At a slender 6’3”, Southeastern grad Seth Ready belts out soulful gospel solos literally alongside the best of them; we’re talking Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams. After nearly three years of singing backup and performing onstage with gospel heavy hitters, Ready—with the help of McClurkin’s manager—is shopping for a record label to produce his own songs. Ready, who describes his brand of gospel as “urban R&B with a touch of hip-hop,” says his music flows from his life in Christ.
Ready credits Southeastern with sharpening both his musical abilities and his faith. He cites the Southeastern course “Life of Christ” as a source in how he meditates upon God. From that religion course, taught by Bible Professor Dr. Terris Neuman, Ready learned that deep spiritual understanding can come from personal Bible study and reflecting upon Christ’s suffering. These days, Ready aims to spend an hour to 90 minutes each day in fellowship with God—reading the Bible and praying.
Communicating a Christian message, Ready explains, is central to his singing career. When he performs for believers, Ready implores them to be people of character and to worship God through daily obedience to Him. When he sings for unbelievers, Ready tries to persuade them that absolute truth exists and that through Christ they can have eternal life when they die and abundant life now. Ready believes that presenting an uncompromised view of Christianity through his lifestyle as a musician also is crucial in his ministry to unbelievers.
“I was a gospel music fanatic,” he said.
The wife of Ready’s youth pastor, former Southeastern music professor Melinda Damon, saw Ready’s talent during the few times the then-shy Ready sang at church while he was in high school. Damon invited Ready to perform with a Southeastern singing group while Ready was still in high school. During those performances Ready overcame stage fright and began making friends with peers who’d eventually help launch his career. Singing with the group also sparked Ready’s interest to attend Southeastern for college.
After a conversation with Evans and Franklin about having Ready audition for the job, Hailey e-mailed Evans MP3 files of two of Ready’s demo songs. Before Franklin heard the conclusion of Ready’s second song—the one sung in Franklin’s style—Franklin had Evans call Ready. Ready was nervous when his phone rang. He had been waiting for three days after a Southeastern grad close to Evans told Ready to expect a call from Franklin.
“I was beside myself,” Ready said about speaking to the singer whose music he grew up loving. “(Franklin) was like U2 to me.”
During that first phone call, Ready recalls that Franklin said he had a beautiful voice and that he liked his vocal tone. Franklin told Ready he’d pray about hiring him and would call back.
In the Mix
“It was surreal!” Ready said. Ready wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a bandana as a patriotic nod to Sept. 11, whose first anniversary fell close to the concert date.
Hopeville, which kicked off in October of that year, was named to describe a city or town that’s full of hope. In one scene, the singers dressed as inhabitants of Hopeville. Ready wore fatigues to play a serviceman. Ready changed four or five times during each two- to three-hour show. The musical traveled to 35 cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Detroit; international destinations included Kingston, Jamaica and Toronto, Canada.
Ready performed in five to six Hopeville shows a week. During Hopeville and at other concerts, fellow backup singers could count on Ready to perform with musical precision, Evans said. They also can depend upon Ready to always sing in key and accurately reproduce riffs required of backup vocalists. Evans says Ready sings with a smooth, vocal tone commonly found in pop music, but he delivers it with much feeling, or soul.
“He sings from the gut,” Evans said. “…In (gospel) this is what you need.”
Ready’s work with Franklin in the Hopeville tour led to his singing backup for McClurkin. When Ready sings with McClurkin he is usually one of three to six background singers, versus eight to 12 singers in Franklin’s group. While singing with Franklin’s group was intense, singing with McClurkin challenges Ready further because he must sing as part of a much smaller group. But the small size of McClurkin’s group also gives Ready frequent opportunities to sing solos, Ready said.
Performing with both Franklin and McClurkin has meant extensive traveling, including international trips. In one year, Ready performed in Nigeria, Ghana, France, and the United Kingdom. Ready’s career even took him to the White House, where he sang for President George W. Bush with McClurkin’s group. President Bush, says Ready, gave him a quizzical look, then a wink, when he saw him. Ready suspects Bush gave him special attention because Ready stuck out as a white American singing gospel in observance of Black Music Month. Other famous people who Ready has seen up-close while touring include singers Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and the Winans, politicians Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakhan, and sports star Magic Johnson.
Ready’s association with McClurkin has helped Ready start his solo career. McClurkin’s manager, Roger Holmes, is helping Ready attract a recording company to produce his first album. Songs on Ready’s demo encourage people to turn to Jesus—as opposed to worldly ambitions—for personal fulfillment. Two of his songs were inspired by the life of his grandfather. One of the songs is sung from the perspective of Ready’s father during a period when Ready’s grandfather—a respected church leader—struggled in his faith. A second song, “Restored,” was inspired by the recommitment Ready’s grandfather made to Christ after a dozen years of spiritual turmoil.
The music on Ready’s demo ranges from upbeat songs that mix hip-hop and R & B to vocals-driven ballads. In one piano-accompanied duet with Southeastern grad Elizabeth Delaney, the duo sings to God, asking Him to help them trust Him.
The Mark of Southeastern
As a music minor at Southeastern, Ready said he benefited from voice lessons with former Assistant Music Professor Damon, jazz piano lessons with instructor Paul Butcher and classes in ear training and music theory. Ready’s participation on Southeastern’s basketball team also taught him lessons in confidence, teamwork and the need to bounce back with intensity after defeats. Ready says he’s been able to apply lessons he learned on the basketball court to the performance stage, and vice versa. For example, in both basketball and performance Ready has learned that his thoughts about a game or show affect his performance in the game or show. While a basketball player at Southeastern, Ready also observed the ministry strategy of Southeastern basketball coach John Dunlap and has applied it to his music ministry. Just as Dunlap uses basketball as a hook to interest young men in walking closer with God, Ready says he uses music as a tool to draw people to Jesus.
It also was through a Southeastern touring group that Ready gained regular music experience, performing throughout Florida and in Georgia and North Carolina. One former Southeastern student with whom Ready performed, Deidra Vander Maten—now Deidra Hughes, later sung in a group with Anthony Evans, who connected Ready to Franklin and his career in gospel.
In the midst of his success, Ready also is helping Southeastern alumni gain professional experience in music. When Ready is booked to perform as a soloist, he often hires 2005 Southeastern graduate and music major Derris Nelson to play keyboard. Prior to a recent performance for a Baptist church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Ready and Nelson performed for children during a field day at a Hattiesburg elementary school.
In addition to finding an apartment to rent in Nashville and finishing his CD, Ready’s plans include to keep touring and performing.
“I love doing it,” Ready said. “It’s huge blessing to travel at this place in life.”