From the minute Gospel singer Wintley Phipps walked onto the stage at the Old Orchard Beach Pavilion, his booming baritone voice commanded attention.
“One day, at the age of 14, I woke up talking like this,” he said.
Phipps told how on the album “The Savior: The Story of God’s Passion for His People,” he performed a duet with fellow singer Larnelle Harris that featured a dialogue between God and Adam.
“I was not Adam,” he said to laughs from the crowd.
Born in Trinidad, Phipps grew up in Montreal. He got his start when someone gave him a cassette tape of spirituals; that was the first time he had heard such music.
Phipps sang some songs to show how African–American preachers in pre–Civil War days taught God’s Word through music because it was illegal to teach a slave to read—even the Bible.
After singing “How Great Thou Art,” Phipps told of a time when he gave a tape of his music to a dejected flight attendant. A few days later on another flight, she passed it on to Cliff Barrows, music director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It wasn’t long before Phipps was performing at Graham crusades.
Another time, he was coming off the stage in Baltimore when a woman who was about to be fired from her job approached him. Phipps prayed with her and offered encouragement to that woman—Oprah Winfrey.
Phipps also talked about the nonprofit group he began in 1998 called the U.S. Dream Academy, which provides a values–based education to at–risk youth. By working with the children of prisoners, he met Charles Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, and served on the organization’s board.
The breakdown of the family is at the heart of many of the nation’s ills, Phipps said.
“No superior alternative has been found [to the family],” he said.
Phipps closed the concert with “Amazing Grace.” He said that John Newton wrote the words, but the melody is still listed as “unknown.” Phipps said that’s because Newton got the tune from those who traveled in the belly of slave ships.