Dove Award and NAACP Image Award producer and recording artist Damien Sneed returns to his Gospel roots with the release of his brand-new project, Damien Sneed UNPLUGGED on Friday, April 16, 2021, on his boutique label, LeChateau Earl Records. UNPLUGGED is a collection of soulful and inspirational songs, recorded in a free-form, spare studio setting with Sneed on piano and vocals alongside several noted vocalists, including Chenee Campbell, Linny Smith, Tiffany Stevenson, and Matia Washington.
To coincide with the release of UNPLUGGED, on April 16, the Washington Performing Arts’ Home Delivery Plus will broadcast Sneed as the headlining artist. The Home Delivery Plus concert will be recorded at Washington, D.C.’s historic Lincoln Theatre. Sneed will focus on the gospel side of his repertoire, leading a virtuosic ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists with a special guest appearance by Stellar Gospel Music Award-winning artist Tasha Page-Lockhart, who has a string of Billboard chart-topping recordings to her credit. She is also a past winner of BET Network’s “Sunday Best,” a gospel-singing competition show. Sneed’s forthcoming album, UNPLUGGED, will be released on all digital retail and streaming platforms (click the link here).
UNPLUGGED reunites Sneed with singers whose careers he has seen grow over the years and with whom he has strong relationships. “I’m super proud of this album because all of the singers have grown up in the industry,” Sneed explains. “They all sing with major artists and they’re all artists in their own right.” Though most of the songs were previously recorded by Sneed, they were not previously rehearsed by the ensemble, and most are recorded in two parts to extend the improvisational feel. “We wanted people to just hear the raw execution of what just happened in the studio. We have never done that before. We just went in the studio saying, ‘No rehearsals whatsoever,’” says Sneed.
The project is the first studio album under Sneed’s name to be entirely within the gospel genre and bears similarities to his 2015 double-disc project, Broken To Minister: The Deluxe Edition. Sneed won both a 2020 Dove Award and a 2021 NAACP Image Award as a producer for the album’s title single, “Broken To Minister,” which was also recorded by The Clark Sisters’ on their award-winning project, The Return, released on March 13, 2020.
Weaving their incredible voices into intuitive and wholly unrehearsed harmonies at New York’s AlJo Studios in Queens, Sneed and his singers infuse the traditional spiritual “Oh, Freedom” and previously recorded tunes like “Still Small Voice” and “Broken to Minister” with incandescent fervor. Sneed chose to record “Oh Freedom” as a direct response to the unjust killing of George Floyd and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “In the Black church, gospel music was also big for protests and reconciliations, focused social chains,” he explains. “I was just bringing back the significance of what gospel and the church stood for in civil rights.”
While Sneed and his singers and musicians were nervous about the coronavirus, they stepped out on faith by recording together in a single room, thrilled at the opportunity to create once more after so many pandemic shutdowns stopped them from performing live. The joy of their collaboration is evident in every note. “We were a little scared,” Sneed admits, “but we trusted each other.”
As a multi-genre recording artist and instrumentalist, Damien Sneed is a pianist, vocalist, organist, composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and arts educator whose work spans multiple genres. He has also worked with jazz, classical, pop, and R&B legends, including the late Aretha Franklin and Jessye Norman, and is featured on Norman’s final recording, Bound For The Promised Land. He also worked with Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Ashford & Simpson, J’Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee, Brandie Inez Sutton, and many others. Sneed has served as music director for Grammy Award-winning gospel artists The Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Kim Burrell, among others.
Sneed is also the founder and artistic director of Chorale Le Chateau, which has gained a global reputation for its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance period pieces to art songs to jazz, spirituals, gospel, and avant-garde contemporary music. His other recordings include Classically Harlem (which commemorated the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance (1920-2020), Jazz in Manhattan (September 2019), and Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome (January 2019), Broken to Minister: The Deluxe Edition (March 2015), Spiritual Sketches (June 2013), and Introspections LIVE (January 2010).
Sneed is featured in Aaron Dworkin’s new book, The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives (December 4, 2019). The book also features Emmy Award-winning actor Jeff Daniels, Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones, and Pulitzer Prize winners Wynton Marsalis and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others. The Entrepreneurial Artist explores lessons of love, sacrifice, loss, despair, perseverance, and triumph.
The Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipient is also featured in the award-winning PBS documentary Everyone Has a Place, which stars Wynton Marsalis. The film captures Sneed’s journey as the musical conductor of the historic performance of Marsalis’ “Abyssinian Mass,” which was performed by the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Sneed’s 70-piece Chorale LeChateau.
In 2019, Sneed joined the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, where he teaches graduate-level courses in conducting, African American Music History, a singer/songwriter ensemble, a gospel music ensemble, and private lessons in piano, voice, and composition. A graduate of John S. Davidson Fine Arts School in his hometown of Augusta, GA., Sneed studied at some of the finest conservatories and universities, including Howard University, where he earned a Bachelor of Music – Piano Performance; the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University; New York University, where he earned a Master of Music in Music Technology: Scoring for Film and Multimedia; and the Manhattan School of Music. Sneed will graduate with his doctorate in Orchestral Conducting from USC in 2021. Sneed was a member of the faculty at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Nyack College.
His other professional affiliations have included The Juilliard School as a staff accompanist, Jazz at Lincoln Center as an artistic consultant, and the City University of New York (CUNY) as a professor of music. In 2015, Sneed established the Damien Sneed Performing Arts Institute, a division of the Damien Sneed Foundation.
In 2019 and 2020, Sneed embarked on two 40-city North American tours, “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., featuring Damien Sneed.” In honor of Dr. King, Sneed delivered his brand of classical, jazz, and sanctified soul to venues across the country during MLK’s holiday, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month.