Q&A: Khari Wendell McClelland goes from gospel to contemporary cool

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Vancouver vocalist Khari Wendell McClelland and the Unsung Heroes appear at the 2016 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival opening for multiple Grammy Award-winning artist Ms. Lauryn Hill.

A member of the Juno-nominated gospel trio the Sojourners alongside Marcus Mosely and Will Sanders, the dapper McClelland is involved in many fascinating projects. His documentation and performance of the music of the Underground Railroad titled Freedom Singer has received national and international response. His debut single Roll On rolled out in February.

Q: You originally hail from Detroit. Is that where the inspiration for your underground railroad music came from?

A: Two of my great, great grandparents fled from slavery to Canada. Also, I was reading a book about a couple who escaped to Canada from Kentucky via the Underground Railroad and I immediately thought “where is the music, it must have been there.” Canada Council and CBC have shown full support.

Q: It seems that you are on a career trajectory moving from gospel roots to this project to your own sweet sounds like Roll On.

A: My vision for my path was inspired by Sam Cooke, who started with the gospel quartet the Soul Stirrers and then led to him writing and performing his own solo material and sharing his gifts. He kept showing support for the Soul Stirrers as well and I hope to share that complete vision too.

Q: Will your jazz festival set include material from all of your interests?

A: Absolutely, including some material that is utterly unavailable in any other form that I’ve been working on recently.

Q: Opening for Lauryn Hill must be exciting.

A: I was probably 19 when she played St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit with the Fugees and looking at her at the time and thinking they were amazing and doing incredible things. Opening for her is a huge thrill and a great opportunity. It’s one step on a staircase leading into the infinite.

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