Meet Trey McLaughlin, gospel king and choir director
In the United States and around the world, Trey McLaughlin has earned a well-deserved place at centre stage in the pantheon of gospel music. He is known for taking a unifying and community-based approach that audiences find profoundly moving. A few weeks ahead of his Montreal concert with his group The Sounds of Zamar, featuring some twenty voices, let’s meet this artist who has been pushing the boundaries of the genre by delving into both the pop and traditional repertoires.
“Passion, and the message, and community are the main things that people should take away from hearing and experiencing gospel music.”
- Trey McLaughlin in an interview on wbur, NPR’s Boston affiliate.
African American Heritage
Like all gospel singers, McLaughlin certainly loves the genre for its musical power, but perhaps above all for its unifying and spiritual aspect. “Gospel is a collective expression of emotion and faith,” he says. And that goes for non-Christians too. “The gospel repertoire has a strong biblical basis, but, for me, it’s above all an expression of universal feelings. It bears witness to the ordeals the African American people endured, which, I believe, can give rise to a form of universal compassion.”
Given that his informal videos (shot by his mom) sometimes go viral on YouTube—the most popular one garnering over 7 million views—, one would have to agree with him!
Part of the repertoire Trey McLaughlin enjoys is therefore tied to the history of slavery in America. “These songs were a way for African Americans to create a community despite historical oppressions.” Witnessing a performance by Trey McLaughlin and The Sounds of Zamar is both an immersion into this troubled past, as well as a way to begin a multi-layered musical journey into a repertoire that has progressively let itself be influenced by pop, R&B, hip hop, blues, soul, and even rock’n’roll. Asked about his influences, McLaughlin mentions Daryl Coley… but Brandy and Monica as well!
Gospel is in his blood
Trey McLaughlin’s mother was herself a gospel choir advisor. One can imagine young Trey developing an interest in singing at a very early age, watching his mother lead groups in the rehearsal hall. In an interview with YouTuber and singer Dileesa Archer, he mentions that those early days resulted in his love for rehearsals, and that he is constantly astounded by those moments when a choir comes to a full understanding of a song as part of the process.
So, it is the unassuming, community-focused nature of gospel that McLaughlin finds especially moving—even though his background is in classical music (he’s a baritone) and his activities often find him combining his “academic” and “community” approaches.
He appeared in a few operas in France early in his career but felt he didn’t really want to continue along that path. The call of gospel was too strong. “When I graduated from college, I started to get invitations to sing at churches and events. I’m actually very shy, so I asked my friends to come with me. And then I started to teach them my own arrangements. And so, from there, we kind of started a group,” he says on wbur.
The musician enjoys a flourishing international career with his group. But the man continues to be involved in his local community in Augusta, Georgia. Music is for him, above all, a vehicle for social commitment and a space in which to create and maintain ties with his community. In Augusta, he also devotes a lot of time to teaching voice and piano.
“The spirit of gospel is, first and foremost, a gathering on a community level. But this doesn’t mean that people from all over the world can’t come together to thrill to this music, sometimes without even speaking the same language or sharing the same cultural traits. And that’s one of my favourite things!”
- Trey McLaughlin
Trey McLaughlin and The Sounds of Zamar will be in Montreal for the very first time on February 2, 2024, in Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts.
Listen Trey McLaughlin & The Sounds of Zamar in this playlist :