Remembering the hugely influential and multifaceted gospel drummer.
Joel Smith, one of the most prolific drummers in the gospel music scene, passed away this past September 8 at the age of fifty-eight. Beginning in the mid ’70s, Smith carved out a unique position as the musical centerpiece of gospel royalty with his uncles Edwin and Walter Hawkins, who were among the first gospel artists in a generation to achieve crossover success by selling millions of records and earning multiple Grammy awards and nominations. Smith sat right in the heart of various Hawkins’ projects on drums and, later, bass. In fact, he possessed so much talent on both instruments, he’d often record drums on Hawkins’ sessions and then overdub bass on those same tracks.
In addition to projects with the Hawkins family, Smith became an in- demand session player and producer, arranging and performing on countless gospel, R&B, and jazz records, movie scores, and more. A consummate professional, his ability and achievements were only rivaled by his humility and graciousness. Joel was that rare breed that didn’t wear his success or ego on his sleeve.
In a video recently uploaded to YouTube titled “Joel Smith Testimony to Musicians,” the drummer shared his view that musicians must remember that we’re all gifted by God to use our abilities to show his love. “We all have a tool that God has given us,” the drummer said. “And we can’t misrepresent it.”
Smith certainly didn’t misrepresent his gifts throughout his career, and his forward-thinking playing created a rhythmic vibe on the kit that’s influenced many of today’s top drummers, including Jeremy Haynes, Gerald Heyward, Chris Coleman, Robert “Sput” Searight, and Calvin Rodgers. These drummers proudly acknowledge Smith as one of their greatest inspirations, as Rodgers himself testifies. “I discovered the wonderful musicianship of Joel Smith at a very young age,” Rodgers tells MD. “His drumming connected with me in a way that
I can’t begin to explain. He is my reason. I grew up being a fan, and much later became a friend and a brother. I will miss this wonderful musician and his genuine smile. But I am just one of many who will carry on his legacy and shout his name every chance given. Rest in love, Joel Smith.”
The twenty-third KoSA International Percussion Workshop and Drum Camp was held this past June 25–30 at the KoSA Academy in Montreal. The camp’s cofounders and directors, Aldo Mazza and his wife, Dr. Jolán Kovács, hosted the five- day event, which featured instruction on world percussion instruments such as congas, bongos, djembes, cajóns, and drumset and within styles including Cuban, African, jazz, funk, and rock. The event’s theme, “Play Better,” focused on taking control in your life by studying with top players and applying what you learn to improve yourself. Attendees ranging in age from eleven to sixty-seven came from the United States and Canada and represented all levels of ability.
Clinicians and performers included Mazza, Concordia University professor Jim Doxas, percussionist and educator Yves Cypihot, educator, author, and Broadway drummer Joe Bergamini (via Skype), percussionist Glen Velez, drummer and educator Sergio Bellotti, percussionist Glen Velez, and the Cuban rumba group Clave y Guaguancó.
Also present was Snarky Puppy’s Larnell Lewis, who taught and spoke about his beginnings in music and what it takes to make it in the business. Lewis received a KoSA Lifetime Achievement Award for his creative and innovative drumming concepts and techniques. In addition, the drummer and educator Emmanuelle Caplette led participants through a grueling regimen of drumset techniques that stemmed from her own background in the drum corps world. The camp wrapped up with a clinic from Mark Guiliana (Donny McCaslin, David Bowie), in his second appearance as a KoSA faculty member.
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Aaron Spears (Ariana Grande) is endorsing Sonor drums.