It's precisely that kind of conviction that has caused critics to refer to Yolanda as one of gospel's "seminal" voices. It has also empowered her to venture out o f gospel's more sanctimonious confinements, and hook up with some of pop's most formidable producers, such as Keith Thomas, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Yolanda stresses, however, that it was the process of "sharing" talents that made the unique collaborations such a great success. Thomas produced and wrote "The Things We Do."
"I had a chance to work with him," she says, "he's worked with so many great people, like Vanessa Williams and Wynonna Judd. It was awesome. He's the kind of producer who pulls stuff out of you that you didn't know you were capable of." Yolanda also had high praise for the duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who helm the ethereal "Open My Heart," "Wherever You Are," and the disc's feel-good closer, "Already Alright," all which they co-wrote with Yolanda. "Coming from the gospel world and being able to work with them was a dream come true," she says. "They provided leadership and gave me the leeway necessary to develop the songs. They wanted me to bring material to them so that I wouldn't lose connection, for non inspiration. Their input and approval really encouraged me as a writer."
Religious audiences have been validating Yolanda for well over a decade. She was employed as an elementary teacher in Houston when she first began to garner recognition for her stunning performances. "I taught second and third grades. I would go on the road during the weekends to sing. Pretty soon the demand started growing. I realized I might be able to make it my career."
The eldest of six siblings, her pioneering spirit and boundless optimism soon became her trademark. Her solid church background and love of all kinds of music, which she says: "was inspired by family- everything from Stevie Wonder to Beethoven," left her with a respect for traditional musical hues, as well as a desire for more contemporary interpretation. "Too many times we're put in a box by musical labels," she says.
It was while she served as a lead singer with the Southeast Inspirational Choir that Yolanda caught the eye of the prolific composer/producer Thomas Whitfield. He guided her first album, Just As I am for Sound of Gospel Records. Yolanda went on to sing for the Tribute label in 1990, and was soon hailed as the most versatile contemporary gospel singer since Aretha Franklin.
Her brilliant follow-up albums, 1991's Through The Storm, and 1993's Save The World won several Stellar awards, Gospel's highest accolade. 1995's More Than A Melody propelled her into the world of R&B Gospel, with hit singles such as "Gotta Have Love," and "Open Arms." The disc won a Soul Train Lady Of Soul award, earned her a Grammy nomination, and unforgettable live performance spot on the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards telecast.
Her album, Yolanda…. Live In Washington, snagged her yet another Stellar award, and another Grammy nomination. Her "bring-the-crowd-to-their-feet" reputation has now become the stuff of pop legend. In fact, it was after seeing Yolanda live in New York's Beacon Theater that Elektra's Chairman Sylvia Rhone (co-executive producer of the new album) decided to sign the vocalist. "I didn't think signing with Elektra was as much of a leap as some might think, because of the faith she had in me," says Yolanda. "Her vision was the same as mine. To let my singing do the work of reaching a broader audience."
If there's one track on the LP that combines Yolanda's musicality with her indomitable spirit it's the buoyant "Yeah." Spiritually infectious, yet tinged with a streetwise kind of soul, the song was written and produced by Warren Campbell. I've always been a fan of Nancy Wilson, and no matter how much she was into her music, she would always articulate vocally. For me, a simple expression like 'Yeah,' can connote the power I feel about God, and what it feels like to be alive."
Yolanda also touched hearts with a more reflective song, the tender "Fragile Heart." "That one is a personal story," she says. "It's kind of a recovery song for me. I lost my road manager, who was a dear friend. I wanted to express in a song that the thing to remember is that we're not put on this earth to remain forever. Someday we are all going to have to leave. So, how you live does make a difference. How you lived will be remembered long after you're gone." Yolanda's core fans will also enjoy the steadfast "In The Midst Of It All." "That one is for the mothers of the church. For the people who have gone through a lot of negative situations in their lives, and didn't dwell in it, but instead, they chose to rejoice. It says to use, 'Hey, I know you are going through a hard time, but don't give up because I made it out,'" A stunning cascade of background vocals shadows Yolanda's tremendous lead performance, making the song one of the more memorable tracks on the LP.
Yolanda closes with the aforementioned, pumped up "Already Alright." "I never want to be a stick in the mud," she laughs. "It's a brighter testament for me because I was inspired by a friend who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and was miraculously cured. He was given more than a couple of months to live and he's gone on living more than four years. It proved that miracles still do happen."
The singer, whose love of children's causes is almost as legendary as her singing, eagerly embraces the social responsibility that comes with the blessings of success. She's served as a spokesperson for the FILA Corporation's Operation Rebound program, which address the concerns of inner city school children. She recalls her days as a teacher fondly, and tries to instill in her audience the need for positive reinforcement, no matter from what walk of life. "It's been my experience that of whatever you ask of them, you must look to the best in them. The transformation can be astounding."