Replaying the Sound with The Sounds of Blackness

Thursday, 08 September 2011 22:33 Written by  Mariah Craddick

It’s a sound that’s almost indescribable. It fuses jazz, blues, gospel, hip hop and more, and it can only be described as “The Sounds of Blackness.” This musical ensemble is best known for its hits “Optimistic” and “Hold On (Change is Coming),” which earned them three Grammy awards and stellar chart success during the early 1990s.

GlossMagazineOnline had the opportunity to speak with Gary Hines, the musical director for Sounds of Blackness, about celebrating their 40th anniversary as a group, their sounds and musical influences and their upcoming self-titled album.

GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): Sounds of Blackness has been around for a long time—40 years to be exact. How exactly did this group come together?

Gary Hines: Sounds of Blackness started at my alma mater, Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minn. A group of African American students wanted to have an ensemble that reflected the entire range of music of our cultural experience.

GMO: How many group members are there today?

Gary: Our group has 25 members, consisting of 15 singers and 10 musicians. Our touring ensemble has 16 people with eight singers and eight musicians.

GMO: As musical director, can you explain how this group is able to jump from genre to genre of music so seamlessly?

Hines: Like in any culture, this is a family of music. So like any family, the relatives have a lot more in common than they do differences. These common threads are conducive to us performing the different styles and sometimes blending some of them.

GMO: What is your personal take on African American music today? Do you feel there is still room for positivity and uplifting music like The Sounds of Blackness?

Hines: Now more than ever is the time for messages of hope, peace, inspiration and positivity because of all of the negativity that surrounds us.

GMO: It's been a while since we've heard anything major from this group. What have you all been up to?

Hines: We've released a couple of CDs independently, but we didn't have the power to get them out. But we do now that we've signed with Malaco Records. So we continue to record and perform both here in the U.S. and quite a bit overseas—especially in Europe and Japan. We've also been busy with soundtrack work and doing music for companies, including General Mills. Also, we've been using our music in the struggle against domestic violence. So we've been doing quite a bit!

GMO: What's the inspiration for the new CD? What musical influences can we expect to hear?

Hines: The inspiration and focus of this CD is really three-fold. That is inspiration, healing and then a word out of the Zulu language called "Ubuntu," meaning "humaneness." It's the concept that we are all intimately and intricately intertwined. This means our existence is co-dependent on one another.

GMO: Any special guests featured?

Hines: Yes. First and foremost—the lead vocals on our first single "Fly Again" are by Jamecia Bennett, the daughter of the great Ann Nesby and mother of American Idol finalist Paris Bennett. There’s also Grammy-award winning guitarist Norman Brown, along with jazz legend Doris Hines. We also have guests from around the world, so that gives the record a real international flavor.

GMO: Have you done anything differently or special to cater to a younger audience?

Hines: Absolutely, especially in terms of our tracking and production so that the classic Sounds of Blackness sound is there, but we also keep it contemporary and incorporate elements of hip hop and that flavor with everything that we put out there.

GMO: What's the reception been like for the group and the new CD so far?

Hines: Just yesterday, USA Today gave us a top 10 pick. When we released our single "Fly Again" last week, it was the number two most added in the country on radio. So, we're really thankful that right out of the box the response has been overwhelming.

GMO: What are the future plans for The Sounds of Blackness?

Hines: We're going to be formulating a performance schedule very soon for here in the U.S. and overseas. When that schedule is finalized, we will definitely post it on our website at


Mariah Craddick

Mariah Craddick

Mariah Craddick hails from the city of Atlanta and is currently a junior studying in the magazine journalism program at Columbia College Chicago. In addition to contributing to GMO, she is also the President/Editor-in-Chief of HerCampus for Columbia College Chicago and is a "Style Guru" intern for

She can be contacted at