Artists You Should Know

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Artists You Should Know

Chi-Town Edition

I have reached the age where, typically, one could say that I have seen it all. However, when it comes to the burgeoning talent pool that thrives in Chicago, I really haven’t seen a fraction of what is, nor what is to come. The level of depth, talent, the precision, and versatility exhibited has surpassed anything I witnessed as an up-and-coming songwriter almost 30 years ago. Chicago singers never cease to amaze me. Here they are, some of The Windy City’s finest and their newest wares. I am sure they will amaze you as well. Enjoy!

Jayonna Sims

& Virtuous Standard 

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of writing a song for Virtuous Standard. It may have been another iteration of the group, but the impetus was the same: Jayonna B. Sims. Jayonna has not only served in her Father’s church (Greater Tabernacle M.B.C. the late Rev. J.B. Sims), but also as Minister of Music and Worship leader for one of Chicago’s premier ministries (Prayer & Faith Outreach Ministries, Bishop William Hudson, III – Pastor). Never forsaking her own call, but helping other people to fulfill theirs was her duty and she fulfilled it faithfully. The duty was not hers alone, but the members of the group all hold a place of service in their local assemblies and communities in addition to singing.

Now, many years later, the group has rolled up their sleeves to begin an new work and they are as vibrant and determined as ever. They do so with a single called “Unlimited Favor”. In true VS fashion, it is fresh, current and has presence. Their message is spoken right from the onset and remains consistent throughout the song. Let’s be clear; this is a song that may not catch on in deeply entrenched traditional circles. However, ministries whose mission it is to affirm their members will love it.

After a long hiatus, they have returned in grand fashion. Jayonna Sims & Virtuous Standard are uplifting the Kingdom while retaining their original fervor and style.

“Unlimited Favor” by Jayonna Sims & Virtuous Standard

Craig Jackson

I met Craig Jackson a few years ago when he and his lovely wife, ChonTierah, were new to the city. Even then, they were a ball of enthusiasm with a heart for God. My good friend Pastor C.E. Brown told me “Watch this young man, God is going to do great things through him.” I have done just that. Watching, supporting encouraging and praying that God would be faithful to him.

If I haven’t stressed it enough, I will do it here. The common denominator with most the artists featured in this spotlight is that they serve faithfully. Mr. Jackson is a prime example of that. The health and well-being of his home church’s music ministry (Abundant Praise Family Worship Center, Pastor Tyrone & Lady Denise Davis) is top priority. Whether in the public eye or in his private time, you can tell he is sincere. Sincerity is the perspective from which he releases “More Like You

He has aided other artists in the background. It is now his time to step to the forefront and reveal God’s love using his own musical voice. It opens with the same spectacular brightness I enjoyed from Shanta Gray’s “U-R” and then settles into a very nice groove from which Jackson’s voice drapes with simplicity and ease. The support vocals do the heavy lifting, but they seem to do it almost effortlessly. It’s mixed softly, but it is bright enough to sound substantial – and as a debut project – it is. This humble young singer is here to reveal all that God has given him. Support Craig Jackson and keep your ears open for an upcoming single featuring his talented wife, shortly (that’s all I can tell you for now). He is easy to get to know and an Artist You Should Know.

Psalmist Raine

I’ve never heard anyone render “The Lord’s Prayer” in the manner heard on the new project, “To Abba”. It swells into a glorious climax and goes non-stop into “Our Creator”. As is her style, she flows from one glorious song into another. Some upbeat and some down tempo, this wonderful psalmist takes us on a worship journey. Unlike her freshman project “Refresh Worship LIVE”, it is not a live recording, but it maintains the fervor and power of the first project. Psalmist Raine has carved out her own niche’ and remained true to it from the very beginning.

It feels refreshing to hear a project that leaves little question about its intent. Whether in whole or in part, any of the 11 tracks could be incorporated into a gathering of believers. If time constraints force you to separate any of the tracks, make sure to consider the title track, “Nothing Can Separate”, and “You Reign Forever” as starters. Nick McCree’s expert production and music talent, coupled with Psalmist Raine’s amazing vocal talent has culminated in a project that one can use to bask in the presence of God.

“You Reign Forever” by Psalmist Raine


Jon Johnson Sr.

Fans of great guitar-wielding worshippers like Amonte Lacey, Chandler Moore and Jonathan McReynolds will certainly want to add Jon Johnson, Sr. to their playlist. Jon has conceived an EP of great songs with boundless possibilities for the worshipper. Whether listening at leisure or setting an atmosphere, the project’s title definitely describes the brand: “Freedom Music”.

With two bonus songs, “The Gospel (Vocals Only)” and the instrumental version of “You Saved Me”, Jon Johnson, Sr. has provided the opportunity to enjoy different facets of his singing and his message. In 2014, Jon released his first single, “Shine“, that spoke of his wish to allow the love of Jesus to radiate through him without him saying a word. In early 2015, a song called Not Afraid was made available, which declared to the world an unashamed boldness for Christ. These songs are graciously included on the new EP and perfectly encapsulate who this young man is and what he stands for. If you already are a supporter, of Jon Johnson, Sr., you now have his complete collection. If you are new to him, he is a worship Artist You Should Know.

“The Gospel” by Jon Johnson, Sr.



Janessa Graham

She did it the right way!” That’s the phrase that comes to my head every time I hear the new single by Janessa Graham. I guess my only complaint about the song would be that she held out on us, restraining just a little bit (she remembered that “less is more”). Being a worship leader, I would expect nothing less from her than a song appropriate for worship services. She has grasped a solid message and covered it in earnestness. From the very first note, I know that this is a message from the heart and not just from the lips. It can be easily be interpreted as such by any worship leader who stands before a congregation and sings it.

Janessa is a phenomenal singer who has been a widely-known, well-kept secret in Chicago for years. This Artist You Should Know comes from a long musical lineage and has, herself, become the consummate songstress. More than that, she has served well in her church and community pushing other artists and ministries. Never one to eke out a place in the spotlight, she pushed others and waited her turn. Well, it is her turn now and she brings us “You Are The God”. Her support vocals are crisp and solid, the music is accurately orchestrated and post production is excellent – although I suspect that Janessa and her crew gave the engineer a great foundation to work with initially. Take a listen to Janessa Graham’s “You Are The God”.

While I have not spoken to her personally about her future musical aspirations, I can surmise that whatever she does, she will remain patient, humble and wait on the Lord’s timing for her next move. She will do it with excellence and I will once again think to myself: “She did it the right way!

“You Are The God” by Janessa Graham


Kevin Gray

Yes. He has graced these pixilated pages before. He’s had a series of immensely popular projects, been recording with a large number of other artists, including myself and even crossed the waters and collaborated with Efe Nathan of Africa.

I have been seeing him in several different lights for quite a while. Seeing him grow into a young man from a bright-eyed youth. Seeing him rise from tapping the drums for his brother’s group to center stage. Seeing him love his family, his ministry and his God. Admittedly, I am glad to have been a brief part of the journey and enjoyed every moment.

This Artist You Should Know has a strong desire to encourage the Body of Christ and provide them with music that exhibits excellence in the truest sense of the word. His newest work is a single called “One Day You Will Heal” is a perfect mantra of expectation for those who deal with adversity. Taken daily in the midst of trial, it is a swig from a fresh glass of hope and possibility.

Expertly produced and with an all-star cast of musicians, this is a song that teaches how to present a song.

Simple message, powerful context, expert delivery and enough to remain with you long after the song has ended. Our personal relationship notwithstanding, I admonish you: don’t just download this sngle for yourself, but share it with those who need a glimmer of hope or have just reached the other side of a trial. “One Day You Will Heal” is a jewel and Kevin Gray is priceless.

“One Day You Will Heal”


Anita Wilson

At some points, sounding eerily similar to the late Luther Vandross‘ “Stop To Love” and  Daryl Coley‘s “I Cant Tell It All” at others, this classy artist’s new single has everything we love about her — edgy, easy-to-listen to, catchy, and exciting. This single has easily become my favorite of the bunch.

Anita Wilson‘s effortless singing is showcased in “I’ve Seen Him Work“, one of the singles from her upcoming project.

I haven’t heard anyone work this swing tempo since either of the late crooner’s  departures.  Here, it is done splendidly. This song only whets the appetite of Wilson’s fans for what she has in the works. Superior support vocals (I can hear a DL influence here ) and flawless orchestration and production (I suspect Rick Robinson is in on this…) allow the extraordinary talent of this melodist to shine. She surprises us with a roaring ad-lib on par with Chicago’s best.

Expect her future works to give us more of what she calls “Worship Soul” on her upcoming release as well as elements of Gospel, Jazz and Pop. “Sunday Song is scheduled to arrive in stores and online July 14th, 2017.ith. Always a good bet,  Anita Wilson is an Artist You Should Know and one you can’t go wrong with.

“I’ve Seen Him Work” by Anita Wilson

Darrell “DJay” Perkins

He’s known as  for his intense translations of the  praise break as both a drummer and as an artist. His single “This Means War” put him on the map and cemented his reputation as “The Bump King“. His style is eclectic and diverse. You don’t know what you will get with every release from Darrell Djay Perkins, but you can always expect to get music that has his own unique stamp on it.

Keeping in line with his 2013 single “Help Me Praise Him“, this new song provides us with a chant for the righteous. Produced by Curtis Lindsey (CLKeys), it has masterful touches of both men etched within eight minutes of play. Never one for singing, Perkins astounds me at how he is capable of arranging vocals and being the enigmatic front man without uttering one note. I wonder if he ever suppresses the urge to belt out a note like J.J. Hairston. On a song of this caliber, it seems appropriate. Djay’s new single “Victorious” is a rip-roaring anthem of praise that can be sung by big and and small assemblies alike.

This Chicago native has done some wonderful work: given us a wonderful song from his perspective. Given us a song that Christendom as a whole can enjoy. Given a glimpse into his creative mind while partnering with an equally creative producer. If you haven’t already heard his work, get acquainted with “The Bump King“, he is an Artist You Should Know.

“Victorious” by Darrell DJay Perkins

Jenipher Jones

Truth is truth, no matter whom it comes from or what form it takes. There is no better form of truth than life experience. Songs that reflect life experience and connection with the listener are always in line to be hits. One such song is “Reset (feat. C-Note)“. Coming after featured spots with Malcolm Williams & Great Faith and Kenny Lewis & One Voice, this remarkable singer steps out on her own path. A path that not only tells of her experience, but is relative to others.

Jenipher Jones delivers a chilling account of the emotion and quotes one gives when severing ties in a relationship.  Regardless of the message, Jones’ voice seems to radiate throughout the song, giving long-time followers of the talented singer all that they’ve grown to love. The delivery does not sound like some church girl trying to sing secular. NO! It sounds like a confident professional singer doing music that could easily be included in current nationally-syndicated playlists without a second thought. She not only gives the perspective of the one doing the severing, but the supplication of the one being released. It is definitely in a class with any big name R&B diva you can name and it is from our hometown girl.

Don’t think that she has left her roots just because she chose a different message. Her affirmation remains the same as she allows her music to reveal both the life experience of a Christian and a woman. 

“Reset (feat. C-Note)” by Jenipher Jones

Kenny Lewis & One Voice

They open their newest release with “Alright” which features as clear and precise singing as I’ve ever heard. High points in the record include cameos from heavy hitters Lisa Knowles-Jones and Zacardi Cortez. However, Kenny Lewis & One Voice are never a group to shy away from singing duties. Not once do they hide behind the music or the lead singer. They rise to the task on every intricate melody and involved arrangement.

This is a choir in the truest sense of the word and choir singing is their forte.

For seasoned listeners and Chicago Gospel music fans like me, a definite climax is the repackaging of a “Thommies” classic; “He’ll Make It Alright“. The late Ethyl Holloway would be proud and Troi Daniels should be commended for her careful homage to this Chicago Gospel standard. KL&OV maintain the high level of energy and exactitude that they have established on past projects with strong songs like “I Made It”. Don’t pass up the chance to enjoy the very special guests they’ve enlisted on “Romans 8:28” and “He’s Defeated”. If you have never experienced them live or heard their recorded music, you owe it to yourself to do so. “Refocus” is the perfect opportunity. Kenny Lewis & One Voice, an Artist You Should Know.

“He’ll Make It Alright” by Kenny Lewis & One Voice

The Choirs of Trinity United

Church of Christ

This newest release from Chicago’s south side affirms that church choir is alive and well. If you work in music ministry (Music Director, Minister of Music, Music Pastor, etc.), this is definitely a project for your library. You can hear great songs like , “Stay Connected” featuring the phenomenal Kevon Carter and Senior Pastor, Rev. Otis Moss III on lead. “God Is Good“, on which Carter reprises his role as lead and “I Give You Praise” hosting talented singers, Rev. Angela Walton and Courtney J. Agnew

Music leaders can also have at their disposal a bevy of songs for special occasions. Since the project encompasses Trinity UCC‘s entire music arts department, one never has to search for a song for any occasion or group. The men, children, seasoned, and even the dance ministries are represented here. A well-rounded package indeed and a stroke of genius.

Rounding out the record are great songs featuring the incomparable Dr. Cynthia Nunn and Khari Lemuel & Tribe of Judah.

This is a wonderful collection of songs that speak of faith, struggle, tenacity and hope within  the African-American experience. “Stay Connected” can be thought of as less of a project and more of a tool for effective music ministry. From an Artist You Should Know comes a project you should have if you are in leadership.

“I Give You Praise” by The Choirs of Trinity United Church of Christ

HOOSIER HEROES: We’ll take a quick trip across the border into Indiana and cover a singer whose family has served in music ministry for decades and a singer who is serving fervently with an innovative sound.

Tommie Billups

This guitar-wielding singer/songwriter always gives us powerful, thought-provoking music. He never shies away from difficult messages or backs away from truth. Tommie Billups‘ newest hit,  “Sleepers” is a clarion call to anyone who has found themselves lulled into apathy  or dulled by routine.

Much like Ryan Booker, Billups walks the unique path that his gift takes him. His confident conviction comes across by just hearing his music. I appreciate how he presents a well-produced and lyrically sound song — every time. Following successes like “Lil’ Johnny“, I wouldn’t be surprised if this new song didn’t add force to the momentum this artist’s brand is making.

I encourage you to invite Billups to an event and see if he doesn’t electrify audiences in person as much as he does through the airwaves. He may be from Indiana, but his message is global. Don’t be a ‘sleeper‘ (corny pun intended) when it comes to Tommie Billups. He is an Artist You Should Know.

“Sleepers” by Tommie Billups

Ej Jackson

If any artists embody the boundary-trouncing cross-pollination that’s making Gospel music so exciting right now, it’s  people like: Denton Arnell, Kevon Carter, JaQuoi Griffin, Jason Davis, Kevin Gray, and the young man whose name — even as you read this — is currently at the top of my playlist.

From the moment I heard his new single, I loved it. At some point, almost any artist is going to sound similar to another. In this case, it seems as if an amalgamation of Mali Music, Jason Derulo, Eric Benet and PJ Morton has taken place. Not an imitation of them, but a melding of all their best elements. He’s a total production chameleon, capable of convincingly switching from the commercial sound of “Hold Me Down (feat. JayGuapo)” to the concise and rhythmic tone of “#JustEj“. In this writer’s earnest opinion, Ej Jackson is “the truth“.

Comparisons to other artists aside,  “StressFUL” is devotedly on task in delivering a relative message about life issues, including overdue bills, romantic relationships and church stresses. Maybe you missed my review of Just Steve‘s music, but as a finishing touch on an already great song, Steve does what he does best  – once again –  with sharpness and witticism.

I speak a lot on this site about artists who give a fresh sound. Here is one: Ej Jackson. It is a sound and a story given exclusively to this individual and it is put to excellent use.  I hope to hear this artist in person very soon Whether leading worship at his church (True Light International Ministries,  Pastor Scott B. Jefferson III) or in concert. I recommend him as an Artist You Should Know.

“StressFUL” by EJ Jackson


 Let’s celebrate and support a few more artists from my Hometown. Chicago is a big city with a multiplicity of styles within. We dare not relegate the Gospel sound to traditional music. The power and passion of God’s people can be heard and felt through the diversity of music from the amazing artists that we’ve featured this week in our special mini-series about our home-grown heroes.

More artists are coming to these pages and I’d love to have your help. If you know of any artist – from your hometown or anywhere else – that is making a positive impact and producing good music, please don’t hesitate to let us know about them via email at


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