Coko: The Winner In Me, Making the Transition From Secular to Gospel

by Louise M Moore

(August 13, 2009) Cheryl "Coko" Clemons is best known as the lead singer of the platinum selling 1990s R&B trio Sisters With Voices (SWV) but with the release of her debut gospel CD Grateful in 2006, she quickly validated her success as a solo gospel artist with Dove, Stellar and Grammy award nominations. Now, three years later, Coko has released her second gospel album The Winner In Me on Light Records and has already received stellar reviews with an impressive debut at #4 on the Billboard Gospel Chart.

Coko's extraordinary, signature soprano voice is in a class of its own. A former member of Hezekiah Walker's Love Fellowship Choir, Coko is well acquainted with gospel. Residing in Virginia Beach, VA, Coko is the wife of Mike Clemons, a producer and drummer for gospel star Israel Houghton. In an interview with AIRPLAY 360, Coko talks about her new project, the transition from secular to gospel and lessons learned from her experience in the music business.

A360: How did the title track The Winner In Me come about?
Coko: The song was produced by my husband and written by my pastor Kerry Smith who wrote the song for his wife. He wanted my mother (Lady Tibba Gamble) to sing it and I heard the song and the words and lyrics in the song I could relate to, so I asked him if I could have it and if he'd let me record it. Out of all the songs on the album I really felt that one spoke volumes so I decided to go with that one (for the title track).

A360: On this album, you collaborated with Kelly Price, Canton Jones and Youthful Praise. Why do you have more collaborations on this project than you did on your previous album Grateful?
Coko: No special reason. It just happened that way. I always work with different producers.
A360: So that means different artists to collaborate with, right?
Coko: Yes.

A360: Everyone has someone that inspires them to do what they do. Who inspires you?
Coko: My mom, my family and my pastor and my church family.

A360: Some artists describe themselves as an urban inspirational or jazz gospel artist? How do you describe yourself?
Coko: I'm just an artist that makes good music. I don't need a title on my name or anything. I'm just an artist that makes good, positive music.

A360: Is there any chance that in future projects, you'll work with the girls of SWV?
Coko: Yes, it's possible that they will be on something else. They were supposed to be on this record but it didn't work out but hopefully something will happen in the future.

A360: Since you made the transition from secular to gospel, have you gotten much advice from artists like Kelly Price who also made the transition?
Coko: No, I don't talk to a lot of people or ask for advice but Kelly was presented around the same time that I was. Me, Kelly and Dave Hollister all came over at the same time. But my husband came over (to gospel) before me. He has been playing with Israel for sometime now.

A360: What's the difference that you experience in the audience between secular and gospel? How is the energy different?
Coko: In R&B they just love you. They want to hear your music. They like to feel good and they'll get with you. In gospel, it's a little bit harder. You have to sing a little harder. If you don't do a few riffs and runs they might look at you funny. You have to sing harder in gospel.

A360: So, do you feel like gospel has embraced you pretty well?
Coko: Yes, I think so. I think at first they were a little leery thinking like here's another R&B artist coming over here singing gospel. But I think now they have come to embrace me and they're being cool.

A360: Are there any lessons that you've learned from secular that you would like to share with our readers--lessons you now use as an inspirational artist?
Coko: Definitely you learn how to take care of your business. Make sure your business is straight. Don't rely on anyone to handle to your business for you. Stay on top of everything yourself. You have lawyers and managers but you still have to stay on top of it to make sure everything is straight for yourself.

As Coko presents The Winner In Me, it is evident that she has completely evolved as a gospel artist complete with a solid foundation of family, spirituality and good business sense.
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About Airplay 360

AIRPLAY 360 is a monthly published digital magazine designed to inform, empower and motivate independent inspirational musical artists by offering a soundboard of information provided by artists, producers, label executives and other industry professionals.
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