With the many genres of music that are available to listen to, it can still often become a challenge to find music that is not only wholesome, but also spiritually uplifting and edifying. Even though a song may have a good beat, the rhythm and the beat are only a small part of the song. A listener must still exercise strict discernment as far as the lyrics of the songs are concerned.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are all too familiar with the EFY albums that are released by the Church each year. Many Latter-day Saint youths, as well as their parents have come to love the songs on those albums that are written or co-written by youth of the Church. The songs on the albums help to strengthen the faith and testimonies of the youth of the Church.
In somewhat the style and tradition of an EFY album but with a few notable twists, Heather Parker has written, produced, and released a 12-track faith-based album of beloved children’s songs from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, combined with beloved spirituals from her musical collaborators and friends in the Atlanta area. The new inspirational album, Shine, which presents the opportunity to celebrate different cultures and honor a variety of backgrounds, was released on 14 August 2020.
The album is a magnificent work of genius – an undeniable masterpiece. From the first track on the album – the titular song, “Shine,” which features the Tonga Sisters and the awesome rap talents of Abram Sullivan – to the last track, “I Am Like a Star,” which amplifies the message conveyed by the other tracks and puts the final exclamation point in place, this album is electrifying. It will have the entire family tapping their feet, clapping their hands, singing along, and even up on their feet, dancing with glee.
Heather originally planned to record the tracks for the album, Shine, with the Super Choir of Atlanta before releasing the album this year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic brought all plans to an abrupt halt as all studios were closed. Not wanting to postpone her project, Heather was desperate to find a recording studio. Fortunately, she was able to connect with Miles Whitworth, a well-known sound engineer who has worked with some of the top names in rap music. The two decided to join forces and the result is the album, Shine.
LDS Living reports, “For Parker, the album isn’t just about reimagining children’s songs in creative ways—it’s also a celebration of what makes us all unique, using music as an avenue to honor a variety of cultures and faiths in order to bring all listeners closer to Christ.”
Growing up in the south, Heather had a grandfather who was a Methodist minister and a mother who was a member of the same faith. In high school, she experimented with rap, sang in a girl group, and participated in choirs. She has always been a songwriter at heart and had a natural connection with music that had ties with her upbringing, which is exactly the type of music that she wanted to showcase in Shine.
She told LDS Living, “I was exposed to a lot of music, and I could feel the Spirit in that music. And as I grew older and I think matured in my faith . . . as I started to recognize how the Spirit worked, and how I conveyed the Spirit as well, I really have always longed to create something that other children like me could identify with—that they could say, ‘Oh wow, that felt different, but I loved it.” She further commented that the deep South sound resonates with her soul.
Before collaborating with Whitworth at his “studio” apartment, she made voice samples and demos at home. Once she and Whitworth got together, they started looking for beats and distorted sounds to get the right tone for each track. With the help of other musicians, they were able to record all the vocals in just a month. They had so much music to work with that 10 songs ended up not making the cut for the album. Heather commented, “It’s insane. It really is. I still can’t believe it. And I know it wasn’t my doing. I know for sure it was the Lord’s doing.”
Many of the Primary songs on the album like “Popcorn Popping,” “When I Am Baptized,” and “I Feel My Savior’s Love” will be familiar to Latter-day Saint listeners. However, as LDS Living reports , “the beloved songs are anything but traditional as the album reimagines the old-time favorites in a variety of styles, including gospel, jazz, R&B, neo-soul, reggae, and Atlanta hip hop.”
In fact, as this writer listened to “Popcorn Popping,” it brought back memories of listening to recordings of the Andrew Sisters singing songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” during the World War II era. Heather also includes a couple of original songs “to round out this energetic and soulful collection” of beloved children’s classics with “a distinct urban, modern flair.”
Leslie Fatai Nau, who recorded the Primary song “Reverence Is Love,” commented that the Spirit was involved in the recording process as well. She recalls that partway into the session before doing another take of the song, she asked for a minute to pray in order to focus on her testimony that she wanted to convey through song.
Singer Tishna Campbell looked forward to recording the Primary song, “When I Am Baptized.” As a child she grew up hearing a variety of music and didn’t always relate to the Church music that was available. On Shine, the familiar Primary song has a whole new twist complete with scatting, an electric guitar, and an up-tempo beat. Recognizing that the Primary favorite would resonate with both children and adults, she said, “I was so excited about the idea of a little kid hearing it and realizing, ‘Oh, this is something that I can kind of groove to. It doesn’t have to be something in-the-box churchy, exactly how we sing it in Primary—we can move, and we can feel rhythm.’
Heather envisioned how she wanted each song to sound, but things did not always go as expected. For example, for the song “I Will Follow God’s Plan,” she originally planned on having a gospel group singing to a fun groove with lots of harmonies. Two days before her deadline, Jaylyn Macedone, who had been a background singer on the song, mentioned that she loved the original, much simpler version of the song.
Heather asked Jaylyn if she would come back to the recording studio and she agreed. Heather also found a cellist in her congregation who agreed to record on the song. The result is the words of a beautiful, heartfelt, powerful testimony expressed in song that is sung by Jaylyn Macedone. The song is track #10 on the album. Jaylyn said, “I love how it turned out because the song is simple with just piano, vocals, and beautiful cello—no harsh beat, no intense bass or dynamic ad-libs or runs, which I believe truly allows the message of God’s plan to shine through and reach the listener because of its simplicity.”
Speaking about Heather’s album, Shine, Tishna Campbell commented:
I think that we really, really needed the album right now with the climate of the world and especially the United States. I just think [people] really need to see that especially in our church we have a lot of growing to do, but we’re also making strides within the Church to be inclusive and to make people feel like they are a part of the Church. No matter how different they are or no matter what part of the world they’re coming from, we want them to feel comfortable and like this is a place that they can belong, and where they’re supposed to be. And so, I think [Parker’s] album really encompasses that this is not a church of the United States. This is a church of the world. And her music really represents that.
The intent of Shine is to not only inspire members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but all people who profess to have faith in Jesus Christ. Not only does the music in Shine celebrate different cultures, it highlights musicians of various representations too, including African, Mexican, Native American, African American, and Polynesian. The artists on the tracks also come from many religious backgrounds, such as Methodist, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Christian.
Who is Heather Parker?
Those who are familiar with the Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight McDowell, and her Grammy Award-winning Saints Unified Voices Choir, a Gospel music choir based in the Las Vegas Valley of Southern Nevada, may also be familiar with the name Heather Parker.
Heather Parker had been the assistant director to the Saints Unified Voices Choir for more than a decade. She also produced the song, “There is a Green Hill Far Away” for Gladys’ album, Where My Heart Belongs, which received the NAACP’s Image Award for Outstanding Gospel Album in 2015.