By Emma Sarran Webster | June 6, 2017 | People
Jonathan McReynolds, a Grammy-nominated gospel singer-songwriter, has performed countless times in front of live audiences all around the world, including at the BET Celebration of Gospel with India.Arie, *Essence* Fest, and more. But there is one type of live performance the 27-year-old had never experienced until recently: A live album recording. McReynolds, a Chicago native, took on that new challenge on May 5 at Cinespace Film Studios, unveiling and recording his newest music in the company of a local crowd. More recently, McReynolds notched another major Chicago performance as a headliner for last weekend’s 32nd Annual Chicago Gospel Music Festival, closing out an evening of performances at Millennium Park on Friday, June 2. We caught up with him before the festival to talk about the album, his musical inspirations, and growing up in Chicago.
What inspired you to do a live recording for your next album?
JONATHAN MCREYNOLDS: For a long time, people have told me how [my] live performances that generally come with a lot of... extra joking, comedy, and... even my testimony; it blesses them, touches them in a way that sometimes the studio albums can’t. So I really wanted this time to be my full self. We’ve been doing little living room tours around the country and they’ve always been very fun [and] creatively free. [You] take the lid off the possibilities when you have a live album, [so] I thought that it was a natural progression to do a live album this time.
How did it go?
JM: I think it was incredible. It went really well. [It was] my first one; we didn’t really know what to expect, but I think it turned out really great. It sent shock waves through the industry, through the city, and I’m making a statement.
How will your next album be different from your previous ones?
JM: I think the [fact that it’s a] live album is probably the biggest difference, but I think you’re [going to] hear a side of me that maybe you didn’t hear as much on the other albums. I think I’m singing a lot louder sometimes, and I think the music is a little more eclectic this time—in a different way, though. [...] We’re [going to] have some cooler instruments; I think it’s [going to] be completely different. I wouldn’t even compare [this album] to the other ones.
You’re headlining the Chicago Gospel Music Festival next month—what can fans expect from that performance?
JM: I think they can expect more of the same. Everybody that came to the live recording—even my other big concerts in Chicago—they’ve always left really excited and really satisfied. So I can’t wait to bring that to Millennium Park. Plus, I’m [going to] bring my two good friends, gospel superstars in their own right Travis Greene and Anthony Brown. We’re [going to] rock out together for a good hour—another amazing statement for gospel music [in] Chicago.
Who are some of your inspirations?
JM: James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and Sam Cooke are my three favorites, my three legends of choice. Bringing it a little more contemporary, John Mayer and India.Arie are two people I certainly admire. India is a friend of mine; I appreciate the relationship we have. A lot of what I’m living in gospel, she already lived in R&B. Besides that, there are some incredible musicians, particularly in gospel—two of which I just mentioned. Add modern music, and you add Tori Kelly and a lot of people like that, absolutely doing their thing.
You are a Chicago native—where did you grow up?
JM: I grew up in the South Shore community, 79th [street] and Jeffrey [avenue]-ish. [...] When I was growing up, I had an amazing experience over there—a lot of basketball and a lot of football in the middle of the street, [and] my church was always within two blocks.
How about now? What do you like to do in the city?
JM: I still go play basketball whenever I can—indoor [and] outdoor—that’s kind of who we grew up to be. That’s what all the boys did; that’s never changed. Other than that, [...] I just let the Magnificent Mile take my money every month. And of course, we have the greatest selection of restaurants, so I let them take my money as well.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
JM: Giordano’s, Pizano’s, Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux Cafe, Triple Crown—give it up for Chinatown! They’re the best. Chicago’s [Home of] Chicken and Waffles—I eat there probably once a week.
Any favorite music venues?
JM: I haven’t done too many venues in Chicago. Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion is pretty cool just because of how open it is. I‘ve been in a lot of shows at Double Door. [... And though] not musical venues, the theatre venues are pretty incredible.
Have you seen any shows recently?
JM: Right now I’m wearing a hat from Hamilton—turns out there are some fans of my music who now I’m a fan of [who] are in the Chicago cast of Hamilton. They came to one of our living room shows and...sang their hearts out, too. So Hamilton really shifted my life creatively. I love seeing people be excellent. I’ve also seen Motown [the Musical]. Of course the Goodman Theatre and also the Black Ensemble Theater—there’s plenty of stuff to do in Chicago. You can add to that all the stand-up and improv that goes on at places like Laugh Factory and iO.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JASON MCCOY (GUITAR) AND DEREK BLANKS (BLAZER)
January 4, 2019