Kelly Price turns to faith, music after enduring heartbreak in 2020

Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta — Kelly Price endured immense heartache in 2020 but also a creative spurt that helped her maintain her faith and sanity.

"Last year was a doozy," she said. "It was the longest, blurriest year ever. I can tell you how I made it through, but I can't at the same time. I happily told 2020 to kick rocks."

The COVID-19 crisis entered her personal life when her grandfather, Jerome Norman Jr., former pastor at the Full Gospel Mission, Church of God in Christ in Queens, New York, was lost to the virus in April. Six months later, her beloved mother, Claudia Price-North, the former musical director at the church that primed Price's singing career, died unexpectedly.

Singer Kelly Price attends 2019 Black Music Honors  at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Sept. 5, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.

"(I'm) ready to usher in some music that will make people feel something different than what we've been feeling. It's been overwhelming for everybody, whether or not they lost someone to the disease. But I really believe a big part of my life's purpose is trying to make people happy," Price said.

She was calling on this day from her home in Cobb County, noticeably full of vigor and enthusiasm.

"I'm chatty, as you can tell," she said with a laugh.

Price, 48, has always exuded relatable warmth. As a staple of R&B, soul and gospel since the late-'90s, first as a backup and guest singer for such formidable artists as Mariah Carey ("Fantasy"), Notorious B.I. G. ("Mo Money Mo Problems") and Whitney Houston ("Heartbreak Hotel)," and then when her "Friend of Mine" debut single topped Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart, she continued to endear herself to a worldwide fan base with more than 15 other hits.

She's a Queens native, and while the accent and innate toughness are inbred forever, Price is also an honorary Atlantan. After living in the city for many years, she relocated to Los Angeles in the late-2000s, but returned in 2015, following the death of her sister, Grace. That year she also divorced her husband of 23 years, Jeffery Rolle, with whom she has two now-adult children.

Price's upcoming EP — due April 2 both for Good Friday and in homage to the one-year anniversary of her grandfather's death on Easter Sunday — is also a tribute to her late sister with its title of "Grace."

Nominated for nine career Grammy Awards in rap and R&B categories, Price hasn't released a gospel-centric collection since 2006′s "This Is Who I Am." The creation of these six songs — including the title track first single, the upbeat "Dance Party" and a cover of Vanessa Bell Armstrong's "Faith That Conquers," which Price sang at her mother's funeral — and her signing to Motown Gospel indicates another bit of divine intervention.

As a judge on BET's "Sunday Best" gospel singing competition, Price recorded a new song, "What I Need (Give Me What I Need)," to perform on the finale of the 2020 season. To tease its release, she posted something on Facebook about possibly returning to gospel music along with a #ThrowbackThursday photo of her recording her 2006 album.

EJ Gaines, Price's former attorney who is now the co-executive director of Motown Gospel and vice president of marketing for Capitol CMG, saw her post and immediately commented to Price: "Call me."

Within days in January 2020, Price met with Gaines in Nashville. Plans to quickly release a project last summer were thwarted by the pandemic, so they waited; the unintentional delay aided Price emotionally as her year slammed into heartbreak.

"I felt this was a good way to release something positive into the atmosphere, not just for me, personally, but for the world," Price said. "Motown is historic for making the world dance, and I get a chance to do that while keeping the spirit at the same time. You're going to get R&B Kelly in my inspirational mode."

A deal to bring Price onto the label was finalized in the fall.

Gaines admits he's been a Price devotee since hearing her first album when he was in high school and that her music has always been part of his lifetime musical soundtrack (as proof of his historical Price knowledge, he reminds us that she sings backup on Carey's seasonal mega-smash, "All I Want for Christmas Is You").

"On a commercial side, she's been in the game 30 years and still streams over a million a week and that's huge," Gaines said. "She's got a catalog. And it says a lot about the staying power and interest in her catalog and the strength of her brand. She's so respected in R&B, hip hop and gospel. Aside from her, maybe Faith Evans, but other than the two of them, I don't know who else can navigate all of those genres."

Gaines is attracted to Price's "nuance" as a singer and believes that the six tracks on "Grace" — five songs and an interlude — attain an artful balance between faith and fun.

Price said that she spent much of the past year listening to a lot of music that took her to her "happy places."

"My house looks like an homage to '90s hip-hop and R&B!" she joked. "When I would think about songs, growing up in New York in the '70s and '80s, we had block parties, and there would be music and dancing and eating food with the neighbors. So, I started listening to music that took me back to places like that. And I went back to a lot of music I listened to from church, a lot of old gospel songs. I was intentional about my spirit and my brain and telling myself not to watch CNN after days and days and days. I had to be intentional about what I was feeding my spirit, so I watched a lot of inspirational messages as well."

Price makes the first hour of her day quiet time — no phone, no email — to center herself and talk to God.

"I always hope he says something back to me," she said.

That something might be "Grace."


by Kelly Price

Out April 2