There has been a lot of buzz among students at Howard University and in the media about Anthony Clark Williams, aka B. Slade and formerly TONÉX’s performance at the Howard Theater’s Gospel Brunch on September 15, 2013. Some HU students were not supportive of his gospel brunch billing because his openly gay identity is contrary to their biblical stance on homosexuality. The spreading news of HU Christian student opposition evoked prayerful support from fans over social media throughout the week, as he prepared for the event. Yet, when I arrived to the venue on Sunday at 11 a.m., there was no sign of protestors. There was a long line of white people who appeared excited about the weekly gospel brunch and a few DC gospel musician colleagues taking up the rear of the line.
The seating was first come first serve with the Clarks Sisters, Fred Hammond, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong playing in the theater house. Shortly after we had our choice of an EXCELLENT all-you-can-eat brunch buffet that included Fried Chicken Cutlets, Fried Catfish, Greens, Caesar salad with toppings, roasted potatoes, Fried Chicken Wingets, Macaroni and Cheese, Biscuits and Gravy, coffee, Orange juice, donuts, danishes, muffins, and fruit. The crowd was inter-cultural with gospel brunch regular participants and local music ministers in attendance.
Just after 1 p.m. we heard in the distance Anthony Clark Williams singing “Total Praise,” behind the veil of the stage curtain. As the song progressed, we were bathed in musical layers of orchestral accompaniment complete with dynamics and skilled singing. At the end of the song, the curtains lifted and Anthony posed, as the crowd erupted in applause. He then sang, “He’s Not Dead, He’s Alive,” a selection that pays homage to great such as the Jacksons. He was backed by D.C-based background vocalists who he calls the Vocal Ninjaz: Jeremy Lloyd, Clifton Ross III, and Jason Paul. The one-hour set included all of his hit gospel tracks the TONÉX catalogue such as “Work on Me,” “Make Me Over,” “God has not 4got,” and he even sung the classic hymn “I Need Thee, Oh I Need Thee.”
The entire gospel brunch was energy packed, intentional, and nostalgic, showcasing Anthony Clark Williams’s strong 21st century contribution to gospel music. The quality with which he performed would make one would think that he was presenting in a much larger venue such as Jericho City of Praise or the Verizon Center. He ended the set with a new single entitled “Quench,” during which he demonstrated his virtuosic Pentecostal tambourine playing skills, as he rapidly sang “Stop quenching the spirit, stop quenching the spirit.” Anthony exhorted that there needs to be a revival. At one point he tossed the tambourine into the crowd to a loved one who caught it and continued the tambourine accompaniment. This last single was a foretaste of Williams’s new gospel album that he announced will be released in May 2014.