Pastor John Kee Interview
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Pastor John Kee Speaks the Truth
About God, Guns & Giving Back
(... and Records a Song for Barak Obama!)
By Shamerra T. Brown
Shamerra T. Brown: We heard the song you did for Sen. Obama. Sounds good,
how’d that come about?
Pastor John Kee: I knew some people in the campaign, well quite a few, and they
asked me if I would be willing to do a song. I hadn’t really tapped into his rhetoric,
hadn’t really listened to him, so I didn’t want to commit to doing a song and I didn’t
believe in the candidate. So it made me really stop and focus and begin to listen.
Actually, it was a Saturday night, I’m looking at the news, he begins to talk about
hope, and he left his notes and walked away from the podium, and really started
speaking out of his heart. It was so funny because I had been teaching a series on
hope and many of the things I had been teaching in my congregation, I began to
hear this man speak and I was sold! It’s really funny because it’s like 1:30 on a
Saturday night/Sunday morning, I jumped up, got in the elevator, went downstairs to
the first floor in my house, and recorded the song immediately. The cool part about
it is that I didn’t have a pen, didn’t have paper. I got a little rhythm and I sat down at
the piano and just started singing. I wrote what I heard and I really enjoyed it. When
I finished the song, I sent it to my editor and he pieced the video together. This was
before the D.C. and Virginia primaries. We sent it out and they did a mass mail like
you wouldn’t believe. Right now they’re asking for a single [laughs] … and asking if
the song is coming out on my next CD.
Shamerra: Are you serious?!
Pastor Kee: It’s wild. It has really blown my mind, I promise you, because I thought
it was just a small-scale something they wanted to use to encourage those who
were working with the campaign.
Shamerra: It has a nice little hook to it so I see how they could use that and take it
Pastor Kee: We’re really excited about that and we’re doing all we can. Again, I
never want to call it fluke, but it was something that I thought would be on a low-
scale, encouraging some people in an office.
Shamerra: You know, sometimes those end up being the big hits.
Pastor Kee: A lot of times it is.
Shamerra: Now, you’re very much involved in the community improvement area, so
how do you feel as far as his platform for more effective social change is
Pastor Kee: Well you know what, before I judge that particular area, I know that’s a
concern for many black leaders. But I come from another angle and I hope I don’t
sound like a copout — I think with the message of hope, what it does is inspires
what you do … I look at him as not just being a presidential candidate, or somebody
that I’ve met or somebody that I’ve spoken with, but I believe [somebody who] has a
message and a plan for our country. I’m a “ghetto economics” major, in other
words, when everybody’s screaming, “When is the recession coming?” and I hope I
don’t sound racist, [but] black folks, we’ve been struggling and going through
recessions most of our lives! We learn how to deal and we learn how to maneuver.
I hope that’s not a bad word in the Christian community, but we make things
happen! And it’s only the elite and those who are not used to having to decide
between gas or food … You know, mama taught us how to get $3 worth of gas and
then use that other $3 and make it last till Friday. In saying that, I think the message
of "believing in you” is back in America. And you know, it’s funny we are having this
interview — and I did not know about this interview last night — last night I spent a
moment by myself downstairs in my house and I began to think about how amazing
this is. I mean, I’m a student of Martin Luther King, I’m a student of where we’ve
come from and I know everybody’s real hush-hush when it comes to black
achievements, but my God! ... can you imagine, we are standing at the brink of
having a black president in America?!
Shamerra: Isn’t it amazing?
Pastor Kee: Let me tell you something, my babies are not going to be ready for
this. I’ll probably call you from the local jail cell.
Shamerra: [Laughs] Oh gosh, not from jail, Pastor Kee.
Pastor Kee: [Laughs] I’ll be celebrating like that! It’s just amazing, I think one of the
great things for me is that my kids get to see it, and my kids are talking about it and
discussing it. I’m talking about my 5-year-old and my 10-year-old are enjoying the
conversations about Obama. So it’s a sigh and a breath of hope that I think
America needed, not just because he’s black, but because of the message of
change. And you and I both know, we have relatives who are struggling, and have
lost jobs and we look for a sigh of relief in the community. We need leaders, like
myself, to have a senior lunch ... like I did last Saturday, teaching our seniors how
to come up; I have so many things that are going on in our church … 50-plus active
programs, not just programs on paper, but active. We have a “Midnight Court”
program, where I bring young men off the streets into a building all night, let them
play basketball, play pool, play cards, let them do whatever. These young men will
not be robbing anybody that night. Then, to make sure, I keep them and we take
them to breakfast the next morning and we have an open discussion. And let me tell
you, they will openly discuss anything for that free breakfast!
Shamerra: You stay there throughout the evening into the morning?
Pastor Kee: Oh yeah, my wife gave me three days a week, I’m out there. I believe
in discipleship, and I respect pastors that did that. Here I am in my almost 17th year
of ministry and I’m still hitting the street almost every Friday night with the witness
teams. That’s what it’s about, and to me, it keeps me grounded. I am a blessed man
of God. When I tell you I want for absolutely nothing, I want for nothing. [But] I can’t
just sit in that house. It’s like when Katrina hit, everybody started pulling out the
cameras and doing videos. I said, “No, we don’t need to do videos, we need to go
there.” We adopted a community called Varnado and this year I will be performing
at a jazz festival in New Orleans and I will be able to go back … what took place that
day not only affected New Orleans, it affected so many [places] around that area.
I’m just a person that, when there’s a problem, I don’t believe in joining hands and
speaking in tongues. If somebody needs a coat, we don’t speak in tongues then, we
give them a coat!
Shamerra: You said something there. You’ve been pastoring since 1995?
Pastor Kee: Absolutely. Well, that’s when we actually opened the church. My
ministry derived from a street ministry, walking the streets, feeding the hungry. We
started doing that approximately ’84 or ’85. Now we have really enjoyed the success
of our ministry because of, I think, where it came from. So I opened the actual
church in 1995.
Shamerra: How do you find the stamina to manage the pastoralship along with
your music ministry … and family?
Pastor Kee: You know, it is so cool. What is amazing, when I started pastoring I
had won a couple of Stellar Awards and I said, “I’m done, no more for me, enjoy
what you enjoyed … Jesus is Real! That will be the last hit!”
Shamerra: Oh no!
Pastor Kee: But watch, let me tell you what happened … actually when I began to
minister … I’ve got an office — this is amazing — I’m set up so that if I feel a song
anywhere I am, from my car to my church office, to my home office, to our suite
where the business is … there’s a studio everywhere, there’s a microphone
everywhere. The same recording format is everywhere. And because of that, it’s
amazing because I’m able to record … after every [preaching] message, there is a
melody. So I can put a great message to melody immediately. So, as I get older —
I’m 45 — I’m able to say, this week I’m going to work on my painting, this week I’m
going to work on Li’l Rufus, this week I’m going to finish Dorinda Clark’s album …
So I’ve got pretty much everything kind of laid and I pretty much follow my format as
much as I can. But one of the greatest, greatest gifts God gave me was my wife and
my babies. I’m a husband and father and it’s all working together.
Shamerra: Awe! How many children?
Pastor Kee: Nine kids! Had three before I got married and my wife had a little girl,
so we’re the Brady Bunch! We put them together, and we’ve had five since then.
She is still gorgeous and we’re praying about 10!
Shamerra: Excellent, and yes, Lady Felice is still gorgeous! Tell me about the
concept for your current project with New Life, Nothing But Worship.
Pastor Kee: Well with Nothing But Worship, you know, those are the songs that we
sing in our church and, believe it or not, I drew a line. There were songs that we did
in the church and there were songs that we wrote for CDs. Then, I thought, with
Nothing But Worship, we should really allow people in our doors, let’s open the
door and let them know what we do in church. And that’s why I really love that
project because to me it’s like Sunday morning, or Thursday night. The whole
concept of the project was bringing the intimacy that we feel in our service to the
forefront and we think we did it.
Shamerra: You’ve managed to stay true to the style of Gospel music that you kind
of pioneered, or brought to the forefront. And even when you occasionally do the
more contemporary material, it still has “the John factor.” In a world where Christian
music styles are constantly changing, is it easy to remain true to your originality
(and keep it sounding good), and not compromise for the sake of trend, or God
forbid, the dollar?
Pastor Kee: You know what, it’s amazing you asked me that question, I love you
already! Let me tell you, one of the great things is really knowing who you are.
[That] says a lot about a person and who they are and what they really stand for. In
my situation, I think it was good because when I think of music, I think of the
heterophonies and the harmonies on top of a traditional track or a contemporary
track, so who I am is not compromised. So I thank God for that, because this project
has done very, very well. People respect that, because so many artists are going
out of their element to please a genre or to please what’s going on, and I think you
do yourself a disservice. So I’ve got “John P. Kee” fans that have been there for
years. Now, through a glimpse of production, we’re able to put a few more younger
people on the wagon. I just finished working with Dorinda Clark on her last album
and I had to really close my eyes and see Dorinda walk out on that stage and do a
song that I never heard her sing before that was her style, and that’s how the song
was birthed. So I’m enjoying that, in my latter age, the production and working with
other artists … but still they want “the John P. Kee flavor.” So we’re doing our best
to maintain it.
Shamerra: There’s nothing like it.
Pastor Kee: Thank you! Just for that I’m gonna [give] you a bootleg track [laughs].
Shamerra: [Laughs] I’ll take it! This drive for community outreach and youth that
you have, what makes you so concerned? Did you experience a significant tragedy
in your days on the streets?
Pastor Kee: Oh wow! Absolutely. [The ministry is] in the same area that God
delivered me from; I’m in the Double Oaks community in Charlotte, N.C. The same
neighborhood that I sold drugs in for 2½ to three years, the same street, same
store I used to run, where I was a grocery store owner and a “pharmaceutical
director,” are right across the street from the church. And we purchased over 53
acres in that neighborhood, and that’s where we have our service, that’s where we
have our Kingdom League (basketball), our Aid to AIDS program, all our programs
are in that area. So you can imagine what I feel when I turn off the highway and turn
into that neighborhood, and it never gets old. There’s a sense of connect, there’s a
sense of accuracy. And what I mean by that is that God had to know what He was
doing. It’s amazing. And because of that, I have a Gun Drive every year, I don’t
know if you’ve heard of about it.
Shamerra: Yes, I have.
Pastor Kee: We have a Gun Drive every year. We were having problems [at first],
the City was ignoring me … I just needed advertisement, I didn’t ask anybody for
any money. We paid for all the gift cards and the gifts out of our own pocket … to
see all those guns come off the street, and this is what amazes me, to see the ages
of the babies that are bringing the guns in to trade. That was mind-blowing. They
were trading guns in just to go buy a [video] game from Wal-Mart.
Shamerra: How many guns did you end up collecting?
Pastor Kee: In all, we’ve collected over 175 guns. And then, watch this, a detective
in the area — I’m not going to put it on the whole police department — was not
really pleased and said, “Well we’d rather catch the criminal with the gun; we don’t
just want a gun, we want a gun with a body.” So I’m like what are you saying, that
you just want to wait until somebody gets shot? But something amazing happened,
I’ve got video of two police officers, when they came to pick up the guns they were
amazed when they walked in the door. And not only that, they said, “You know we
appreciate what you’re doing, because we are the ones who have to stare down the
barrels.” It’s something we’ll do every year.
Shamerra: Pastor, what are you studying these days?
Pastor Kee: Wow. I’m still in my “Hope” series and one of the great things about
this particular series is that I’m actually going from an angle now of Ruth and Naomi
(See the book of Ruth) which is a major story. I know many people have heard it for
years, but at the end of the day, one of the great things about these particular
passages of Scriptures is that Naomi really tried to encourage them to go back to
their land, and I think hope actually comes, or maybe is derived, from us having that
role model or somebody God puts in our path. Elijah to Elisha. Somebody in our
neighborhood or in our lives who is doing the will of the Father. And I’ll tell you
where it came from: We’re dealing with a lot of single mothers and everybody wants
to whip the children. I don’t want to whip the children, I want to whip the parents into
being responsible and accountable … and it’s really working in our church.
Shamerra: What do you want to say about Jesus Christ? To people who are
saved, not yet saved, beginners, seasoned —
Pastor Kee: I got it, I’m ready, I’m ready like you asked me this yesterday and I’m
prepared! You know what I want to say to the world about Jesus is that He didn’t
judge. And it took me a minute to get there. So I can imagine, with all of our
presuppositions and all of the things we gained in church before we really gained a
Word-relationship with Him; the things we thought were Bible that were not Bible. I
want us to know that “For we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the
feelings of our infirmities, at all points He was tempted like we are …” (Heb. 4:15).
He understands us, He knows us … When I first got saved, I was so into,
“Everybody, be like me; I’m saved, be like me!” And that’s not what the Bible
teaches. We are supposed to be like Him. I think what’s going on now in our
church[es], when we can get into an atmosphere where you really respect the
authority of God and you’re really in the presence of God, I don’t care what you’ve
done … [We tend to think] “God delivered me from drugs so I’m better than you
because yours is a sexual sin, or you are a thief …” We are not just church and
denominations, we are the body of Christ, so my desire is to teach that message,
and to then not judge. Even that person in your household that you’re sick and
tired of, you know, prayer still works, because just like God saved you, He’ll save
Shamerra: Amen Pastor! I love it.
Pastor Kee: [Laughs]
Shamerra: You said you were doing some painting?!
Pastor Kee: Oh yes. I’ve been painting for while now and I love it. I’ve been doing
some very interesting things, some of them are abstract, and I actually have the
paintings in my own house. I’ve done some stuff for quite a few people. It’s hard to
break into that industry because when they say “John P. Kee, the artist” they think
"John P. Kee, the singer." I started it, I don’t know if you know about my character,
Li’l Rufus —
Pastor Kee: I created a character, Li’l Rufus, it was just in my mind and I hired an
artist to do it and she was supposed to get back to me, and she didn’t. So I sat
down to draw it and my first picture was horrible, and my second picture was worse,
and I kept on until something came out. And it just sparked something in me. From
there some unbelievable things started taking place and I’ve been going at it ever
since. The kids have been inspired by program I have at our school, our
Shamerra: Has there been a significant time that you can remember that you
wanted to quit and just walk away from whatever you did or didn’t have going on
ministerially, musically, or even in your personal life?
Pastor Kee: Ummm … I never really wanted to quit, I think everybody goes through
that area of discouragement. I was there for minute and I think what happened with
me was that I determined that at the end of the day, my ministry mattered and I
always had somebody or something I had to be accountable for or to. You know, if it
was taking care of my babies or our business. We own 27 major businesses in the
country — everything from stock and security in Washington D.C. to a bowling alley
in San Diego. I invested well, early on … I can’t tell you the day where I’ve had a
failed business. But dealing with the personalities of people who help operate what
God has given you has been a challenge. You know, they’ll act like they’re with you
100 percent until you make them angry [laughs]! Overall, I must tell you that I’ve
been a go-getter. I actually teach those who get out of jail, I have a program called
One-Step, I teach them that, “You might have felony attached to your name, but as
long as you believe in you, then you can move in the direction that you’re
dreaming.” I think life is a beautiful challenge. I’ve become a fisherman in my latter
age and it’s nothing like getting on that boat, getting on a lake, and being
challenged by the fish. Life matters now. I can’t tell you I had cancer or a heart
attack, I just woke up one day and said, “You know what, this is a precious gift and I
want to take advantage of every moment.” So I’ve never allowed the negatives to
really wear me out. It’s not as complicated as we make it.
Shamerra: You’re right. The challenge of the fish! Alright …
Pastor Kee: [Laughs] I’m talking to a writer, I’ve got be careful!
Shamerra: Exactly! Who or what inspires you?
Pastor Kee: My kids, they are amazing. My wife and I laugh all the time. To me
they’re just a product of us. Anything they do, we have to decide which side of the
family that [behavior] comes from. I’ve got a baby who just started walking and is
syncopated to perfection. I mean she’s like 1 and some change, and her timing is
awesome. I’ve got a 3-year-old who sings like you wouldn’t believe, and we’re not
pressing her. If you ask her to do it, we never hear that voice; but if you just walk
behind her, she makes up these little songs. She’s like 28 pounds, she’s a little
thing, but I tell you, she belts like you will not believe. Then you have John-John
who’s just like the visionary, who’s interested in science and looks up at the stars.
Then there’s one who, like my grandmother says, is going to be my prodigal son.
He wants to see what’s going on the other side of the fence! So we’ve got all of
these different ideas and ideals flowing on a daily basis and it’s inspiring to know
that these little bodies will effect change in America because of the example that
they’re looking at. So, if nothing else inspires you, that always does.
Shamerra: What upsets you?
Pastor Kee: Oh wow. We don’t have time! I think what upsets me is when I see
people ruining precious time in their lives by giving up on what God has already
given them. I’m a Kingdom preacher, and I really believe that it is the Father’s good
pleasure to give us the Kingdom. I believe that the miracle is already there, if you
woke up tomorrow and decided you wanted to open another business, you’ve got to
see it before it takes place. What did [Jesus] ask the blind men, before I do this, do
you believe that I can? [They said] “Yea, Lord” (Matt. 9:27-31). We have to have a
“yea, Lord” mentality, and for those who don’t, I promise you, I want to fight them! I
mean it just bugs me to no end. Especially when I can see the gift inside them and
they can’t … but I’m not impatient with them, I’m the one that will keep pushing
Shamerra: What’s next for you?
Pastor Kee: I’m working on a Live in Miami album. We recorded it three years ago.
Shamerra: Hmmm, three years ago? When you did the workshop with Tye
(Tribbett), and you also did the new artist showcase?
Pastor Kee: Yep, we recorded all that week.
Shamerra: We were there for some of that, but I didn’t know you were recording for
an album at the time. When is it being released?
Pastor Kee: It’s a hot project, it should be out around June or July.
Shamerra: What are some of the rewards of being a pastor?
Pastor Kee: You know, I’m kind of strange because I don’t take a salary.
Pastor Kee: No, not from my church. I want to be an example. Let me seed with
them. I told them that when we get old, if they want to take care of us then, so be it.
No, the reward for me is really seeing my partners who are now getting out of jail, all
those who did 20-to-life are now getting out, and to see them restructure their lives
and line up with the will of God is amazing to me. And that’s what matters. It’s like
life has a purpose and we, who understand that purpose, feel like we were put here
for something. If it were just about me, I think at the end of the day, I’d just become
Shamerra: What are you working on today, the GMWA (Gospel Music Workshop of
Pastor Kee: Well I’m working on two things at the same time. I’m working on GMWA
and I’m finishing the end of the Live in Miami project.
Shamerra: How have you managed to remain with the same record label all these
years? That’s rare!
Pastor Kee: That’s a funny question. Everybody has label issues, but you never
really hear me dogging the label. And I do have some of the same issues but my
contract was so constructed for seasons such as this, so I can honestly say that in
my latter age, when nobody’s really getting budgets anymore, and you know you do
the album for cheaper than ever now. So I can still demand what I want from them.
And so I don’t have any qualms with them. I know what they know now. But the real
question ought to be, where do you go from here? This deal is going to close within
a year or two, and what we’re doing now is actually getting ready to go in and see
where the deal is and if it’s beneficial for me to stay, or actually go independent and
pick up a distributor and do it myself. Trust me, I know what [the label] knows now
and to some degree can do it better than them.
Shamerra: Uh-oh! Watch out executive! Pastor Kee, you’ve been most awesome,
but I must let you get back to your work. The Kingdom awaits.
Pastor Kee: Thank you for your time …
When I was just an underage Gospel music follower, I remember being in awe
when “John P. Kee” chose my uncle out of a crowd and gave him a new baseball
cap with “Colorblind” inscribed on it, the title for his then-upcoming album. Then,
he gave another guy in the audience $100 (major bucks at that time). Right away,
I knew the singer had a heart for reaching out to people.
Many of us know Pastor Kee for his mega hits (Jesus is Real, Show Up, We
Walk by Faith, Strength, Colorblind …), but what has been an almost well-guarded
secret is his passion for lost souls, community outreach, and helping to rehabilitate
anyone from just about any kind of addiction. Not too bad for the guy who was
delivered from drugs — selling and using — not so long ago.
Sure, he’s picked up some Stellar and Billboard awards, a few Grammy and
Dove nominations and other poignant recognition over the years, but he chooses
to focus and flow in the direction of “people needs.” (You know, the kind that Jesus
majored in.) Pastor Kee’s own testimony and his very hands-on approach of
counseling, interceding and rebuilding individuals who would otherwise see
themselves as hopeless, has transformed thousands of lives across the nation
and, perhaps more significantly, near his hometown of Durham, N.C.
He pastors New Life Fellowship — right across the street from where he dealt
drugs. When he’s not recording, preaching or traveling for ministry, you can find
him ministering to drug traffickers, hosting luncheons for senior citizens and
basketball games for youth, or spending time with his wife, Felice, their nine
children, and church family.
More recently, he had the opportunity to serve the nation in a more patriotic
manner. He was asked to record a song for presidential hopeful, Sen. Barak
Obama. The campaign team loved the track and “Yes We Can,” along with its
promotional video, is currently in heavy circulation online and receiving rave
We caught up with Pastor Kee at one of his many North Carolina studios. Read
on for this delicious chat …
‘When there’s a problem, I don’t believe
in joining hands and speaking in tongues.
If somebody needs a coat, we don’t speak
in tongues then, we give them a coat!’
Pastor Kee with the guns
he collected from the
streets in his annual
'We are not just church and
denominations, we are the
body of Christ, so my desire
is to teach that message,
and to then not judge.’