Grammy Award winner Jerry Peters creates music for the glory of God
“I asked for a script and was disheartened by what I read. One character says to another, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ? You need to.’And then he shoots him. It was tempting — $200,000 or $300,000 – but I turned it down.
“From then on, my prayer was, ‘God, navigate my circumstances. I was walking away to less money and fewer opportunities, but I knew there was spiritual growth going on. I became more scrutinizing.”
Not long after that, Peters made a commitment to get into gospel music and began touring with Sandra Crouch, sister of Andrae Crouch.
After writing, producing, arranging, and performing on Grammy Awardwinning albums for numerous artists, Peters recently won his own Grammy for co-writing the “Gospel Song of the Year” with Kirk Whalum. “It’s What I Do” is featured on the CD, The Gospel According to Jazz – Chapter III, which Peters also co-produced.
“There is a certain comfort in winning a Grammy after 46 years in the music business in terms of the physical validation of your accomplishments by your peers, so it has a lot of meaning to it and depth,” said Peters. “But my first thought was ‘They really called my name.’
“There was no pressure because I had never been nominated before. To finally be nominated and win was a blessing.”
Peters was in Lincolnton recently for an extended stay due to a death in the family of his wife, the former “Ginger Babe” Elam, who is the daughter of Willie Mae Elam and the late Sam Elam. She is a 1969 graduate of Westside High School.
The couple met at church in Beverly Hills. Elam was a greeter, and Peters was filling in for the late Billy Preston, who was the minister of music at the time.
While in Lincolnton, the Grammy winner and his wife found the time to visit with members of the jazz band at LCHS. The seasoned professional talked with the young musicians, played the piano for them, and heard them play.
“Being in the company of such a legendary, award-winning musician was truly a rewarding experience, not only for the students but for me as well,” said Jasper Dukes, band director at LCHS.
“I have met several celebrities and composers but not one who connected with the students and their surroundings on such a personal level. He appeared to be in his comfort zone and made himself right at home with the students. Of course, we issued him an open invitation to return anytime he is in the area.”
Born in New Orleans, Peters was reared in Slidell, Louisiana. Before he was born, his parents, Irene, a school teacher, and Scholastic, a Baptist preacher, laid hands on his mother’s stomach and prayed for the Lord to give them a piano player because they needed one at church.
Apparently, the Lord saw fit to grant the request because Peters began playing at the age of three. The first song he learned was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
“God gave me a gift of putting music to poetry,” he said. “I started writing songs at age eight or nine.”
Peters clearly remembers encountering God when he was nine. “More than anything else, I heard the Word of God at home. Before I ever walked the aisle, I knew I was dealing with spiritual warfare, but God touched my heart, and I gave it to Him. My relationship with God has resulted in a strong conviction that has guided my life – He has protected me from a lot of situations.”
Another influence on Peters’ life was his seventh-grade band instructor, Dr. Theoclaire Ducksworth, who was singled out by her student in his acceptance speech when he won the Grammy.
“She told me I had a gift and that she wished I would move to Los Angeles to get involved in music. She also taught me to read music, to play the trumpet, and the art of performing.”
One summer, at age 14, Peters took a road trip with an uncle to visit a sister, who lived in Los Angeles. He chose not to make the return trip and remain in California to seek his fortune. “It was like going to Disneyland. Everybody aspired to go to L.A. for a better life,” he said.
The Grammy winner went on to graduate from the prestigious Dorsey High School in L.A. His classmates included Billy Preston, “the fifth Beatle;” John Maupin, president of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; and the legendary Clarence McDonald, who served as the musical director for James Taylor. Moreover, the great saxophonist Charles Lloyd was student teaching at Dorsey while Peters was there.
Following high school, Peters attended L.A. City College as an art major, while continuing to take music classes. He then transferred to the California Institute of Arts, funded by Disney.
“I decided to major in music and composition. It changed my life. I buckled down and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ The Lord gave me the presence of mind to make such an important decision at 19 years of age.”
He left the California Institute of Arts and enrolled at California State but later returned to the institute. Eventually, he left school for good, just short of getting his degree.
During his college years, Peters met Anita Poree and her brother, Greg Poree. “Anita and I started writing songs together, which introduced me to the world of commercial/pop song writing. It was very exciting, all of the hustle and bustle day after day.”
Out of this collaboration came the R & B pop classic “Going in Circles,” which was recorded by the Friends of Distinction and became Peters’ first gold record.
The song has been recorded in every decade since the 70s by artists such as Luther Vandross, The Gap Band, and Isaac Hayes. It has also been featured in the Tyler Perry stage play, “Madea Goes to Jail;” the film, “Radio,” starring Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding, Jr.; and “The Bernie Mac TV Show.”
In addition, Peters, Poree, and Skip Scarborough wrote the hit song, “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” likewise recorded by the Friends of Distinction.
Throughout his 46 years as a composer, songwriter, producer, arranger, and pianist, Peters has worked with some of the very best including Earth, Wind, & Fire, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie.
Boys II Men, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner, Deniece Williams, Diana Ross, Boz Scaggs, Marvin Gaye, The Jacksons, The Sylvers, Sonny and Cher, Al Green, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, The Emotions, Harvey Mason.
Paul Jackson, Jr., Doc Powell, Mary Mary, Andrae Crouch, Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, CeCe Winans, Vickie Winans, Ruben Studdard, Lee Williams & the Spiritual QCs, and Deleon Richards- Sheffield, wife of baseball great Gary Sheffield.
As for TV credits, the Grammy winner has served as the music director and featured pianist for the “Whoopi Goldberg Show,” the keyboardist for the “Pat Sajak Show, and an arranger/musician for the American Music Awards, the Grammys, the Emmys, BET Gospel, BET Walk of Fame, and the Stellar Awards.
Moreover, he has worked in various capacities on the soundtracks for films such as “The Wiz,” “Melinda,” “The Lady Killers,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “Hustle and Flow,” “Gigli,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Leap of Faith,” “The Women of Brewster Place,” and “The Five Heartbeats.”
More recently, Peters had the distinct honor of being commissioned to write the alma mater for Morehouse School of Medicine. Titled “Soar to the Highest Place of Dreams,” the Morehouse Glee Club first performed the piece at commencement exercises in 2010.
In essence, Peters has made creative contributions to virtually every genre of music from R & B, gospel, and jazz to classical.
He is currently involved in a soonto be-released CD featuring Deniece Williams, Stevie Wonder, Little Jimmy Scott, Chaka Khan, Kirk Whalum, Snoop, Dogg, and Wyclef Jean, among others.
Also, the CD, The Gospel According to Jazz – Chapter IV, with Kirk Whalum, is in now in the pre-production stage.
Peters’ next project is a CD by Lee Williams & the Spiritual QCs. In fact, he has produced numerous projects for the group.
“Music is something I was born and called to do – there’s no question about it,” stated Peters. “It is an honor and privilege to be a vessel – the creativity comes from God. He is the depositor.
“Anybody with an artistic gift is dealing with a creativity that reflects God’s abilities as the Master Creator. You can’t see or touch music – it has a spiritual existence.”
He added that God is most impressed with who He is to us and who we are to Him. “He is more interested in these things than in what we do.”
Concerning his peers, Peters has long been recognized as a musical genius and one with perfect pitch at that. Only three percent of the world’s musicians have perfect pitch.
Also, despite advances in technology, he continues to write with a #1 pencil because “it moves faster and is darker.”
According to longtime friend and fellow producer Frank Wilson, “This man has more talent in one finger than most people I know have in their whole body. I used to envy Jerry. I played in the key of ‘C,’ and he played in keys you couldn’t comprehend.
“When you’re talking about Jerry Peters, you’re talking about genius,” he continued. “Everybody can’t handle their gifts, but God poured it in his life because He can trust him.”
Peters presently resides in Atlanta, while spending a portion of his time working on projects in Los Angeles.