It’s been a long time coming, but the time is apparently now for Earnest Pugh. On the heels of the success of 2009’s Rain On Us – which earned the title of Billboard’s #4 gospel radio airplay artist of 2010 – Pugh’s fourth CD, Earnestly Yours, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart this week.
And it couldn’t have been more official than with a call from none other than Kirk Franklin – who’d held down the #1 slot since the release of Hello Fear in April, to inform Pugh that he had knocked him out of the number-one slot.
“I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ And he said that’s probably a good indication that when the Billboard charts come out, you’ll be number one,'” Pugh recounts. “But [Black Smoke Records CEO] Kerry Douglas was saying ‘don’t get excited, you may not be number one.’
“I was on the beach when the record debuted after having done 14 listening parties in 14 different cities. When I finally did get the call and they said it was number one, all I could do was cry. I ended up outselling Kirk by 1,000 units on the day of the release, and it wasn’t just the single ‘I Need Your Glory.’ People were downloading the entire album.”
For Pugh, it was the realization of a dream.
“I’m still dreaming. It’s so surreal because you do something you think God told you to do and you don’t know when it’s going to blow up, so this is an affirmation of what God told me to do.”
It’s also the first #1 debut in Houston-based Black Smoke Music’s 16-year history. “I am truly humbled by this milestone,” says Douglas.
The CD, named more for “how we should enter into God’s presence” than for Pugh’s first name, also features Beverly Crawford on the track “For My Good.”
“This album is very near and dear to my heart. I did more writing on it, but what makes it so special,” says the Memphis native with a five-octave vocal range, “is that it is all things I went through that caused me pain. In the process I realized that these songs are other people’s testimonies as well. That’s why it’s resonating so much with other people.”
GRAMMY-nominated singer, songwriter and pianist Richard Smallwood thought his writing days were behind him. After penning such classic tunes such as “Total Praise,” “Center of My Joy,” and “I Love the Lord,” he seemed to be out of gas.
“I had no desire. No inspiration,” says Smallwood, who’d been taking time off following the death of his mom. “Even three years later when I tried to see what I could come up with, nothing was there. It was like a dry well.”
Then in 2009, the self-professed CNN addict got sick of the negativity that dominated the media news.
“The war. The economy. People were losing their homes and jobs,” Smallwood recounts. “My heart went out to everybody and God spoke to me and said, ‘I know what’s going on in the world, but remember I’ve given you certain promises. Promises that I’ll never leave nor forsake you, that I’ll provide for you – shelter, food, whatever it is you need. Remind my people that if I promised you, that settles it.'”
Just like that, the music began to flow again, even in his dreams.
“I would wake up to all these melodies, two or three at the same time in my head – all to do with God’s promises and encouraging people to really embrace the word the way they’d embraced the media.”
Highlights of the CD, appropriately titled Promises, include a song by Donald Lawrence and a tune featuring Lalah Hathaway on lead vocals.
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SOURCE: Gospel Music Channel – Lisa Collins