He worked with nearly every major artist in the gospel genre, including Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, Israel Houghton, Maurette Brown Clark, and Kirk Franklin. Modern Drummer contributor Stephen Styles explains, from the head and from the heart, just how deep an impression the drummer left.
Gifted drummer and dedicated Christian Marvin McQuitty played on the soundtrack to my walk with God. This might seem like an unusual opening for an article in a magazine that, as a general rule, focuses on the art of drumming from a secular standpoint. But it’s an inescapable fact that applies not only to me but to scores of other players who were touched by McQuitty’s life and legacy, and it provides evidence of how his career as a drummer and his commitment to his faith were inextricably tied.
To understand McQuitty’s musical impact, drumming style, and professional success, the reader must first know that all three of those things—and so much more of what made Marvin great—are directly connected to his conviction that his musical gift came from God, and that his responsibility as a drummer and a Christian was to use his talent to worship God and be a blessing to His children around the world.
There’s a scripture in the Bible (St. John 4:24, King James Bible) that says, “God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Put in the context of drumming, it’s hard to imagine another drummer whose ability to worship, and to inspire worship through his playing, has ever been as impactful as McQuitty’s. Marvin’s nearly ten-year collaboration with Fred Hammond introduced a sound to gospel drumming that had never before been heard and would help usher the presence of God into the homes, churches, and concert venues of countless listeners around the world.
For most of us, music is a major part of our lives. We play it in the car, on special occasions, or for no reason at all. In the lives of many Christians, praise-and worship music is an accompaniment to our journey in faith. It is played during church services, at home during private prayer time, and even during Bible study or times of reflection and meditation. And on more occasions than I can remember, the music I’ve chosen when I’ve desired to feel closer to God, wanted to give thanks, or needed to pray because times were hard and I didn’t know where else to turn—in my best and worst moments, the songs that played as I sang or wept or studied or praised—featured Marvin on the drums. Thousands of drummers and Christians around the world can say the same thing.
McQuitty’s father was a drummer, so from a very early age Marvin was exposed to all things rhythmic. The McQuitty household enjoyed all kinds of soul, R&B, and gospel music. Marvin was also raised in the black church, which is arguably one of the richest musical environments a developing drummer could ask for, given the energy of worship, the dancing and shouting, the quick cues that come from the choir director and preacher, and the myriad styles a drummer must have under his hand.
Having honed his craft in the woodshed, with neighborhood bands, at church, and anywhere else the music took him, Marvin was considered by many of his close friends to be one of his home state of Michigan’s best kept secrets. Were it not for his deeply rooted faith, he might have remained only a regionally known musician.
“Marvin was my brother,” recalls fellow Michigan native and gospel drumming legend Dana Davis, “and I didn’t really want him to go through so much of the negative stuff that I went through. I told him my horror stories about how the money was inconsistent on the road. He had a wife and kids and a job with benefits. But Marvin believed God, and I’m so glad he didn’t listen to me.”
Refusing to be swayed by the bad experiences of others, or even by his own concerns about being able to provide for his family, McQuitty left the security of his city job as a bus driver to accept the drum chair for Fred Hammond. This leap of faith proved to be the launching pad for a touring, recording, and producing career that would span nearly twenty years.
Hammond’s music is widely considered the most powerful and nuanced on the gospel scene, and McQuitty’s playing served to elevate the artist’s recordings and concerts to soaring heights. Hammond’s material lent itself to Marvin’s approach, which had more to do with being a worshipper than playing to be noticed. That doesn’t mean he didn’t play things that would, in fact, be noticed. But at the heart of his method was a desire to serve and elevate the song and the sound of praise. His drumming intent was, ultimately, to please God.
Stylistically, McQuitty’s playing was all about having a deep pocket and serving the song. “He had impeccable taste,” says 2011 MD Pro Panelist Jeff “Lo” Davis, “a groove that was so effective, it was sort of hidden. It lived in the music and didn’t stand out.” Marvin played with rudimental precision, masterfully infused syncopation, tasteful placement, and the use of bold hand/foot combinations to introduce a sound to gospel music that hadn’t been heard before. His style bridged the gap between the more traditional pocket sound of the ’80s and the fusion-inspired vibe heard on many gospel records today. Even his setup showed his passion for pushing the limit, featuring a double kick pedal and rack tom positioning that placed his 12″ drum to the left of his 10″. Throughout his career, he was set on being an innovator.
McQuitty expanded the role of what a drummer could and should do on a gig and otherwise. “Marvin was a good steward over every opportunity,” Dana Davis explains, “from learning more about drums to becoming more informed about mics, cables, and engineering. He never let an opportunity to learn or improve pass him by.”
Jeff Davis agrees: “Marv knew how to talk to anyone in any situation, whether it was businesspeople, record companies—anyone. He brought respect and credibility and got the industry to view gospel drummers in a whole new way. He also business managed and road-managed for several artists and was one of the first gospel drummers to really navigate getting professional endorsements.”
Affectionately known as “Uncle Marv,” McQuitty served as a major influence on an entire generation of drummers. Upon learning of his passing, drummers from around the world took to Facebook and Twitter to share their stories about how gracious, humble, and friendly Marvin was. His drumming legacy will live on in the work of many well-known players, such as his Rhythm Alliance partners Teddy Campbell, Gerald Heyward, Aaron Spears, and Gorden Campbell, who credit McQuitty for helping to shape their own unique sounds and styles.
McQuitty also leaves a legacy of strong family values. He and his wife, Kim, were married in 1988, and before Marvin’s passing the couple started a ministry called the Musician’s Family Focus, to help strengthen musical families by sharing the wisdom they’d amassed over their nearly twenty-five years of marital experience. Marvin and Kim also raised two strong and talented daughters. A testament to Marvin’s example of worshipping God through it all can be found on Kim’s blog at kimmcquitty.blogspot.com. In her entry dated October 5, 2012, titled “The DNA of a Worshipper,” Kim shares the story of how her daughters, immediately upon learning that their father had passed, lifted their hands and their hearts to God to worship. It’s an amazing and emotional story that gives rare insight into Marvin McQuitty as a man and a worshipper.
God bless you, Marvin. May you rest in peace.
Stephen Styles is the author of Modern Drummer feature stories on Chris Coleman, Keith Harris, Calvin Rogers, Camille Gainer-Jones, Joel Smith, and Jeff Davis.