THROUGH THE STORM: Fred Hammond
With all his pioneering success in gospel music—which includes his successes with Commissioned, his forging the advent of praise and worship with Radical For Christ and a string of hit solo CDs that have made him the third best-selling gospel artist of all-time, multiple Dove, Stellar and Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Fred Hammond has had his own unique set of trials and tribulations.
Fact is, for the better part of the last two decades while on stage singing such classic hits as “Glory To Glory”, “You Are The Living Word” and “No Weapon (Formed Against Me Will Prosper)”, Hammond was in excruciating knee and leg pain.
Not only on stage, but simple ordinary day-to-day tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs, going through an airport or even shopping would end in pain. He considered surgery, but two things held him back. The first being his doctor, who suggested that he wait until he was 58 or 60 years old—which meant at least another five years of pain.
The second reason was that it was the very same surgery that his father—who was only having one knee done—died of complications from after the surgery.
“So, over the years I learned to function and live with the pain and I used to sweat a lot. I would be standing at the airport drenched in sweat,” Hammond said. “I tried to claim victory, live through the pain and not get the much-needed surgery. But in doing that, I reached a place where my knees had become so severely damaged that the doctor said I could no longer wait.
“So, in August 2013—along with my doctor and my family—I made the decision that the first of the year-January 3, 2014 I would have both knees replaced. Normally it’s suggested that you have the knees done one at a time-but both my knees were so bad-and I had little downtime to have two separate surgeries-so I went ahead with the decision to have them both done.”
The surgery went well, but he couldn’t have been more ill-prepared for what followed.
“I think I got tricked,” says Hammond. “My doctor had told me about the consequences of doing both knees at the same time, but then he shared with me about a patient of his —a woman—who had gotten both her knees done and I thought well, if she can do it, so can I.”
It was a decision he would second guess more than once in what he says was a very painful recovery and a huge test of faith.
“I thought I made a horrible mistake by getting them both done at the same time. That was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been in in my life.”
Not only was it painful, but it left a man who was very comfortable fending for himself, at the mercy of others.
“Simple tasks like going to the restroom or putting on my socks felt almost impossible without assistance. Simply put-sometimes it was downright embarrassing…it made me feel as though I had done too much and possibly have bitten off more than I could chew. As I lay there in bed sometimes with tears running down my face uncontrollably… I would whisper to myself “I have to trust Him.”
Out of that experience was birthed the song “I Will Trust”, the lead single and title of his 14th solo album. With it, he used the experience to tap into the emotions of others going through similar challenges.
“I wanted to feel what people were feeling during a traumatic time…and be touched by the feeling of everyone else’s issues.”
“At the end of the day, [the surgery] was the best thing for me,” Hammond reflects. “The pain I used to have I almost don’t remember. It’s three years now and I’m treating them [his knees] gently because I want it to last, but I could stand up through a whole concert now. I looked up one day about a month ago and my people said, ‘You know you didn’t sit down, not one time.’
But just as he was getting his knees under control, he had to adjust to the bottom falling out of the gospel music industry with the decline of album sales and the rise of streaming.
“Before it was really simple,” Hammond reports. “Now, there’s streaming, which seems to be like holding water in your hands. You can’t really figure it out and there’s no real transparency so everybody’s just kind of out here.
“I personally feel that traditional radio has pretty much told me, ‘Thanks for the memories. We’ll let you get so far, but we’ve really got to push this new blood—the Travis Greenes, Tasha Cobbs and Jonathan McReynolds.
“It doesn’t matter because it’s really about people who come on my site. I’ve got 1.4 million people on Facebook. I direct them to Spotify, Apple Music, or Vimeo and I have brand new music coming out once a month—one song a month. No need for me to put out an album and people are not buying that anyway.”
Now, says Hammond, it’s time for him to share in the revenues.
“To reap a minimum of half of what I generate. I’ve never been close to that,” Hammond reveals.
While walking away from the traditional [record label] machine has come with its own set of challenges, there is also the freedom of Hammond expanding his brand into new areas.
“What I’ve added to my name is “independent artist” and independent filmmaker because the gospel must be seen,” said Hammond. “Now, I’m going to show you a part of my of my life that has been broken and you will understand where “No Weapon” comes from. That’s what we’ve not seen.
“I have a series of things that I’m writing—that I’ve already started to shoot and I’m negotiating distribution for. One of them is called “The Choir.” This is not “War Room”. This is the gospel version of “Empire” and I’m about to be 60 years old so I don’t care what people say. I’m coming to help somebody and if God doesn’t want me to do this, he wouldn’t have put it in my heart.”
The same is true of Hammond’s recent collaboration with Snoop Dogg on the rap superstar’s upcoming gospel album, which has made for a firestorm of controversy on social media.
“They were going crazy,” Hammond states. “’Oh my God, Fred Hammond and Snoop Dogg.’ They didn’t even hear the record yet it was like guilty by association. They kept using this scripture, come out from among them and be ye separated. I just said relax.
“When I heard the song,” he continues, “I didn’t know what to expect, whether it was going to be watered down, but this song mentioned Jesus about 50 times. I am preaching from beginning to end.
“People are going to find some fault with it anyway, but when I heard the passion and the heart of what Snoop was doing with this, I didn’t care about anything else. He is a legend in the game. I have legacy over here. We’re coming together and we’re saying, Jesus is the answer to what is going on in the world today. I’m not on any of his other stuff. He’s not on my stuff. We haven’t exchanged money. It ain’t a money thing.
“God is using strange, unconventional methods to reach his people and I’m proud to be a part of it. He’s still Snoop. Whatever his private struggles are, it’s on him and you can feel it, but there are going to be literally millions of people who are going to hear this record and be pointed in the direction of God.”
In the meantime, Hammond—who has been responsible for putting together some of gospel’s biggest concert tours— is working on his next gospel tour.
“Three tours in gospel music a year is not great, but we [Hammond, Kirk Franklin and McDonald’s Inspiration Gospel Tour] do it because we still want people to experience God in Technicolor. Presentation is everything and when you come to a Fred Hammond concert or a Kirk Franklin concert, we want you to have the same experience as you would have at any of the other big-ticket concert. At the end of the day, it’s about what are we doing to effect people?”