MY FIRST PROFILE: Ben Tankard
The Godfather of Gospel Jazz
Ben Tankard doesn't know this (yet), but he is a long time mentor of mine.
He is the one who first turned me on to Christian Jazz music in the early 90's. Before the discovery of his music, I didn't know that there were Christians performing or recording Jazz.
Boy was I wrong, and fortunately so!
I had the privilege of meeting Ben in 2000, shortly after the release of his "Christmas Love" CD.
Though he is rightly known today as the "Godfather of Gospel Jazz," he was known back then simply as, "The Minstrel."
He was fresh off the heels of a highly successful release of his CD by that name a year prior, and was in my area, ministering at Faith Bible Church in Fort Mill, SC.
He ministered the Word and music for Pastor Sherwood Wilson for all three of the church's services. Between the 2nd and 3rd service, Pastor Wilson invited me to his inner chamber to conduct an interview with Ben for my groundbreaking nightly Christian Jazz radio show on WOGR-FM, Charlotte, called "The Dove."
We discussed Ben's recent project, "The Minstrel," which he shared was recorded directly to DAT and sent to the record label (Zomba) from his home studio, without editing!
Because of the anointing that he felt on the album, he didn't want to touch the songs after they were initially recorded, even leaving in a few mistakes that ended up showing the character of the project.
Ben was musically gifted from a very young age, and got his musical start playing drums in his parents' church. He also took up the tuba, and played the instrument in his high school band. He became so skilled with it, that he rose to the #3 ranked high school tuba player in the country.
Used primarily as a bass instrument, Ben learned to read bass notes through his tuba studies, and developed an affinity for basslines that exists to this day (enabling him to effectively sequence his own basslines in much of his music).
Though acknowledging a call on his life to glorify God through music (as well as a musical gifting to facilitate that call), Ben nurtured his athletic abilities. He chose to play basketball instead of pursuing music beyond high school.
"Sometimes when God calls us, we pretend to have a hearing problem..." Ben shared with me.
"I knew that God called me. God extends mercy and grace to cover our hard headedness... when we sometimes choose to visit Amnesia, Texas!"
"I was in Amnesia, Texas for 22 years!
But God is a good God. We open ourselves up to allow certain things to happen to us when we take ourselves out from under the umbrella of God's protection, through disobedience.
But God is able to bring about a restoration for us that makes it all the better, as we return to His will. He did not create the destruction we can face as a result of our choices, however.
Because He's a loving God, He can make those things work for our good."
Speaking of the injury that ended his prospective NBA career:
"It wasn't God's fault that I was showing out and showing off; trying to dunk on somebody! I came down on that brother's foot, and messed my knee up."
Speaking of the depression and hard times that followed his injury:
"I faced my mistakes due to not yielding to Him, showing off, and losing everything. Having come back to Him though, I look and see all of this that He has now given me."
Ben spoke to me about growing up very poor, to a Pastor father and a Missionary mother in Florida.
"I worked on a farm shoveling manure in a chicken house every morning for extra money to help the family. We were so poor though, that we didn't have running water. So, I would have to go on to school with the smell of chicken manure still on me. Kids came to nickname me, "Tank-o-Stank."
Through basketball, Ben had hoped for a long and prosperous career in the NBA, through which he and his entire family could live an entirely new life.
When the hope of that career came to a tragic halt, depression gripped him profoundly, and financial struggles forced him into a season of homelessness.
Depressed, homeless, hungry, and questioning the purpose of his life... Ben found himself at a revival service, where a preacher called him up by the Spirit to pray over him.
The preacher spoke prophetically over Ben, and over the gift and calling God had already placed within him.
He anointed Ben's hands with oil, and ordered him to sit down at a nearby piano.
Without any prior piano lessons or practice, Ben began to play a genre bending combination of Gospel and Jazz that almost singlehandedly started a movement right then and there!
Though now armed with a marketable gift, prosperity didn't come for Ben right away.
He was, however, immediately able to get a job as a keyboard demonstrator at a local music store. This job, he recalls, changed his life. He was able to purchase musical gear at a discounted rate, and eventually built a home studio.
"I started recording demos for people at $25 an hour. Back then everybody wanted to 'make a rekkit,'" he recalled with laughter.
Through his early local production work, he found that his recordings got better and better.
A demo recording for one of his customers even got that customer signed to a record deal. That customer was saxophonist Allen "TD" Wiggins, who went on to co-found the pioneering Gospel Jazz duo, Allen & Allen.
His work with Allen & Allen gave him exposure as a producer, and inspired him to produce his own CD.
Initially sold from the trunk of his car, until discovered and re-distributed by Atlanta International Records, Ben's 1989 debut, "All Keyed Up," began an illustrious string of 22 chart topping projects that catapulted him to Stellar Awards, Dove Awards, and Grammy nominations as one of history's most decorated and best selling Gospel Jazz artists.
Ben also went on to discover Yolanda Adams not long after he began his solo career, and has since produced and collaborated on multiple hundreds of album projects.
When I sat down for a friendly chat with this kind man, great in stature at 6'8", he was very gracious and jovial... with a strong spirit of gratitude for God's grace and anointing operating in his life.
Though he only has seven years on me, age-wise, he enjoys the fruits of a 32 year career... while I am just starting out in 2021.
I am starting as he did, doing it all from my home studio... but with such a trailblazer having carved the path through the wilderness already, by God's grace... I certainly now have a well defined niche to settle into.
Thanks so much for all that you have done, Pastor Ben! May the Lord continue to bless your amazing career!