Bostwick to the Grammy Stage: Arthur Roland’s journey from Morgan County to gospel fame
Six Grammy Awards and two Dove Awards line the shelves of Bostwick native Arthur Roland’s Atlanta office. Not bad for someone who began by singing gospel as a child with his sisters on the weekends. Having a cup of green tea the other morning at Perk Avenue, Roland reflected on his life in the music industry since leaving Morgan County.
“I just loved the music and it took me to the places I needed to go. It always opened the next door I needed to walk through.”
In his 46 years, music has opened many doors for Roland. Part of that history included recording and performing with internationally acclaimed gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama. “There have been many times in my life I have stopped and looked around and thought how did I get from a young boy in Madison, Georgia to here?” He has performed at the White House for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and saw his mentors, the Blind Boys, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Then to be at the Grammy Awards and to look around to see everyone. You just can’t believe you are there.”
As a young child, Roland taught himself how to play many instruments including guitar, drums and piano. He played football and ran track at Morgan County High School. Yet, a large part of his childhood was spent touring the gospel circuit with The Roland Family. The gospel music community is a small and connected one. During this time, he became good friends with the Blind Boys manager and signed on to play guitar for the group in the mid-1980s.
One of the highlights of his association with the Blind Boys has been touring the world. Roland spoke of his love of Europe and contemplated moving there but decided four years ago it was time to come home for some normalcy. It turned out to be the right decision. “I love the European lifestyle – the coffee houses, the boutiques – and now you look around and Madison is starting to look like those other places. I feel like things are coming full circle.”
A singer, instrumentalist and songwriter, Roland keeps recording equipment in his Madison home. Though he has a larger studio in his Atlanta office, the smaller Madison studio allows him to work all hours whenever inspiration hits.
Another door opened by moving back to Madison was reconnecting with high school classmate William Clayton. Bumping into each other after decades apart, Clayton told Roland about his gospel group William Clayton and the Redeemed. The two met at Roland’s studio. Very quickly, Roland could tell Clayton had talent and was serious about pursuing a career in music. The two joined forces and headed to Nashville. After a round of meetings, William Clayton and the Redeemed reformed with new musicians from all around the country.
The group’s music crosses over into the traditional white Southern gospel market. With their first album released in 2007, they stay busy bringing their unique blend of jazz-influenced gospel to a new group of listeners. Roland proudly stated, “The group is breaking lots of stereotypes for people. We are changing the sound and performing of traditional white gospel. Most groups perform with a soundtrack. We come in with live music and people are flocking to hear us.”
William echoed Arthur’s comments on the group’s mission. “God’s hands have opened doors for this group and he is mending hearts.” Currently, they are working with Morningstar Records on a new CD “It’s All Good.” The group is also starting a tour in the first part of November which will run through the first of the year. Well known in parts of Tennessee, Ohio and Northeast Georgia, their songs are often played on the radio. Clayton’s dream is that they will evolve into a full time ministry for the Lord in song.
Along with his partnership with William Clayton and the Redeemed, Arthur’s plans for the future include producing, performing, songwriting and hoping one day to write movie soundtracks. But he will never leave gospel behind because of a promise made to his mother never to stop performing Christian music.
With a background in R&B, blues and country music, he has worked with Louise Mandrell, BeBe and CeCe Winans, the Oak Ridge Boys and Rascal Flatts. Though Arthur didn’t volunteer names of the famous musicians he has met – I couldn’t help but ask. Mentioning the likes of Justin Timberlake and Slash, he knew REM in the early days, as well as Hootie and the Blowfish and John Berry. Always looking for new talent, after our meeting he was leaving for St. Louis to record a young woman he feels could be a new Tracy Chapman.
To keep track of all his contacts and commitments, Arthur’s lifeline is his Blackberry. Recently he dropped this indispensable PDA in water. He called his computer expert in a panic. “You’ve got to help me get those numbers back! I’ve got everyone in there.” Luckily, the friend resurrected the phone list which Arthur now faithfully backs up to his computer.
Confident God will continue to open doors, Arthur plans to keep making music that brings persons of all races and backgrounds together. After our meeting, this reporter feels privileged to have her number listed in Arthur Roland’s Blackberry contacts. Just look for Miles – that would be right after Jagger and Kravitz.
Printed in the December 17, 2009 edition.