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After Three Decades Of Harmony, Take 6 Prepares For The Release Of 'Iconic'

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Take 6
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For nearly 35 years, the members of Take 6 have been captivating audiences around the world with their vocal talent.

The group is one of the most celebrated vocal groups in history with 10 Grammy wins, 10 Dove Gospel Music Awards, a Soul Train Award, Jazz Honors and more. The sextet has collaborated with such artists as Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Ella Fitzgerald, The Manhattan Transfer and KD Lang.

In 1980, new student Claude McKnight was looking to form an acapella group on the campus of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. At first, the group was called The Gentleman's Estate Quartet, but eventually changed its name to Take 6.

McKnight was on the hunt for just the right singers for the group.

"I started a quartet as a freshman there, and this particular university has a really rich heritage of acapella groups," McKnight says. "So I just wanted to have one of the groups on campus, but I also wanted the group to be different, so we added a 5th member and then a 6th member, which enabled us to do a lot more of the extended jazz harmonies that all of us really love.

"We set ourselves apart from all of the other groups, and the rest is kind of history."

KMUW's Carla Eckels recently sat down and spoke with the Take 6 founder.

Interview Highlights

Carla Eckels: Back in the day, one of the songs that particularly struck me was "Milky White Way," and when you all would sing that part about "when I get to heaven," that's incredible music. I mean, that right there is just the sweet spot of that song.

Claude McKnight III: That's funny because as you are talking about the song, I'm trying to get it back in my mind the actual lyrics. I sing the lead on that song. It's a standard of a gospel song, and so many artists and groups have done that song, and for us, we have been singing it a long time before we recorded it, and it's always meant something really special to us.

You've got to tell me, what's a rehearsal like for Take 6?

Rehearsal is intense because these arrangements that we do are no joke. Mark Kibble is still one of the best arrangers on the planet, and so we kind of have a way that we go about it. We do it in sections and sometimes from the end of the song back to the beginning.

How do you keep your voice in tip-top shape after all these years?

It's actually about finding the rest when you can. That's pretty much it. When you are on tour, you need to sleep as much as you can. I mean, we learned that from Al Jarreau. The first major tour that we went on in America was with Al, and [he] would literally sleep up until it was time for sound check. We thought that was funny at the time, but now that we are at that age, it's like, "Oh, man, if I could sleep right now I would."

Who do you listen to? Who impresses you?

You know, as far as some of the artists that are out there now, contemporary artists, I love Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran is a great artist, Tori Kelly — these are really young artists who are taking the game to a new level. So I listen to them because you can always learn something. I think that any musician that thinks they know it all is doing themselves a disservice.

Any advice you would give to an up-and-coming artist that wants to do what you do?

Absolutely. I would say work at your craft endlessly, first and foremost, and then make sure that what you do is authentic and genuine. Make it you. Don't try to be someone else or pattern yourself after artists that you love or whatever, make it distinctly you, so that when people hear you, they can say, "Wow, I like that artist."

What was it like working with the legendary Stevie Wonder? He's been on so many projects, and I had read he actually had the song "Spread Love" on his answering machine.

Stevie is our big brother. He's been a colleague and a mentor from the very beginning of our career, and he's a friend, so that's what's amazing about it. And yes, we have worked with him numerous times. This last time we just wanted harmonica because we hadn't really had that on any of our recordings, so that was amazing. When you hear Stevie Wonder playing harmonica, you know it's Stevie!

Toward the end of your song "Come On," you are talking about having a victory. It's really celebratory. It's like something you feel in your heart.

Well, from the beginning, it's always been about uplifting people, and our mantra, to this day, is "Spread Love" because you can't do anything better than that. So we always wanted to be upbeat, always wanted to be happy and always wanted to send a positive message to people.

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What's new for Take 6?

For Take 6, we're working on a new project. It's something that we are really proud of. It's called "Iconic," and it's a collection of really amazing songs that everybody has heard of.

Can you give us a little idea?

I can tell you this: I'm going to give you one song 'cause this is a song that we've been doing live, it's "Got To Get You Into My Life," the Earth, Wind & Fire arrangement.

Everybody loves Earth Wind & Fire!

How can you not like Earth, Wind & Fire? They are one of those groups that have always had peace and love and joy and energy through their music, and so it gets into your blood.

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Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

 
To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.