Johnny Gill Talks Receiving Black Music Honor

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(Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)
Johnny Gill is one of one. The “My My My,” crooner has been largely celebrated for his work as one sixth of the group New Edition, and one third of LSG, but his solo career has equally stood the test of time. Today, he’s reaping the benefits of his efforts, having been recognized by the NAACP alongside his bandmates for a Lifetime Achievement Award, and inducted into the Hall of Fame. Next Saturday, he will be accepting the R&B Soul Icon Award from the ninth annual Black Music Honors.
The ceremony will be co-hosted by singer and actress LeToya Luckett alongside comedian and actor DeRay Davis and will honor Gill, Patrice Rushen, Bootsy Collins and Hezekiah Walker. The honor comes as no shock as Gill has remained a quintessential talent over the years becoming a household name in the Black music lexicon for his incomparable discography.
“I’m so grateful for the acknowledgement and for the opportunity,” Gill tells ESSENCE. “I’d say it for forty years of doing this, I think when I got the phone call about me doing it and I was like, ‘who, me?’ You reach a point where it’s not very often that I feel that finally to have someone say we want to acknowledge your hard work. It’s not for anything else for any other reason besides just, I’ve worked hard, and I’ve done that for forty years and tried to make everybody proud and, and continue to stay committed to my craft. So that was a blessing.”
A two-time Grammy nominee, Gill has been in the industry for over 40 years. Starting in the industry as a young teen, Gill reflects over his decades long career. “There’s an old song that my grandmother used to sing that said ‘may the life I live speak for me,’” Gill explains. “When you work as hard as we’ve [New Edition] worked, and the level of commitment we’ve all had made to the industry in this business, to be acknowledged is just, it’s a combination of just being accepted by your peers and understanding that the work you’ve done, didn’t go unnoticed.”
Being celebrated amongst peers feels like a culmination for Gill as he says, “it’s something just different when your peers are acknowledging you and acknowledge your work. That puts that stamp of approval on it all. It feels like you’ve come full circle when your peers have stopped at some point to acknowledge that and so this is very meaningful and very important to me as well as my family,” he adds.
Raised in a tight-knit family in D.C., the artist behind “Wrap My Body Tight” embarked on his journey as a gospel performer alongside his brothers, their childhood adorned with church performances. Despite achieving global acclaim, the Black Music Honoree has openly discussed the profound loss of his mother, Annie Mae Gill, in April of last year. This recent Mother’s Day weekend marked the first without her presence. Reflecting on her legacy, he says, “There’s some kids that grow up without a parent, without a mother or father. Yet God allowed us and afforded me the opportunity for my mom to be here for 82 years of her life and 57 years of mine. I had an opportunity for her to watch and see the work that she put in, in raising four boys as a single mother, who has been a law abiding, God fearing young men who have worked hard, and for her to see the fruits of her labor and her sacrifice. Speaking of how he honors her today, he adds, “I know that I can honor her clearly by doing what I know she wants me to do. And that is to continue to work hard and to move forward and continue to uphold our family in the highest light and level that I can.”
However, it’s that church upbringing that has carried him through his grief—his live shows are sprinkled with praise breaks where he takes time to give honor to God. He cites his own musical inspirations from the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and The Williams Brothers to Stevie Wonder and Jeffery Osborne.
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He believes the notion that all music is inherently rooted in Black sound, namely, R&B. “I always say that rhythm and blues is really where all genres of music really starts from, and I believe that there’s no better training than in church,” Gill continues. “When you can make people in church, move them with your God given gift, you know you’ve done something because that might be the toughest audience. But when you figure out how to make them reach a place where they feel a spirit that allows them to free themselves, express themselves, I don’t think there’s a better place for training than in church. I’m so grateful that I got started in church,” he adds.
While fans and peers alike may ask him if he plans to take up a second career in ministry, Gill believes that you don’t have to be in the pulpit to share a message. He says he will continue to always acknowledge God because he knows “without a doubt, if it wasn’t for him. I wouldn’t have made it these 40 years like this without him and without his protection over me.”
Outside of being honored at the upcoming Black Music Honors, Gill is with his New Edition brothers in Vegas for their ongoing residency. Gill also exclusively tells us that just last week he got back in the studio, looking forward to releasing an album independently in the near future. After an impeccable 40 years in the business, Johnny Gill calls this era of his life, “still traveling.”
“It’s still a journey that I’m still on, and still we’re all still moving. I’ve known so many people that have come in this business and are no longer around, they started when I started and some have come and gone. Yet we’ve been fortunate enough to still be doing this, and people still want to hear from you,” Gill says. “You can’t force people to do anything they don’t want to do, but to be fortunate enough and blessed enough that you’re able to resonate with people and they still want to hear from you, still want to come see you. It is truly a blessing. Having these great, opportunities that come with the journey, the chapters of our books are still being written,” Gill says.
The Black Music Honors is set to debut on the Stellar Network on Saturday, June 1st, at 8 p.m. ET, followed by a rebroadcast at 10 p.m. ET. During Black Music Month, from June 8th to June 30th, it will be available for national broadcast syndication. Additionally, mark your calendars for Wednesday, June 19th, when it will air on Bounce TV at 9 p.m. ET, coinciding with Juneteenth.

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