“The walk in my journey has been a pleasant one. I’ve lived and it’s been wonderful and it’s been hard.” These are the words of one powerful man who exalts the powerful God that’s in him.
Since 1988, Ricky Dillard has taught, trained, and developed the New Generation choir into the powerhouse vocalists they are today. Even though the road hasn’t always been easy for Ricky Dillard, he has remained steadfast in who he is and what he stands for. Known around the world as “Thee Choirmaster”, Ricky shows no signs of slowing down the empire God has allowed him to build. With his latest masterpiece creation Choirmaster, he is as relevant as he was when he released his debut project The Promise 30 years ago. Take a look into Mr. Ricky Dillard.
First and foremost, congratulations on releasing your 11th gospel album! Which by the way is released on the 30th anniversary of "The Promise" the billboard charting album that put you and New G on the map worldwide. How was the creative process different from this new album versus your last 10 albums?
I was more challenged that I was doing a freshman project for Motown Gospel. I knew that this was a bigger and more challenging machine to live up to the name Motown. I knew that I needed to come out with a strong choir piece. They asked me to put a record together in 3 months. In that, I was able to still be myself even as gospel choir music is changing drastically. I found myself trying to fit into this box with the change, but I didn’t see myself in it. I’ve been here 3 decades and to try and sing young praise and worship music is just not me. So to be here now, this process was fun because once many songwriters heard I signed with Motown music, they came from everywhere. This process was the shortest project ever because I normally take 6 months to a year to complete a project. I wanted to start January 2020, but the label had other plans (laughs) and wanted the album by September 2019. So, I put my big boy britches on and let them know they signed the right guy (laughs). As always, God was with me and I got to work. Now, here we are with the Choirmaster record. This is a record-breaker and I’m so blessed.
Many seemed surprised by your move to Motown Gospel. What made this the perfect move at the perfect time?
Each term (album or contractual), my team and I discuss our goals, options and plans. My manager, Will Bogle, who has been an almost 16-year blessing with me and New Generation has been a huge support since day one, and very insightful on the pulse of the industry. He began to entertain conversations, as he always does, and Motown came up as an option. We weren’t even sure if Motown was a viable option and fit. After much dialogue, we decided to proceed. I was humble, grateful and I still am. They have strategically planned one of the greatest rollouts for a Ricky Dillard and New G album.
Mr. Choir Master! How did you get that name? How does it make you feel to be called that?
I had an in house publicist around 1993 or 1994 and he befriended me and decided to put a press release together for the “Holy Ghost Takeover” album. In his press release, I noticed he added the name choirmaster. This was in my early years being that I started the choir back in 1988. He came on in 1993 and began to put that in our bio. It caught on in later years because all the publicists used that same term in our bios. Here we are now using it as a brand and it’s phenomenal. I feel wonderful about it because the choir is my call and my assignment from God. It’s what I love to do because I enjoy building, training them, structuring them and it feels good to be called. It’s funny because most people don’t just call me Choirmaster, they call me Thee Choirmaster (laughs).
How do you draw your inspiration? Are there certain things you do that bubbles the creativity inside of you?
I’ve had such an amazing bring up from my childhood through 1988. My mother was an amazing single mother. My mother would bring these gospel records home. She sang in the choir, my grandmother was on the church lady and a lead mother in the church and we were church people. One record my mother brought home in 1971 or 1972 was Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland’s “Amazing Grace”. That record changed my life as a boy! The choir was always something I loved at our church as a boy, and I started directing the choir at 5 years old. That song woke my choir boy up! Gospel radio started to flourish to my ears while in Chicago. I would hear people like Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Rev. Milton Brunson, and Father Charles G. Hayes. I would wake up every Sunday morning and there was a television show called Jubilee Showcase. There was a white host, and he brought gospels best to his show on ABC in the 70s and 80s. Those things just got in my heart. When I was a teenager I got on stage with Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers as a tenor in his choir. I had all these influences around me such as being in the company of Rev. James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Rev. Clay Evans, Keith Pringle, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and the list goes on. I was able to sit close among these people and then be able to birth the New Generation chorale. They gave me the opportunity and made me the guy I am today.
I saw that you learned your ability to train choirs vocally from Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. What was that experience like for you personally?
It changed my life. I was listening to Dr. Clark’s music way before the others. I was so overwhelmed by the music she wrote and recorded. She would write songs like “One More Chance” (which I recorded), and “God’s Gonna Do It”. That’s her lane, the fast church songs. Dr. Clark was somebody! I’m grateful for the biopic that her daughters put out recently that portrayed my music mother’s life. It was a major accomplishment. The Church of God in Christ played a major role in getting me to Dr. Mattie Moss Clark because I grew up Baptist. The church was the St. Bethel Baptist Church in Chicago Heights which was literally next door, one alley over from the COGIC church. They were screaming those powerful songs back in the day, which was Dr. Clark’s songs. My godmother took me to UNAC and I sat in that rehearsal and got to put my eyes on Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. She taught, and she fussed, and she taught, and she checked us, and she threw shoes, she did it all. I found the formula to teach choirs, and how to execute the parts to a choir. That changed my life, and when I started New G she called me one day after she heard the record The Promise. That was my real personal introduction to her.
Now I have to say, I've sung a few of your songs with my college gospel choir. My favorite song was "Holy Spirit". Do you have a favorite song that you like to perform? And why?
There are too many to pick from (laughs). My first record The Promise album had so many great records. The funny thing about that album was that it was off of me doing the McDonald's Gospel Choir Competition. I put 16 tracks on a record, and at that time you normally don’t get a double album, only single. I was fortunate to get that double album on my first one. I put so many tracks on that album, but the song “The Promise” was one of my favorites, “I May Not Have This Chance” is one we love to perform, “More Abundantly” and so many more. Even my second album, I started writing much more. It’s way too many to try to narrow down my favorites because each song is special to me. It was about the time, it was about my drive, and it was about my hunger and what God was mixing in me. The walk in my journey has been a pleasant one. I’ve lived and it’s been wonderful and it’s been hard, but if I can name one, the “Covenant Medley” and everything inside that song was powerful. I cried many days to that song. All these songs are my testimony. All of them are our favorites.