Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland Artist Spotlight: Take 6
June 24, 2015
Back in 1980, when Claude McKnight III founded The Gentlemen’s Estate Quartet at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., he had a simple goal.
“We wanted to be the best group on campus,” McKnight said.
Ten Grammys and a slew of nominations later, the group, which became Take 6, has far surpassed its initial ambition and has become one the best vocal groups in the country. Take 6 has taken a cappella gospel and owned it.
It’s an unlikely genre in which to find success, but in the case of Take 6, success essentially found the group.
Take 6, which will perform July 9 as part of Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, honed its style singing in a bathroom at Oakwood. “No matter your skill level, you sing better in a bathroom,” McKnight said.
“We were singing spirituals. We weren’t even writing songs,” McKnight said.
It emerged with a potent blend of R&B, jazz and traditional spiritual influences. Members mimic instruments and percussion while singing harmonies.
In 1987, almost on a whim, the group decided to take part in a showcase at a Christian bookstore in Nashville. McKnight said he had heard that representatives of Christian record labels would be there. But to his recollection, none showed up. Who did show up, uninvited, was Jim Ed Normon, president of Warner Bros. Nashville. The next day, the group had a contract, McKnight said.
“It was so long ago. We were so green and so new. All of a sudden, we’re in the record business. Twenty days later, we were in the studio. Three guys were still in school,” he said.
The self-titled album that resulted was nominated for three Grammys and won two. Take 6 has gone on to be the most Grammy-nominated vocal group in history. It’s also the winner of 10 Dove awards and one Soul Train Award. The group has collaborated with Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald and others. “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” a song it performed with Stevie Wonder, earned a Grammy in 2002.
Over the course of its career, Take 6 has released 16 albums including two greatest hits compilations.
All of this belies the real purpose of the group and part of the explanation for its longevity.
“This has always been a ministry. It has always been bigger than us,” said McKnight, whose younger brother is R&B singer Brian McKnight.
Faith and friendship also fuel the group’s energy on stage. McKnight said that if one member or another was jet-lagged or just out of sorts, another was there to lift him up.
“We like each other. It may sound simple, but there are a lot of groups that don’t like each other. We never had that.”
Dominick Farinacci Quintet/Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with special guest Take 6, 7:30 p.m. July 9 at Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. $40-$65. 216-241-6000 or click here for tickets.