Gospel greats bound for Gainesville

Published: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 9:45 p.m.
To fully appreciate the gospel concert series that debuts this weekend in east Gainesville, one must go back to 2003 in Detroit, where Gainesville-based singer Frederic - savoring some national success - is signing in to perform at a gospel showcase.
Upon approaching the table, he recognizes the name of the performer who had just signed in before him: Vanessa Bell Armstrong, as in the top-selling gospel artist and Broadway performer.
"I completely adore her," recalls Frederic, whose video for "Stronger" was getting airplay on BET. He takes great pride in being a touring national recording artist, but, standing only inches away from Armstrong, he was putty: "I couldn't get out of fan mode."
He did not speak as she left the table. Then he noticed the Bible Armstrong left behind, and Frederic seized the opportunity. He approached the star, handed her the Bible and established a relationship that would eventually lead to a middle school auditorium in east Gainesville.
Armstrong will headline the first North Central Florida "Open for a Star" Gospel Concert Showcase Saturday night at Lincoln Middle School auditorium. There will be seven selected performers opening for Armstrong, and Frederic - the host - also plans to sing.
The showcase is designed to be a monthly event, with Frederic planning to bring as many top Christian artists through Gainesville as he can. The series was inspired by his tours through national showcases in other cities.
"As a national artist, I realized most of my colleagues never make this area a stop," he says.
And he has his sights set on some pretty big names. Tramaine Hawkins ("Changed," "What Shall I Do") is scheduled for Feb. 12, and Cece Winans ("For Always," "Don't Cry for Me") is slated for April 20.
Big acts indeed, but, for now, Frederic wants to keep the series at the LMS auditorium in an effort to spotlight and, with luck, enhance east Gainesville.
"I'm very passionate about that area because it's underdeveloped," says the singer, a Miami native who graduated from Bradford High School in Starke. "We're trying to keep everything here in east Gainesville so it becomes a revenue booster."
Armstrong is a platinum-selling artist who has recorded for Jive and Verity Records. In 1987, she performed in the Broadway musical "Don't Get God Started," and she also recorded the theme for the NBC sitcom "Amen."
Her 1989 disc "Wonderful One" featured the single "True Love Never Fails," a duet with jazz guitarist Jonathan Butler. Other Armstrong staples include "Something on the Inside," "Anyway You Bless Me," "Nobody But Jesus" and "Peace Be Still."
With national recording artists come national attention, Frederic contends. This is why he and Gainesville-based recording company SongPower have been scouting for seasoned performers to open the concerts. He has his eye on a show chock full of music, but he also says this series could mean success for local performers.
Frederic, by the way, hopes to return to the studio in the spring.
  • JAZZ CONCERT: The Gainesville Friends of Jazz & Blues plans to revel in Chicago jazz with its January offering.
    Jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, who wrote "Detour Ahead," will join pianist Joe Vito Tuesday night at the Savannah Grande. Frigo started out playing upright bass behind the likes of Lou Carter, Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Sarah Vaughan. He embarked on jazz violin in the mid-'80s and remains a critical and festival favorite worldwide.
    Music starts at 8 p.m. Expect this one to swing like Grappelli.
    Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or scene@gvillesun.com.
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