Just what I needed for a formal foundation,” he said. “It was pivotal.”

All of which is why Detroit is close to his heart. “Everything that made me who I am happened in Detroit,” he said. “I’ll always be Detroit.”

Mary Chapman is a Metro Detroit-based freelance writer.

Festival of Praise Tour

What: Gospel icon and tour founder Fred Hammond with Israel Houghton, Regina Belle, Karen Clark Sheard and Casey J.

When: 7 p.m. Fri.

Where: Fox Theatre

Tickets: $29.50, $39.50, $49.50 and $69.50. Tickets can be purchased at OlympiaEntertainment.com, The Fox Theatre and Joe Louis box offices, all Ticketmaster locations, and Ticketmaster.com. Or call (800) 745-3000.