O'Land Draper 1963-1998

Another soldier has gone home. The gospel world was both shocked and saddened when the word went forth that O’Landa Draper, who had led his choir The Associates to international fame, had died in a Nashville, Tennessee hospital the morning of July 21, 1998, after a brief illness and renal (kidney) failure.

by Tim A. Smith

Missed will be the high-energy, trend-setting style that had endeared O’Landa Draper & The Associates to gospel music fans far and wide. "This is a big loss to the gospel world," says ATF Records artist and O’Landa’s cousin, Ann McCrary. "O’Landa was on the cutting edge of contemporary gospel music. He was a prolific writer and arranger. It will be years from now before people look back on his work and realize what a talent he really was."

Draper realized that music would be his way of life after moving to Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 13. Soon after settling in his new surroundings, he joined the glee club at Graceland Jr. High School. He later headed his first gospel choir at Overton High School.

Although his family was concerned about the direction he was moving in, Draper started and continued to write and sing gospel songs. "I just knew there was something there," said Draper. "I was so mesmerized by the effect of gospel (music) on me. I would sit in my room and shed tears, feeling the importance of what the words were saying and the life that they could bring."

Draper eventually went on to attend Memphis State University, where he directed the school’s gospel choir. This later inspired Draper to form The Associates in 1986 after leaving school. The choir went from its original 12 members to the 60 members they now boast.

Draper & The Associates’ first big break came when they backed Shirley Ceasar on her popular recording. "I Remember Mama." The union worked so well together, they were asked to back Caesar once more on her "Stand Still" project.

The gospel music industry recognized the talents of O’Landa Draper & The Associates by bestowing upon them a Dove and Stellar Award, five Grammy nominations, two Dove nominations and six Stellar Award nominations.

Draper and the choir has shared the stage with pop music superstar Billy Joel at the 1994 Grammy Awards, appeared on his hit single and video River Of Dreams, as well as having performed with Patti Austin and the San Francisco Symphony, Jennifer Holliday, Yolanda Adams, Albertina Walker, Carman and Russ Taff.

Although O’Landa Draper may have left us, the gift he left behind was his current Warner Alliance release, "Reflections." The album speaks of faith, repentance, living for God and God’s life-changing love for people. It artistically reflects how meticulous Draper was about his presentation.

"He’d bring the best out of you without being harsh," says McCrary. "A lot of people don’t like working under that kind of perfection, but the end result was a good sounding choir. And he would be so humorous in the way that he would point out what you needed to work on that you wanted to give him your best. That’s just the way he was with others and his own choir."

O’Landa Draper was vibrant and youthful and "Reflections" represents just that. "Give It Up has more of an urbanized beat for the youth," said Draper. "But message-wise, both Give It Up and our arrangement of the hymn Yield Not To Temptation bring the same message to the table, but for different generations. We’re encouraging people all over the land to hang on to the positive things in life and let the things that are not wholesome fall by the wayside. In other words, ‘Let not the things that separate us from God hold us back."

"Reflections" includes other songs which exemplify the joy, the excitement in knowing Jesus, which was O’Landa Draper. There’s the rousing, upbeat Come On Lift Him Up; the Latin flavor flowing through Make A Joyful Noise and the jubilant, churchy feel oozing from God Will Provide and In The Name Of Jesus.

Although O’Landa Draper will be best remembered for his music, he was much more than that. "He was a free spirit and he’d keep you in stitches," remembers McCrary. "He always had a smile and something funny to say. If you were feeling down, he was the best medicine you could take."

O’Landa Draper, the man and his humor will be missed, but his music shall live on.

Reprinted by permission from Sound and Spirit Christian Music Club.