New voices added to Yale Library’s collection of music oral histories

  • Colorized photograph of two men looking at camera. One on left wears blue satin suit with white shirt and blue satin tie sitting on a simple white couch with one arm draped across the back support and the other hand at his chin. He has dark short curly hair and a goatee. The other has short cropped hair, plastic rimmed glasses and green shirt with brown shoulder patches. He rests his chin on both hands. There's a silver linked bracelet on his right wrist.
November 8, 2022

This month, two standout gospel musicians will visit New Haven, and their first stop is Yale Library. In filmed interviews, Donald Lawrence and Vincent Bohanan will each discuss their work in Black church music with Libby Van Cleve, director of the library’s Oral History of American Music (OHAM).

The recordings will add the voices of two more gospel artists to OHAM’s growing collection, Major Figures in American Music. The collection now contains more than 1,400 recorded interviews, dating from 1970 to the present day, with noted composers and musicians. The OHAM interviews complement Yale’s new Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church, based in the Institute of Sacred Music (ISM). Braxton D. Shelley, a faculty member in the Department of Music and at the Institute of Sacred Music, founded the program in 2021.

Chicago-based Donald Lawrence is a songwriter, producer, composer, music/choir director, and recording artist. A multiple Grammy and Stellar Award winner, he has collaborated with En Vogue, Mary J. Blige, Stephanie Mills, Karen Clark Sheard, Ramsey Lewis, and many others.He reached no. 1 status on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart in 1995 with his CD Bible Stories, recorded with the Tri-City Singers, and again in 2011 with YRM: Your Righteous Mind. Lawrence, who was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, was a musical theater major at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and has taught at Chicago’s Columbia College.

Vincent Bohanan is founder of The Sound of Victory Fellowship Choir (SOV) in Brooklyn, NY. He established the choir in 2014 to provide young gospel singers—who commute from as far away as Connecticut to participate—with opportunities to develop and express their musical talents. The music ministry of Bohanan and SOV has taken them on tour across the United States and into Europe. They have performed with Cece Winans, P. Diddy, Mariah Carey, and others.They released their first full-length album, Live from Chicago, in 2021. Bohanan, himself a millennial, also serves as pastor of The Winner’s Assembly, a church in Brooklyn, whose members are all under 30 years old.

Both Donald Lawrence and Vincent Bohanan and SOV will be performing at “A Celebration of Gospel” on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Immanuel Baptist Church in New Haven. Although the in-person event quickly sold out, audiences can join via live stream. Braxton Shelley is also offering a master class with Donald Lawrence on Nov. 16.

Many of the interviews in the library’s OHAM collection can be streamed online using the Aviary platform. For information on how to access the interviews, view interview tables of contents, or request interview transcripts, select the tab “Accessing OHAM” in the collection guide

—Deborah Cannarella

Image: Donald Lawrence and Vincent Bohanan