Angel Sessions has known she wanted to be a professional singer ever since she hit the stage at a talent show in her native Louisville, Kentucky, and proceeded to bring the house down with a rendition of the Natalie Cole hit “Our Love.” Angel was six at the time.
Although she credits Cole and Aretha Franklin as early influences and Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Yolanda Adams, Celine Dion, and Faith Evans as current favorites, Angel’s “true inspiration,” she says, has been her mother, Pastor Carolyn Murphy. “I remember when I was four years old,” Angel recalls. “I was in my room singing, and she came into the room and said, ‘You sing so beautiful.’ From then on, every time she would have company, she would call me to the living room to have me sing and entertain her friends. She would always brag about me. That would inspire me to sing more. She was just trying to bring it out of me and help me not to be shy. The more I sang, the more I liked it.”
Veteran R&B songwriter-producer Fred Pittman was floored the moment he heard Angel’s sweetly soaring mezzo-soprano. “When I saw her sing live, I realized how good this girl is,” he says. “That’s when I got hooked. She’s one of the rare great ones that you find. That’s why she deserves all the commitment we can give her.”
That commitment began with the singer’s auspicious debut album, Introducing Angel, released in 1998 on the producer’s own Pittmobile label and distributed by Ichiban Records. The disc’s single, a Pittman-penned ballad titled “She Was Never Her,” received extensive airplay in California and throughout the Southern states, as did the video.
For a follow-up, Pittman decided to make Angel the first artist to appear on the newly reactivated Volt label, historic home of such legends as Otis Redding, the Bar-Kays, the Emotions, and the Dramatics. Although he has albums by such old-school soul greats as the Delfonics, the Dells, the Dramatics, Brenda Holloway, L.J. Reynolds, and Lenny Williams in the works for Volt, Pittman chose Angel’s Love Ride as the rejuvenated label’s initial release because of his unflagging faith in her awe-inspiring talent, a belief shared by Volt’s parent company, Fantasy, Inc., of Berkeley, California.
Love Ride not only features Angel’s radiant vocals but also five of her original contemporary R&B compositions, including the hip-hop flavored ballad “Get It Right” in which she demands respect from her man. Produced by and co-written with Atlanta’s Marcello 9, whose credits include work with TLC and other LaFace artists, “Get It Right” is the album’s first single, the video of which features football star-turned-actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson in the role of Angel’s father. Also serving as producers on Love Ride were producers Preston Glass, Claytoven, Larry Batiste, Tony Camillo, Andre Rivers, and, of course, Pittman, who also contributed three of his own handsomely crafted tunes.
Unlike some artists who find themselves torn between the spiritual and the secular, Angel has never been uncomfortable with her double passion for gospel and popular music. Born on September 30, 1971, she developed her vocal chops as a child by mimicking the voices she heard on records and on television commercials. As a teenager, she turned her talents primarily to gospel, as a featured soloist with the choir at Woodland Park Church of God in Christ in San Diego (where she moved with her family when she was 14) and later at that city’s Brother’s Keeper Church of God in Christ (pastored by her mother).
Her mother and church members were supportive when Angel decided to pursue a career in R&B. “They always felt that God gave me a gift and you just use it for His glory,” she explains. “They encouraged me to just sing for Him. Even with love songs, that’s God’s love. I don’t sing anything dirty or that’s gonna disrespect someone. Every song that I write or that someone else writes for me has a lot of meaning to it.”
One song that had special meaning for Angel was Mariah Carey’s 1991 hit “Make It Happen.” “It touched me,” Angel says. “I’d always wanted to get into the music industry. There was just something about her lyrics. She says, ‘If you get down tonight and pray to the Lord, He’s gonna make it happen.’ That’s when I wrote my songs ‘Cherish’ and ‘You Came into My Life.’ Those were the first two love
songs I wrote, although I’d written a lot of gospel songs before then.”
Relocating to Oakland—“It was pretty hot,” she says; “That’s when Hammer and En Vogue were out”—Angel cut a demo of her songs, as well as a Loren Reed-directed video of “Cherish.” The video received some play in Sacramento and won a contest at BET, though the cable network never aired it. For the next eight years, Angel performed at clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Southern California, opening shows for such artists as Tevin Campbell, Tisha Campbell, Tramaine Hawkins, Howard Hewett, and H-Town and doing showcase performances in hopes of getting a record deal. She finally landed one, but the day before she was scheduled to go into the studio, the producer was killed in an auto accident.
“I guess it just wasn’t my time yet,” she reflects. “I just kept steady writing and steady performing. My writing ability got better and better,
and I felt like I was getting stronger vocally. I waited eight years to get through the door to get a deal, and it happened, praise the Lord.”
With her debut Volt release, Love Ride, Angel’s time has finally arrived. “I think this album is much more mature than the first album. Fred kind of saw me where Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey have been vocal-wise. Being the great songwriter that he is, he started writing more songs that bring out the vocal ability in me.
“I love sharing my gift,” she adds. “I just want people to buy the album and let it do the talking. The album does speak for itself. The songs, the arrangements, and the vocal ability are all there. And when they do, they’ll know who Angel Sessions is.”