Studio chairman thinks Birmingham can be a gospel music recording capital
Henry Panion III, professor of music at UAB and president of Audiostate 55 Recording Studios in Woodlawn, believes Birmingham can become America’s gospel music recording capital.
He thinks he’s taking a big step towards that goal with the August 13 release of “Without You,” an urban-contemporary-inspired album by Birmingham singer Denita Gibbs.
It is the first project released under Audiostate 55 Entertainment’s worldwide distribution deal with Warner Music Group. Warner has agreements to stock the CD for sale in more than 800 US stores, including Walmart, Best Buy, Lifeway Christian Stores, Family Christian Stores and others. It will also be available on iTunes, AmazonMP3 and through other digital outlets.
Panion thinks this could be the start of something big.
“We’re trying to get Motown down South,” he said. “It was an incubator, a place where young musicians could be nurtured.”
Panion chose Gibbs, a worship leader at Faith Apostolic Church in Birmingham, as their musician to nurture.
“There’s just good vocals on this record,” Panion said. “It’s a record of hope, joy and encouragement.”
Gibbs wrote the lyrics and created the melodies, while teams of musicians created the music tracks.
“She’s a great lyricist, a great composer,” Panion said.
Gibbs, who tours and sings in churches across the country, has been working on the album with Panion for over a year, along with the studio’s musicians and engineers.
“You always need big ears to make a good record,” Panion said.
Check-in sometimes started at 7 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. “Some days I was hoarse,” Gibbs said. “I do a lot of singing.”
Gibbs started working to promote the album. She recently appeared as a guest with Rickey Smiley on his morning radio show in Atlanta.
Gibbs will sing at an in-store concert Aug. 17 at 3 p.m. at Lifeway on US 31 in Hoover.
She will also headline a concert at WorkPlay on September 1 at 6 p.m.
As Stevie Wonder’s personal conductor since 1992, Panion has traveled the world conducting the world’s most renowned orchestras – such as the Royal Philharmonic, the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and the Orchester de Paris.
Panion grew up in Birmingham imbued with a love of gospel music at the Faith Apostolic Church.
He eventually became musical director and arranger from 1983 to 1988 for the Pentecostal Youth Union, the youth branch of the world denomination’s Pentecostal Assemblies. He had his breakthrough when the denomination held a convention in the early 1980s in Charlotte, North Carolina, and invited a burgeoning gospel group called the Winans to perform. He took two of their hit songs and arranged them for an orchestra.
The Winans performed his arrangements during the convention with orchestral accompaniment. They were so impressed that they asked him to arrange their next album, which was produced by music icon Quincy Jones. The album won two Grammys.
Soon, Panion’s phone rang. Stevie Wonder wanted Panion to curate a catalog of Wonder songs for an orchestral performance. Then Wonder offered Panion a job – go around the world with him and be the guest conductor whenever Wonder plays with an orchestra.
This led to working with other top artists, including Aretha Franklin.
After working with Wonder for over 20 years, Panion often refers to him when discussing the music business.
“Stevie told me he was discovered,” Panion said. “What if Berry Gordy hadn’t discovered him? Berry identified him and nurtured him as part of a family atmosphere that helped bring the talent to his full potential in a way that changed his life. .”
Panion hopes Audiostate can do this.
“I can take a year and make a record,” he said. “If you rush, it doesn’t go well.”
It’s not about making money, Panion said.
“The goal is to be blessed enough to do this,” he said. “If you’re going for fame and fortune, I’m not the right person to talk to. It’s all about the art. When you’re called to do this, it’s your ministry.