Take 6: Service to the song at Festival of Praise

ODDS ARE you don’t know the name Alvin Chea. But it’s almost a sure thing you know his voice.

He’s appeared in hundreds of movies and TV, done voice overs for dozens of movie trailers and advertising campaigns.

Then there’s his universal line -- ‘I want my baby-back, back-back ribs” -- the Chili’s jingle he’s sang for years.

“They just replaced me with this new guy,” Chea said of the Chili’s ad. “It’s hilarious. I’ve been around the world, sung for four presidents, got 10 Grammys, done and seen it all and that’s what people know me for.”

The Grammys — and presidential singing appearances — came with Take 6, the most awarded, and some would say best vocal group in history. In addition to the 10 Grammys won in three different decades, Take 6 has 10 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, a Soul Train award and two NAACP Images Awards.

The group’s most recent record, 2016’s “Believe” hit No. 2 on the jazz chart. The second Take 6 album that isn’t a gospel project, the record incorporates contemporary production — programmed beats, synthesized arrangements and even a little hip-hop and some secular material -- mostly love songs.

The next Take 6 album will be in the similar, if more classic pop and soul vein, said Chea, who was on his way from a recording session in Pasadena, Calif to another session near Palm Springs when we talked.

“The guys are in the studio, working on a brand new project, it’s going to be called ‘Iconic,’ Chea said. “We’re taking our pass at a couple great tunes from over the years. There are a couple Earth, Wind and Fire tunes, Al Jarreau, Ray Charles.”

But those songs aren’t likely to show up in the band’s shows for awhile.

“We could (perform them). We’ve been woodshedding them,” he said. “The show is so finely tuned, we probably won’t do it there. But if we get saucy and there is a second or third encore, we might drop it.”

The two more contemporary albums, however, don’t mean Take 6 is moving away from gospel — now or ever.

“It’s our roots,” Chea said. “It’s where we come. Literally where we come from and that isn’t ever going to change.”

The “literally” is Chea’s reference to the group’s formation at Oakmont University, a Seventh Day Adventist college in Huntsville, Ala.

There to study English and communication — skills he used in writing his book “Bass Lines” — Chea joined a vocal group called Alliance. That was in 1985, a few years after Claude McKnight put together the first incarnation of what would become Take 6.

Performing on campus and in area churches, Alliance’s reputation rapidly spread and in 1987, the renamed group Take 6 was signed to Warner Brothers Records. It’s self-titled debut the next year literally made the group — selling more than a million copies, winning two Grammys and putting it on the radar of a who’s who of music.

Over the years, Take 6 – whose current lineup also includes McKnight, Khristian Dentley, Mark Kibble, Joey Kibble and David Thomas — has collaborated with, among others, Quincy Jones, Don Henley, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah and Stevie Wonder, who they joined at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, singing for the millions watching on the night President Barack Obama received his party’s nomination.

That, Chea said, is one of his most cherished memories in three decades of singing with the group. But he said each time he unleashes his rich, expressive bass can be nearly as memorable, even it’s only witnessed by a producer and engineer in the studio.

There and on stage, Chea said, he’s not trying to show off the range and skill that makes him an in-demand singer.

“It’s always service to the song, man,” he said. “You have to make it fit and fill and carry your part. Usually, I’m the anchor, but it’s all about the song. Not me.”

That, he said, even held true for “I got my baby-back, baby-back, baby-back ribs.”


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