Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pentecostal Spotlight - Minister Justin Cunnigham

Hey Everyone!!! I am so excited to present this interview with gospel music bassist Minister Justin Cunningham. If you have listened to gospel music, chances are you have heard this amazing musician in action. He has had the opportunity to play for such gospel greats as Hezekiah Walker, James Hall, Melvin Crispell, The Timothy Wright Memorial Choir, and Brent Jones just to name a few. His skills on the bass are undeniable and impossible not to notice. You can definitely hear in his playing that this is what he was created to do. As a member of Mount Zion Pentecostal Holiness Church in Brooklyn, New York, pastored by  Bishop Roskco Motes.  Justin is an example of dedication to your church while still being successful. I first heard of Cunningham through a video with gospel great Melvin Crispell, and since then I have been a fan. He is an anointed vessel who not only plays music, but also preaches the gospel. It is awesome to see a young man not only give his gifts to God, but also make himself an available vessel for God to speak through. I think this interview will be a blessing to everyone especially musicians in any form of ministry.  So without further ado, I present my interview with Minister Justin Cunningham.

How long have you been playing the bass guitar?

I've been playing bass since the age of 12. So it's been 17 years.

Are you able to play any other instruments, and if so, which instrument do you think people would be most surprised about?

While I was studying music in school my main instrument was drums, and I started playing drums in church. Drums is my first Love but I love music period. I also play the piano/organ. I'm a decent piano/organ player. I can get through a service. (smile)

What is your Pentecostal background and how does that affect your playing style?

Well I was born, raised and currently still am P.A.W. (Pentecostal Assemblies of the World) The church was Bethel Christian Church, and my Pastor was the late Pastor Aida Ford. Yes, I was born and raised under a female Pastor. And she did not play any games. She also was very open to many different styles of Gospel music. Attached to our church in Freeport Long Island, was a Christian Bookstore that allowed access to many different gospel artists and styles of gospel music. My church was not a Hammond b-3 church, we only had keyboards, bass, and drums. The vibe of my church growing up was so different than the common church sound. But me, I loved the church sound, the organ screaming shouting church. So I started listening to gospel music a lot. And because I was learning music in school, school taught us to know many styles of music and learn the style. So I think my church has allowed me to be very musical and not just play one style.

What was the first major project you had the opportunity to play on?

I have so many projects that were so major to me because of where I was in my career/life. I recall my first recording which was with a community youth choir when I was about 13 or 14 called "Christmas with the Mass City Choir". And I played percussion on that. Then I remember my first session that I got to work with Melvin Crispell as the organist/producer and Eddie Heyward on drums. They all were major to me. I like to approach each session that way. No big projects or little projects. If my name is on it, I want it be the best it can be.

What made you want to play the bass guitar, out of all the instruments out in the world?

I always had an interest in the bass. But I started on drums. When I was a kid my church had a youth band. The youth band would play on Sunday nights. My cousin and I both played drums so we would alter Sundays playing drums. One Sunday evening, it was my cousins turn to play, and the kid that played bass was in trouble and wasn't allowed to play. So the bass player of the church said to me "Hey Justin, go sit in on bass." I said "COOL"! I just wanted to play music. About 3 songs into testimony service it just clicked, the keyboard player looked at me and said "Turn it up!" I knew no notes. I just knew what I was hearing.

Who is your mentor and what has been the best thing you have taken away from them?

I have been so blessed because God has surrounded me with men and women of God that have poured into my life and ministry. But I would definitely have to say my father. When I was 12 and I started playing in church, I was feeling like I was being pushed to the side and was being belittled. And my Father told me "Justin don't worry, there is going to be a day when you're going to be playing all over the world. Just be patient and wait on God. Your season will come. The bible says Your gift will make room for you." That has been my driving force to this day in everything that I do.

As a preacher along with a bass player, how do you balance both things, which both seem to require time to perfect?

 Well the Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth." As a Preacher, I've been charged by God to study in depth in order to be effective in ministry. As a musician, I equally have to practice and make sure my craft is ready to be used. But I have a love for both the word of God and music. So reading/studying his word is something I enjoy as well as practicing. But I have to make time to be with God and just shut everything else out.

What role in corporate worship do you feel musicians play?

I feel musicians play a very important role in corporate worship. But I also feel that the church has become too dependent on the musicians in our worship. We should not NEED musicians to worship. Worship is based on relationship. Musicians need to have a relationship with God themselves because when the music stops how do you maintain your relationship?

What do you feel is the biggest misconception, that people place on all church musicians?

One the biggest misconceptions about musicians is that we ALL are chasing women and aren't saved or living holy. I have to honestly say that there are a lot of musicians who are chasing women, but that is not all musicians. The young lady I'm dating said something to me once. She told me that one of her female friends stated "I will never date a musician because they are dogs, they can't be faithful." And she told her "NO NO not all of them are like that. Mine isn't like that, you just have to choose the right one." I took great pride in the fact that she was able to testify to someone that all musicians aren't what you assume they are. Proverbs says "A good name is rather to be chosen then great riches."

Where do you see the evolution of church music progressing to, especially within the Pentecostal church?

The sound of church has become more CCM, Praise and worship sound. I love churchy music. So I'm a little scared that the church sound will be lost. But I'm actually a little fearful for the future of the Body of Christ as a whole not just the music. Church is changing and is straying away from what works in church. The hunger for the word is missing. The music is changing, people come to church but don't want to hear a life changing word. The purpose of the word is to correct, refine and reprove. I desire to play music and preach a word that  will be effective and cause people to be healed, delivered and set free.

What scripture do you personally live by day by day?

Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."

What words of wisdom would you give any musician no matter their stage in ministry?

A have a couple keys things I feel are important for the success of a musician: 1) Don't get so stuck on your playing that you don't maintain a relationship with God; 2) Make sure you are at a church when the Pastor is preaching and teaching the word of God, and that is not just concerned about your gift but they are also concerned about your soul and spiritual well being; 3) Stay humble. Be confident, but stay humble; 4) Don't seek the approval of others. Do what you do for the Lord and no one else!

What is your favorite album of all time from a musical perspective?

I have so many favorite albums and artists but I think one of my favorite albums is "STRENGTH" because I'm a fan of John P. Kee and one of my favorite bass players, Maurice Fitzgerald, played this album and this album has so many great songs on it.

God Bless!!!

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