Happy New Year from the Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner! I pray that the first eight days of the new year are off to an amazing start. At the end of 2013, the Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner had the opportunity to sit down with Gospel new comer, Dana Hemphill. Hemphill has opened up and shared the stage with a wide range of legendary Gospel artists including John P. Kee, Kim Burrell, Fred Hammond and Dorinda Clark-Cole. “I look forward to seeing you in the industry” were the words Kirk Franklin said to Dana as he experienced her at a Coz Records Showcase. On the heels of her debut release, Hemphill opens up about I Will Declare and how the Lord has been the source of her strength.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Hi Dana! Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me today. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the music industry.
Dana Hemphill: Well, I am Dana Hemphill and I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas and I have been singing in the church since I was 3 years old. My father was a minister of music, my mother was a choir member and my uncle was the pastor. So, music, in ministry, has literally been a part of my life ever since I was a child.
I moved to Dallas, Texas in 2002 and from there, I married my husband, Lewis, two years later. Between those couple of years, I was meeting different artists in the area. In 2004, that’s when I really decided that it was time to focus on recording and grooming into being an artist. In 2006, we attempted to do a live recording and that one did not go so well. But now, 7 years later, here we are with my first project, I Will Declare. Of course, there is so much that has gone on in between (laughs). So, we are going to fast forwarding to where we are today.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: You mentioned that a lot has taken place from your first project to now. So, help fill in the gaps a little bit.
Dana Hemphill: So, going to back to my childhood for a moment. My father passed away when I was 10 years old and that played a major impact in my life, more than I wanted it to or expected it to. At 15 years old is when I became rebellious and I went astray. I became involved with gangs, got pregnant at 16, dropped out of high school and the list kind of goes on from there. So, it wasn’t until I became 19, 20 years old that I really started to seek after God and realize that I needed to give my life to Him. From there, God revealed to me that the music ministry is where He wanted me to be.
When I married my husband in 2004, he played an intrical part in me being an artist. I had been singing all my life and singing in different churches but never really had the finances or the push to do what it took to become an artist. So, from my husband, he started connecting with different artists and different producers. From there, that is when we attempted to do the first live recording in 2006 and it didn’t really work because of the production piece.
I had been singing all over Dallas doing different showcases. One in particular was the Koz Showcase where I met Kirk Franklin. I did something at the KwanzaFest as well as a Rising Star Showcase, which is where I met Vickie Winans and Kim Burrell. So, this is where we groomed into doing the project.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Thanks so much for sharing Dana! Part of the reason I had you take a trip down memory lane is because in reading your bio, you have a very powerful testimony that needs to be shared with others. In my opinion, you give a very good witness as far as what God can do in spite of the things that we go through. People don’t have to give up! God can and does use anybody that He wants to use! God has the ability to change things around.
Dana Hemphill: You know, ever since growing up in the church, I have always been considered the “church girl”. As a result, I really have a heart for kids that have grown up in church. People often say that church kids are the worse especially preachers kids. These kids are taken to church all of their lives and they may know the Bible, however, there is not a real relationship with God a lot of times. These kids are going to church because momma told them to go or daddy told them to go. So, the opportunity presented itself for me to go astray when my dad died as he was the strict one in the home.
I can literally say that the enemy put so many people in my life that tried to take me away from the church. I mean, it was like a dog being let loose for the first time. The funny thing about everything and it really isn’t funny, is that I dropped out of high school because of the shame. I left church because I knew that everyone was talking about me. People were saying things like “You are the preacher’s daughter” or “You are suppose to have a higher standard than this!” Some of them gave me their feet instead of their hand.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Wow! The sad part about that is that the church community acts as if they are perfect. Let’s be real, we know our stuff! The Word says that if you have been strengthen, to go back and restore your brother. What I love about this part of your testimony is the fact that you are telling your own story. I can tell from listening to your first single, “My Offering”, that it came from a place of worship and a place of gratitude. It also seems like it came from a place of worship and from a place of gratefulness for what God has done in your. Tell us a about “My Offering”.
Dana Hemphill: I t really does speak the sentiments of my heart. I lived a life where I did not present my body or my mind as the Lord’s. It took me losing things and needing peace and needing my mind to be straightened out for me to really accept that my life belongs to God. He’s the author, He’s the finisher and this song puts me a place of pure submission to Him that I am offering Him back my mind. I am offering Him my life, not just money. We say that we present our monetary offering to the Lord…no..I am presenting my life to Him! He has given my life back to me and He has given me so many chances and I am in a place now where I really understand that it is about relationship and I have decided to literally declare to the world what He has done for me. I often say that I am not the best singer, I don’t communicate the best but what He has given me, I will give Him my best and I will present this as an offering, as a sacrifice so that He can use me however He sees fit.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: I want you to know that when I first heard “My Offering”, I fell in love with it! There is an anointing on the song! I want to encourage you to do what God has called you to do. Being an independent artist, tell us about some of the struggles that you had to deal with in order to get I Will Declare out.
Dana Hemphill: Well, finances, of course, (laughs), is always at the top of the list because everything is coming out of your pocket. So, me and my husband both work but there were times where we missed a few car payments or a house payment. God has literally provided every single time when it looked like things were not going to succeed. Some kind of way, He came through where He blessed us with someone giving us a financial gift. But it’s funny because knowing what God has told you in your private time with Him and knowing that this is what He has given you to do, you have to really stand on that and there are going to be so many situations that will come that will cause you to lose focus and try to weigh your faith. But through it all, I see now that it was a part of the testimony in that God really did provide. I can’t give credit to anybody. You know you hear all of these testimonies where people say, “this one helped me get here” or “that one helped me”. No! I can’t say that! This has literally been a God thing from day one and so He really gets all of the credit.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Amen! There are ten songs on I Will Declare. Tell us how you came to work with Myron Butler on “I Still Believe” and George Huff on “Running”.
Dana Hemphill: I initially met Myron Butler in I believe 2005 or 2006 when I did the showcase at KwanzaaFest. Myron was one of the judges and we kept in contact with each other. In 2006, we actually reached out to him to do the live recording but something came up and we weren’t able to do it at that time. In 2012, my husband reached out to Myron to let him know that we would love to have him on the project and he was like “Sure, let’s do it!” And so from there, it just worked itself out and I am really grateful for God’s favor and privilege because I know Myron doesn’t always do that for everybody.
With George Huff, there is a guy by the name of Jamiene Thompson also known as J-Skills and he has worked closely with George on his Gospel project a few years back. The song “Running” was actually already prerecorded by George and he decided to not use that song for his project. J-Skills let me know that he had a song that he wanted me to hear and when I heard it, I knew that is what I wanted to do.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: What song is the most personal to you and why?
Dana Hemphill: Track number 7, “I Shall Not Die” and it is literally taken from Psalm 118 where it states that I shall not die but live to declare the works of the Lord. Emotionally, I have died and I feel, spiritually, that there were times where there was a spiritual death where I had to be awakened. So, through the fact of believing again and having a second chance at life, “I Shall Not Die” really speaks to the entire project. Through major depression, through wanting to commit suicide, those words, that scripture alone, has gotten me out of a lot of things.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Are there any plans to tour the country to support the CD? Any plans to come to Baltimore?
Dana Hemphill: Yes, we are currently promoting the project. We have been at different churches each Sunday and we are diffinetly looking to come to the east coast. It’s like God is really moving this thing swiftly. Who knows? We may be there in a few months. (laughs)
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Well, please let me know! In my opinion, new artists have a different drive. Are there any words of encouragement that you can provide to other new artists who are looking to break into the industry?
Dana Hemphill: I think new artists have that freedom because they are not on a record label. That is not to say that artists that are on labels don’t have that determination or don’t hear from God. But I think that independent artists are able to follow God’s plan closer instead of what others are telling you to do. So, I would encourage all upcoming artists, new artists and independent artists to first and foremost, know that this is what God is calling you to do. If the local body is your calling, than do that well because there are so many distractions that will come and if you are not prepared, spiritually, it can really turn things around for you on the bad side. You gotta know that this is what God is calling you to do!
Secondly, prepare yourself financially. Just because you want to record a project today doesn’t mean that it is going to happen today. You gotta prepare! It took me about a year to actually get this CD out because you want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward. There are so many artists out there and it is really competitive.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: I noticed that you have been in a couple of plays. Tell me about that came about.
Dana Hemphill: A lady by the name of Tiffany Warren saw me on YouTube singing and she sought me out through Facebook. I did not initially respond but then I gave her a call, I auditioned and then I got the lead role in her first play, Replacement Wife. Tommy Ford from Martin was in that along with Shirley Murdock. I was also in her second play, Just Like Daddy, which costar Christen King and Terri J. Vaughn from Meet the Browns.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: How has response been to I Will Declare?
Dana Hemphill: We have had some overwhelming responses so far as people have been tremendously blessed by the project based on the responses on Facebook , calls and text messages. So many people have told me that they have not taken the CD out of their car yet, which is a blessing. Some people say that the have certain songs on repeat or they will say that they have to hear this song before they go into work. It’s really a blessing so all honor goes to God for what He has done for the project.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: What is the best way for people to keep in contact with you?
Dana Hemphill: They can keep in contact with me via FaceBook at /danahemphillmusic . My website address is www.danahemphill.com and my Twitter handle is dana_hemphill.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Dana, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Are there any final words that you want to share?
Dana Hemphill: I pray that I will Declare will bring people to a greater relationship with God. I know that there is a lot of music out there with good beats so I pray that this music will bring people to a deeper place in God and seeking real relationship.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner: Amen! Please continue to allow God to use you for His purpose! When God blows you, don’t forget about us little people here in Baltimore! (Laughs) I will be like “I interviewed her on her debut release”. You will have 10 gold and platinum albums and I will be trying to get an interview. Don’t forget about me Dana…please don’t (Laughs)
Dana Hemphill: (laughs) Kevin…no…no… I want to thank you for this opportunity. It really means so much to me! I will not forget. Trust me!
I Will Declare Track Listing
1. Get Up
2. Blessed Be The Name
3. Isaiah 6 Praise
4. I Still Believe (featuring Myron Butler)
5. Running (featuring George Huff)
6. I Worship You
7. I Shall Not Die
8. Thou Art
9. My Offering
10. I Will Declare