It is their last day at home for over a month. But Claude McKnight, founder and leader of Take 6, one of the world’s most successful vocal groups, is on the phone with ChristianMusic.com, talking about the group, the tour, and the new album, “The Standard.”
“We’ve been to Europe almost every year since 1988,” Claude says of this year’s extra-long European tour, “but it’s a very tough schedule.” Though the band has decades of training in keeping fit during a tour, their itinerary is mind-boggling. “And with an a capella group,” he adds, “there’s no opportunity to hide behind the band.”
The group has won Grammy awards in several categories, but their just-released album, “The Standard,” is a departure in several ways, primarily for its concentration on jazz. “Also, there’s only one original song on it,” adds Claude. “It’s made up of jazz, R&B and pop standards. All of them have some meaning for us musically as well as spiritually and philosophically.”
This tour will obviously concentrate on the songs in “The Standard,” but Claude says they don’t change a set for any particular audience, though their venues range from jazz clubs to churches in over a dozen different countries. “We’re obviously an a capella group, but we’re also a jazz group. We do jazz gigs, but it’s the same music, a healthy mix of ‘The Standard’ and previous songs that people have come to know us for.”
Whatever kind of music they are singing at any given moment and in any given place, the six men are Christian to the core. All Seventh Day Adventists, they originally met in 1980 at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. There is the oft-told tale of their beginnings in a college bathroom, where they would rehearse. “It started as a quartet,” Claude explains. “One day, Mark Kibble walks in and listens to us and just adds a fifth harmony.” Though he’s not sure, Claude says he thinks that first watershed song was “Bless This House.”
For the next ten years, the group changed a few names and a few members. They have been the same Take 6, though, since 1991, when Mark’s younger brother, Joey, joined. The other members are: Alvin Chea, who has written a book, “Basslines”; David Thomas who, along with Mark, produces records for the Backstreet Boys; and Dr. Cedric Dent, a professor of music.
Claude, who produces, writes and does voice-over work, learned to love harmonies at a very young age, listening to his grandfather direct the church choir. “I was able to see and hear what harmonic music was all about. Most Gospel choirs are doing some kind of five-part harmony. I was ten years old when I started.”
In its startling history, Take 6 has had one platinum and three gold records, in addition to being the most Grammy-winning (10) and most Grammy-nominated (18) vocal group of all time. They are on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s masterpiece “Do The Right Thing,” and this past summer performed with Stevie Wonder at the outdoor concert of the Democratic National Convention.
Ever growing and expanding their reach, both musically and geographically, the group is home for the holidays and then will return for a tour of Japan. In all of this, clearly, “The Standard” as much as it describes the music, describes the group even more.
-- Nate Lee