Over the past two decades Gospel hitmaker Israel Houghton has seen his name blasted atop Billboard’s Gospel Charts for hits like ‘Again I Say Rejoice’, ‘Friend of God’, and the most recent #1 hit ‘It’s Not Over (When God Is In It)’.
In such time, the ‘New Breed’ captain has not only racked up 4 Grammy awards and a host of other accolades, but has become one of the genre’s frontrunners – with 2012 seeing him join fellow Gospel gents Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, and Marvin Sapp for the hotly-selling ‘King’s Men’ national tour.
But, despite his successes, the ‘Jesus At the Center’ maestro maintains that his family remains the center of his devotion as he still juggles the demands of being the worship leader for mega-pastor Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church (Houston, TX) with touring and recording.
Click below to read our candid interview with Houghton as he discusses this topic and many more, exclusively with That Grape Juice:
**Israel Houghton Shouts Out That Grape Juice**
TGJ: Hello, Israel! Thanks so much for taking the time!
Israel: Hey man, the pleasure’s all mine!
TGJ: Thanks! So, let’s hop right in. From the recent ‘King’s Men’ national tour (with Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, and Marvin Sapp) to your own personal dates, recording, and worship leading at Lakewood Church, how do you balance it all?
Israel: I think it’s always a bit of a challenge, but early on my wife and I had to decide what was going to take to priority – for me it was a no-brainer. My wife and I just celebrated 18 years of marriage and that’s because my family is my first ministry. If that’s balanced, then and only then can I go get on stages all over the world and try to help people with their worlds.
It comes down to learning how not to say “yes” to everything. Many times my family is with me wherever I go or there are things I’m just not going to do because I don’t want my family to suffer.
TGJ: That’s a great approach. And, as far as the tour goes, whose idea was it and how did it come about?
Israel: It was a collaboration between Kirk Franklin and Live Nation. When the idea came up to take four guys on the road, Kirk called Marvin, Donnie, and myself and we loved the idea. We’re very blessed that it worked out and we’re going to continue to do more this year. It’s one thing to have competency, but it’s another to have chemistry.
We were able to realize very early how great our chemistry was. The way everyone compliments each other on stage and there are many points of the night that we’re all on stage together. Even off stage, we just laughed, hung out, and connected. That’s what keeps something like that sustainable.
TGJ: Good to hear! Now, switching gears a bit, we’ve learned that you will be performing at the 2013 stellar awards in Nashville. Tell us, what should we expect from your set.
Israel: We’re doing ‘It’s Not Over (When God’s In It) with Jason Nelson. It became a #1 song and radio has really embraced it. There may be a little surprise in there as well, but I can’t give all of it away. Just know it’s going to be a special three-and-a-half minutes (laughs).
TGJ: Well, we will be in the house and certainly looking forward to it! Because, as some fans know, you are a Stellar Award winner, Dove Award winner, and 4-time Grammy winner with 2 more nominations for this year in the “Best Gospel Album” and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Song” categories! Tell us, does winning ever get old (laughs)?
Israel: No, not at all. I don’t do what I do for accolades, but I do it to help people experience the presence of God. So, anything that comes along with that really is amazing. The fact that the last four records we’ve put out have all won Grammys in their respective categories is pretty humbling.
It never gets old because when you realize, in any given year, how many songs are released and then narrowed down to five – with your song being one of the five – that’s amazing. As cliche as it sounds, it is an honor just to be nominated.
TGJ: Now, there are some critics who do not agree with the idea of “gospel award shows” because people are competing or being awarded for praise. The argument is that there should not be a reward for doing “God’s work”. What are your thoughts?
Israel: I don’t pay a lot of attention to critics. I never established the “award show” regime and, again, I don’t do what I do for awards. I can’t do anything for the “critics” who are insecure about the matter. All I can do is make sure my heart is right. No, I don’t like feeling like I’m part of some “ministry contest”, but I feel like the Grammys is different because most of them are given based on quality of song and arrangement than popularity.
Aside from being a Christian, as a singer-songwriter and musician, it’s pretty remarkable that people outside of our genre can look at what we do and recognize quality. But, like my pastor Joel Osteen says, “it’s only a fight if I decide to get into it.” That’s my thoughts on debating with critics.
TGJ: Awesome! So, now lets talk about your latest album “Jesus At the Center” (which topped the charts in late 2012). What makes this album different from those that came before it?
Israel: Every project I’ve done has had a lot of commonality, but it’s always had some level of evolution or growth. Hopefully, the message and approach to ministry has a very common thread. What sets this one apart, it was the first time myself and New Breed did a record at my home church after serving on staff there for 12 years.
It’s also been seven years since we did a double-live CD and full length DVD. So, now just felt like a very good time to do something live. We also wanted to take our time in choosing what songs made the album and what genres we experimented with. We wanted songs that could translate at anybody’s church anywhere in the world.
In the last 7 or 8 years, we’ve been all over the world and that gave us the opportunity to see how people worship differently in different countries. That has the tendency to influence you.
TGJ: Definitely! Now, let’s speak on your upcoming projects. Will we be seeing any of that influence on any of them?
Israel: I’m working on a few ideas for this year. But, right now, I’m mostly doing music around motion pictures and television. We’re also looking to do a live, unplugged record. I’m kicking ideas around for that conceptually as we speak. So, it’ll mostly be coming your way next year.
TGJ: Any dream collaborations?
Israel: Yes! Andrae Crouch and, of course, Stevie Wonder.
TGJ: Now, as with many interviews, we have a segment called “Five From Fans” where we received five questions from our readers for you. Are you ready?
1) If you weren’t a singer, what would you be doing?
I’d be an activist – mostly children or homeless causes.
2) What would you say has been your biggest achievement yet?
Being married for 18 years, definitely!
3) What is your favorite song of yours?
It mainly depends on the moment, but I’d have to say ‘To Worship You, I Live’. It’s just one of those songs that it doesn’t matter where I am or what’s happening, I sing that song and it takes me somewhere.
4) When was the last time you were starstruck and who was the celebrity?
A couple of years ago at the ‘Celebration of Gospel’ and I had the opportunity to meet Stevie Wonder. I don’t even think I have to elaborate on that one…he’s Stevie! (laughs)
5) Any thoughts on experimenting with another genre of music (R&B, Pop)?
Yes, I am interested in experimenting stylistically, but as far as the message? No. I’m really ok with staying the course with what I’ve been called to do.
TGJ: Awesome! Now, switching gears again, we’re hearing your tourmate Marvin Sapp and other gospel stars are moving into the reality show format? is it something you’ve ever entertained?
Israel: I’ve never entertained it, I can say with certainty I would never do it. When I’m on stage and I spend time with people who follow my music, I enjoy that. I enjoy being accessible. But, for me, because I’ve travelled so much for the last 20 years or so, there has to be something I feel is sacred to my family.
And, that’s not taking anything away from other people’s decision. But, I just like to feel like when I’m home, I’m home. I don’t want my children feeling like they have to compete – yet again – with the public.
TGJ: Last, but not least, what advice do you have for up-and-coming singers looking to break into the gospel industry?
Interview by: Quinno Rashad (That Grape Juice US)
Click here to purchase Israel Houghton’s ‘Jesus @ The Center’ // Click here to see list of tour dates