Peruse the career of the celebrated gospel vocal group Take 6 and you will discover one of the key factors in its continued popularity: collaboration.
Since forming in 1980 as a smaller a cappella ensemble called The Gentlemen's Estate Club, the group now known as Take 6 has collaborated with pop and R&B celebrities Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, k.d. lang and Queen Latifah, and a host of contemporary jazz artists who include David Sanborn, Joe Sample and Marcus Miller.
So it should come as little surprise that Take 6 performs in Lexington this weekend on a bill that places the multiple Grammy and Dove award-winning group alongside the Lexington Philharmonic and the Kentucky State University Gospel Ensemble.
"From the very beginning of our career, it has always been important for us to stay in as creative a mode as we can," Take 6 founding vocalist Claude V. McKnight III said. "And that often includes collaborations with others, whether that be in the writing process or recordings or the live shows. It can be with an orchestra, a choir, or other solo performers and instrumentalists. We try to do it all."
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Take 6's most recent album — (outside of the 2010 holiday recording The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — emphasizes its collaborative spirit while heavily laced with jazz and soul accents. On 2008's The Standard, the group enlisted help from Aaron Neville; George Benson; Brian McKnight, the Take 6 founder's younger brother; Al Jarreau; and by way of some nifty editing, the late Ella Fitzgerald.
But the highlight comes in an arrangement of the Miles Davis classic Seven Steps to Heaven, which enlists Jarreau and veteran jazz singer Eddie Jefferson. The tune, which typifies Take 6's light and lyrical harmonies, earned the group a Grammy nomination in 2009 (it has won 10).
"When I started in this group, I was a freshman in college," McKnight said. "It was basically a hobby. I had no idea I would be doing this for my life's work. Certainly, 30 years later, it has been a huge blessing.
"And we've been blessed to collaborate with so many wonderful artists that have let us weave in and out of jazz, R&B, pop, country and, obviously, gospel. It's all been very, very cool."