The incomparable Keith Pringle’s indelible talent has earned him a place among Gospel royalty. The legendary singer, who rose to fame during the 1980s, with a long list of hit songs, “Call Him Up(I Can’t Stop Praising His Name)”, “I Feel Like Going On”, “No Greater Love”, “Perfect Peace”,”With My Whole Heart”, “Well Done” are only a few of the songs, he made popular. The storied, almost four decade career of Keith Pringle has been so expansive it defies description. He has influenced a generation of musicians and worked with some of the most talented gospel legends of all time.
CEDRIC: Do you feel like Gospel Royalty for this generation?
KEITH: Cedric to be honest with you, I didn’t realize I had been in music for 35 years, the young lady that’s doing my appreciation service, said to me, “do you realize how long you have been singing? I was a little girl when you came out. I use to sit with my mother and watch you”. When people say those sort of things, it kicks in that I have been singing for a long time. Ricky Dillard told me that he started his choir because of me. When you are humble, you don’t try to look for things to build yourself up. I was just doing things, because I loved music. Now that I have gotten older and the Lord is bringing me back out, he is showing me my influence in gospel music. They are still playing my music after 20 years and that’s a blessing. I give God all the praise, he gets all the glory.
CEDRIC: Let’s go back a little bit, you are from where?
KEITH: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, then went to high school and college in Los Angeles.
CEDRIC: What is it about Detroit, it seems all the great singers come from there…all the Winans, The Clark Sisters, Aretha, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and so many others…what is it about this place? Is there something in the water?
KEITH: It’s unreal…I don’t know! (laughing)
CEDRIC: At what age did you started singing?
KEITH: Oh, now see! I didn’t ask you how old you was (laughing) So, don’t go there!
CEDRIC: (laughing) Well you already told me you been in the business for 35 years.
KEITH: Yeah, but we’re going to stay in the Lord, and we’re going to stay prayerful, so we’re going to ask another question right?
CEDRIC: OK, (laughing) we’re going to move right along.
KEITH: (laughing) We’re going to move it along saints and let God revealed that to you if he see fit….Cedric listen, I am a nut and I am enjoying this. In this day and age, there is so much sadness going on. I like to be a happy-go-lucky person and if I can make you smile, I feel like I can brighten up your day. And that’s what it’s all about. I’m enjoying you man and I’m just having fun. You know the bible say…”the joy of the Lord is our strength”.
CEDRIC: Great, I love it! Let me rephrase the question…did you sing as a child?
KEITH: No, I didn’t! I never sung.
CEDRIC: For real, you have one of those voices that I just knew you grew up singing in the church.
KEITH: I played the organ. I like to sing and I loved singing in the background, but I never thought I was singer. Not until I started playing with James Cleveland did I become a singer.
CEDRIC: Very interesting, Los Angeles is where it all sort of started for you right?
KEITH: Yes, I was the organist for West Angeles C.O.G.I.C. for 7 years in Los Angeles. Bishop Charles E. Blake is the pastor. I loved my Bishop, Bishop Charles Blake. We sort of fell out a little bit. I was the organist and they loved me at West Angeles. I said, “Bishop I got to go, Rev. Cleveland ask me to travel and play for him on the road”. Of coarse being an organist for a church for that long, he was quite unhappy. He wasn’t happy at all with me, but it was a chance of a lifetime. I was only suppose to be gone for one week, but James Cleveland was a hot act at the time, so a week turned into several years.
CEDRIC: Tell me the story of how you met James Cleveland and started working with him.
KEITH: Rev. Cleveland use to have these Monday night musical at his church. I wasn’t doing nothing, so I went to the program at Rev. Cleveland’s church, with a friend.
CEDRIC: (laughing) You wasn’t doing nothing..
KEITH: Right, I wasn’t doing nothing, so let me go over here see what’s going on. It was offering time and they needed someone to play the organ, because all the musician had step out. You know how the musician do. Well, they needed a organist and a pianist to play during the offering. I was sitting in the audience and there was this other musician that I knew, he looked at me and I’m looked back at him. We didn’t want to go up there and play, because it was Rev. Cleveland. I didn’t want to mess up. I told the other musician, “I’ll go up, if you go up”. We played after the offering, Rev. Cleveland said I want to see you after the service.
CEDRIC: Were you nervous?
KEITH: Yeah, because I didn’t know what he wanted. He came up to me after the service and said, “I need a organist for me and The Cleveland Singers”. That was August 1976. I remember the first engagement, some of the older people will remember, it was called the “World Greatest Gospel Show” with the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Inez Andrews, The Williams Brothers, Shirley Caesar, and Rev. Cleveland and The Cleveland Singers. It was in Philadelphia, September 1976, I will never forget it. That was my first date playing with James Cleveland and I have been going ever since. I’m sitting here so humbled, I never really sat down to think about it all of this, but God has been good to me.
CEDRIC: Take me to the day of the recording of “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”.
KEITH: I had been playing with James Cleveland for a whole a year when we went to Salem and record “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”. It was a Friday night, people where standing around the wall, it was so crowded in there.
CEDRIC: Did you know at about 3 minutes and 20 seconds into the song, that he was going to say, “sing it for me Keith”?
KEITH: Cedric, I want you to hear me, this is God’s honest truth. We didn’t planned that. Even in rehearsals, I played the organ. I never ad lib, I never sung, I never even thought about singing it. I was so busy making sure I wasn’t playing no wrong notes, because James Cleveland was stickler, he was a perfectionist. You had to watch him to make sure you was coming in when he wanted you to come or break when he wanted you to break. He was standing up at the podium singing, I was sitting at the organ. Recording mics were every where, while that tape was rolling, God as my witness, he turns his head and say, “sing it for me Keith” (Keith begins to cry) I’m so sensitive, when I really think about how God has been blessing me. A lot of times you have to talk about things to realize how good God has been. God really open up those doors, because God had it in his plan. You can’t mess up God’s plans. If God’s got a plan for you, it’s your plan.
CEDRIC: I love this sort of history, what did you say to James Cleveland after the recording?
KEITH: Well, we all went out and ate after the recording and I don’t remember if I even said, “thank you”, for the opportunity. I was still mesmerize. I couldn’t hardly slept that night, I just couldn’t believe it.
CEDRIC: Did you know that this would change life?
KEITH: No, not at all. It went on to become one of his biggest sellers James Cleveland ever had. Every where we went I had to sing it. That’s when I started getting use to singing. People would wait to hear the song and that’s when I started singing. God took me from there, to my choir, to my solo albums, all from my ad libs on “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”.
CEDRIC: Like you said, “when God has something planned for you, you can’t stop it”! How did the Pentecostal Community Choir come about?
KEITH: It was about two years after we recorded, “I Don’t Feel No Way Tired”. I was in Washington DC at the Gospel Music Workshop and I saw all these fabulous choirs singing and I was sitting in the middle of the Constitution Hall, I said God we need a choir like this in LA. All we had was Southern California Community Choir at the time. After that workshop, I went back home and started my choir that 2nd week in January of 1979, I started the Pentecostal Community Choir with 37 folks. The plan was not to record, I didn’t know where we was going.
CEDRIC: But, you ended up recording one of the most recognizable gospel songs of all time, “Call Him Up (Can’t Stop Praising His Name). How did that song come about?
KEITH: Rickey Grundy, he came up to me in rehearsal and said I got a song for you Keith. He started teaching the song in rehearsal and we use to have good rehearsals. We took that song and the holy ghost came in there….”can’t stop praising his name” and we sung that song for a whole hour in the first rehearsal. Here I go crying again…the whole choir was sweating. We record that song at James Cleveland’s church.
CEDRIC: You worked with the great Thomas Whitfield, tell me about that experience?
KEITH: Oh God, yes! I always loved Thomas’s music and I knew him from Detroit. Thomas was always ahead of his time and I just loved him. He could play so good. I was doing a solo album and Thomas said, “Keith I want you to record this song”. When we recorded “Perfect Peace” in the studio, I hit this high note and I knock over this music stand. I look up into the sound booth, because I was sure we needed to start over, since the music stand made noise when it fell. I look up in the booth and Thomas Whitfield had stood up out of his chair and was waving his hands worshiping God. I just keep on singing. (Keith is crying….we stop for a moment for him to compose himself)
KEITH: I know I’m talking a lot and I’m crying a lot, I have never done this in a interview, but it’s real in my soul. I did not know what God was doing in my life. That’s why I tell folks, you got to stay humble before God. If you love God and take care of God’s business, God will take care of your business.
CEDRIC: Your last record I found was Magnify Him (1991), why no more records?
KEITH: I had to go through some things. I was riding around in my BMW, I had money in my pocket, going to Neiman Marcus every week. God had to take me down. Unless you have gone through something, you don’t know about him keeping you. When you got money in your pocket, you don’t know about, asking God how you’re going to pay your rent. I had been telling folks, “That I Feel Like Going On” and he’ll keep you in ”Perfect Peace” and I had never gone through nothing and I’m singing to people who have lost things. I went bankrupt and got depressed, I was going to commit suicide. I stood in the mirror in my bathroom and I was crying and it seemed like no one would talk to me, no one had any time. Sometimes all you need is a hug and the devil will try to keep that away from you, when he is trying to get you. I was in my mirror crying and I was going to take some pills, because I was tired. God told me to put my arms around myself and hold myself. I put my arms around myself and I said I feel like going on. I walked away from that medicine cabinet and went and sat down in my lounging chair in living room. I never looked back again.
CEDRIC: That is some testimony!
KEITH: I know, I got a testimony… But I had to go through it and now I can say, honey, if you put God first, he’ll keep you when you don’t know which way to turn. I’m trying to start something now….he’ll keep you in perfect peace if you keep your mind stayed on him. Hear I go again! I can’t take it anymore, we have to stop here. (laughing) This is too much!
CEDRIC: (laughing) So what are you doing now?
KEITH: I’m on a new tour now with Donald Lawrence, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Myrna Summers, Douglas Miller, and Daryl Coley. We’ve did two shows already in Baltimore and Philadelphia. We all take 15 minutes each, we sing 3 songs, and then go to the next one. We all sit in the audience, on the front row together, and Donald Lawrence calls us up. It’s been unreal, after Vanessa sings, “Peace Be Still”, and I do “Can’t Stop” and after I get through singing, Douglas Miller does “My Soul’s Been Anchor”. I’m telling you, it’s just none stop. The spiritual level of it is unreal. We all be shouting on each other. Folks are on there feet the whole time the service is going on.
CEDRIC: Great! Any Pentecostal Community Choir reunion on the horizon?
KEITH: Yes, the first one is going to be at my Appreciation Service on next week. We are starting to get the ground work done on the album. We want to do the best of Keith Pringle and Pentecostal Community Choir. All the old music and re-do it and we have a thing on the internet, that we are asking young writers to summit their songs for me and the Pentecostal Community Choir.
Cedric’s Random Questions
1. What look or style did you pick up that you are most embarrassed of now?
Bell bottom pants and the high boots
2. If you could have been a star in any movie, which movie would you choose?
The Life of Keith Pringle
3. What word do you most misspell?
All the easy ones, I forget how to spell who or what (laughing)
4. What do you consider the worst household chore?
I don’t like washing my dishes after I’m done eating.
5. What CD or Artist you’re most into right now?
Marvin Sapp, Donald Lawrence, Norman Hutchinson who is a friend of mine. I love his music, he suppose to do something with me on my next album.
6. If you could perform with any musician (live or dead) who would it be and what song would you sing?
Two people, it would be James Cleveland and Thomas Whitfield
Any famous last words….
That I love the Lord and I coming back! I thank God for all the people that have been keeping my music alive. To all those who are trying to sing or direct choirs. Put God first and let him guide you. If it’s his will, then it will happen. If it ain’t, then go do something else. Everyone is not destined to be a singer, everyone is not destined to be a songwriter, what God has for you, will be for you. Pray and God will honored your prayers. Thank you Cedric, you’re awesome! Thank you for having me, thank you for allowing me to share my tears. But, God is so good.
CEDRIC: I appreciate you so much! It was a honor and a full circle moment for me today.
KEITH: Thank you so much Cedric and God bless you!