On any given Sunday, churches across Houston come alive with music and songs thanks to the ministers of music. Under the direction of these talented men and women, the church choir sets the tone with praise and worship preparing the souls for the words of GOD.

To acknowledge these unsung heroes and “sheroes,” who often go unrecognized, the Defender Network asked a group of peers from the church music community to assist in selecting Houston’s Ministers of Music Extraordinaire. In an effort to be fair and inclusive, the peers created five categories: starter church (less than three years), small/average church, medium church, large church and mega church.

In the video presentations that follow, the five 2018 winners give us insight into who they are, who influenced them and their favorite gospel artists.

2018 Defender Minister of Music Extraordinaire Winners:

PAMELA DAVIS, The Fountain of Praise (Mega Church category) VIDEO

Hometown: Indianapolis

Favorite gospel song: There are so many that I enjoy.

Favorite gospel artist: I have a list of many and could not name them all.

How did you get into music and who influenced you? I was influenced by my parents who invested in my talent, also family and close friends of my parents who were wonderful musicians and vocalist.

If you could ask the Lord for something BIG, what would it be? Something BIG, is the life that GOD has given me and the people I have met through the duration of my life that have planted seeds for me to continue to water as grace and mercy continues to show favor and cover my life.

WM KEITH EASON, The Fort Bend Church (Large Church category) VIDEO

Hometown: Houston

Favorite gospel song: “Never Would Have Made It”

Favorite gospel artist: Marvin Sapp, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin

How did you get into music and who influenced you? I was influenced by watching wonderful singers in my home church at the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church (Houston). Some were educators (Mamie Reed Lee, Bennie Creswell and Alexton Mallory) and some were international performers (Barbara Tucker and Glenn Burleigh). I could not escape the calling of music on my life with those huge influences in the house.

If you could ask the Lord for something BIG, what would it be? If I could ask the Lord for anything big, I would ask him to allow me to continue to grow spiritually, musically and academically. I want to continue to grow not only as a musician but a well-
rounded person.

CHAD BRAWLEY, The Luke Church (Medium Church category) VIDEO

Hometown: Houston

Favorite gospel song: Any song that is well-written with great melodic lines and lyrics that are truthful about GOD, especially if they share the actual gospel.

Favorite gospel artist: All Houston artists are my favorites. Additionally, I really enjoy Daryl Coley, Marvin Winans and CeCe Winans.

How did you get into music and who influenced you? As a child, I spent Sunday mornings at Wesley Chapel AME Church with my attention fixed on the music staff. My parents enrolled me in the Mayron Cole Music Conservatory for piano lessons. As I grew musically, my parents moved me to All About Music for lessons with Mrs. Shirley Joiner and Lydia Alston. During my years as a classical piano major at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, I studied privately with Meltonia Thomas. At Johnston Middle School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Mrs. Theola Booker recognized my potential for music ministry and invited me to serve at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church as one of the youth musicians. I’ve gone on to serve at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, The Potter’s House, Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and The Luke Church. I always like to mention some of the major teachers/influencers/mentors in my music life: Theola Booker, Shirley Joiner, Rise Joiner, Lydia Alston, Ed Artis, V. Michael McKay, Ronald Materre, Steve Lawrence, Sylvia Strong, Meltonia Thomas, Brenda Waters, Dr. Danny Kelley, Dr. Jan Taylor, Clyde Owen Jackson, Juanita Nash, Arlan Potts, Dr. Curtis Powell, Kathy Taylor, Glenn Burleigh, Bettye Nelson, Dr. Robert Morgan, Pat Bonner, Terry Jackson, Charles Tyrone and Dr. Jacqueline Chambers.

If you could ask the Lord for something BIG, what would it be? GOD, please allow me to perpetually serve and positively impact people’s lives across the world…as mine is impacted as well. For the Brawley group to become a major player in ministry consulting and equipping. I ask that GOD will allow me to write, record, publish and distribute music that will become the soundtrack of our lives and help us grow as a family of human-ity. I would also like to help with social justice concerns, particularly for the marginalized.

MICHAEL PICKETT, Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist (Small/Average church) VIDEO

Hometown: Akron, Ohio

Favorite gospel song: Whatever is ministering to me at the time.

Favorite gospel artists: Donald Vail, Thomas Whitfield, Walter Hawkins, Andraé Crouch, Darryl Coley, Donald Lawrence, Smokie Norful, Kathy Taylor, Karen Clark

How did you get into music and who influenced you? My mother sang in the church choir for a short time when I was very young. I loved the choir, its music and the church organ. Instead of getting organ lessons, Mom started me on and bought a piano. My neighbor taught me my first song by ear and I started taking lessons after that. I was primarily an instrumentalist who grew to love the choir and vocal music. As I excelled, I encountered, played for and was influenced by many of the best singers in Cleveland, Ohio, where I went to college. In college I learned to write music. If I were to name names of influential people, some of whom are well known and some not so well known, some who are alive and others who have gone on to glory, I would have to say: Mary Richburgh, Ben Drone, Richard Smith, David Thomas and Danny Cason, Donald Vail, Thomas Whitfield, Andraé Crouch, Walter Hawkins, Richard Smallwood, Leonard Burks, Carol Antrom, Bernard Pinder, Hortense Wilborn, Brenda Waters, Norful and Earl Preston to name a few.

If you could ask the Lord for something BIG, what would it be? I am at the point in my life, considering the things I have already done and accomplished, where the biggest thing GOD could do for me is to bless my children and draw them to Him more intimately. A hit song or impressive performance venue portfolio would be nice, too. But I believe myself primarily a church musician, so ways of being a blessing to the body of Christ would be the biggest things I would ask GOD for. With that said, I think taking a choir on tour overseas or to the Holy Land would be what I would ask for. It would be a way of going to the utmost parts of the world as witness to His goodness and offering that privilege to others who would not otherwise go on their own.

NOELLE WHEELER, Inspiration Church (Starter Church category) VIDEO

Hometown: Detroit

Favorite gospel song: “Here I am to Worship”

Favorite gospel artist: Todd Dulaney, Travis Greene, Shana Wilson-Williams, LaJune Travis, David and Nicole Binion

How did you get into music and who influenced you? I was born and raised in a [musical family]. Starting with my grandparents on both sides of my family, it was easily passed down to the next generation in the family. Both my mom and dad were active in church and music. My father plays the guitar and my mother sings and writes music. It was a natural talent for my siblings and me. Growing up in church and watching my grandfather preach sermons and sing and watching my grandmother sing “I Won’t Complain” every time before she preached, showed me how strong my family is musically. All of my aunts, uncles, etc. can either sing or play an instrument well. Getting to where I am now vocally, I would say the person that has influenced me the most would be my former worship leader and mentor Lisa Brunson in Columbus, Ohio.

If you could ask the Lord for something BIG, what would it be? It would be for me to have the ability to minister in front of millions of people and watch them transform in front of my eyes; watch GOD move and heal souls, see people walk out of wheelchairs, be delivered all in one place. I would ask GOD to give me songs to write specifically for the hurting, and have the ability to do it not only in this country but every country so that GOD will get the glory and people will see his works through the gift GOD has given me. I would love to be able to minister in every language. I have a passion for GOD’s people even if they are away from God right now.