Bartow’s homegrown gospel quintet hosts intimate performance in downtown Cartersville

‘IT’S MORE THAN JUST MUSIC’: Ahmad Hall and Friends celebrate fifth anniversary

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Ask any musician — keeping the band together for a whole year, let alone five of them, isn’t easy.

That’s something Ahmad Hall certainly realizes. As the frontman for Ahmad Hall and Friends, he and his group have experienced their fair share of triumphs and tribulations over the last half decade — and as the case at a show in Shreveport several years ago, those figurative bumps in the road sometimes became literal ones.

“All of a sudden, I heard ‘Whoa!’” bandmate Keonna Trufaye Shaw recounted at Saturday morning’s “V.I.P. Experience” gathering in downtown Cartersville. 

As it turned out, Hall had struck a deer carcass in the middle of the road — at around 2 in the morning, no less. In a race against the clock, however, the group decided to keep pushing forward to their destination in Louisiana. 

“When we got to Shreveport, Joy [Hill] got out of the car and she said ‘There’s still pieces of it in the front on the bumper,’” Shaw continued.

But that was nothing compared to what awaited the group once they actually got to the hotel. Shaw recalled hearing Hill banging on her door, screaming that a man was trying to kill her.

“She said ‘I was talking to this man’ and she said ‘he asked me questions and I kept walking,’ and then she said, all of a sudden, ‘I heard his footsteps pick up,’” Shaw recollected. “Then she started to run and he ran after her … she gets to the door, she’s banging on the door, this man comes up to her — he said ‘I was just trying to give you your key.’”

Saturday morning’s fifth-year anniversary celebration was rife with such road stories from Bartow County’s most accomplished working class R&B/soul/gospel ensemble. Amid tales of Transportation Security Administration pat-downs, high heels getting stuck in grates, having to tough it out at photo shoots wearing creme-colored jackets a few sizes too small and getting caught in the middle of contentious NAACP debates in Selma, Alabama, the quintet spoke — and sang — about their half decade of experiences on and off the stage.

“We’ve been through deaths, births, resurrections — we’ve been through some of everything,” said Erin Jones. “There’s nothing more special to me than being appreciated where you start.”

Rather than put on a traditional concert to celebrate the group’s fifth anniversary, Hall said he wanted to mark the occasion with something a little more intimate. 

In an interview session interspersed with several musical performances, Hall described how the group, initially a seven-member outfit, came to be five years ago.

“The crazy thing is, Ahmad Hall and Friends was never supposed to be Ahmad Hall and Friends,” he said.

As fate would have it, though, that supposed “one-off” performance on May 10, 2014, led to the group — which has had several lineup changes over the years — becoming a Steeple Awards-winning act with their music featured in a BET documentary about the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Much of the event revolved around the group’s recollections of former member Joy Hill, who died in 2017.

Hall described her as an “irreplaceable” voice, both behind the microphone and in the heart and soul of the local community. 

Few people, he said, have ever had a more befitting namesake.

“Joy was just an all-around amazing person,” he said.

Each member of the group spoke about what the fellowship of music means to them.

“You will experience a lot of laughter, a lot of love,” said Alegna Williams.

Shakeela Yvonne Hill spoke of  being “engulfed by the feeling” — that sensation of truly connecting with the audience on a spiritual level — while on stage.

“Just through the spirit that they saw in me up there singing,” she said, “it just totally changed the way that they looked, their perspective that they had, or just something in their life that they were going through.”

All five members of the group said their faith was the driving force behind their music. 

That was evident by the group’s impromptu performance of what Hall described as the band’s signature track, “Walk Uprightly.”

The roughly 10-minute jam session displayed the vocal diversity of the group in full force, demonstrating how each member’s distinct delivery flows together into that unmistakable “Ahmad Hall and Friends sound.”

“I think God has given me the gift to know  what song to give what person,” Hall said. “It doesn’t always come real easy, sometimes it comes real hard. But this song came easy to me.”

Despite their accolades and accomplishments, the group remains, essentially, a side gig. Each member of the quintet maintains a “normal” 9-to-5 job, with Hall stating he would never let the group take away from the members’ precious time with their friends and family.

And as far as the group’s future is concerned, Hall said he’s more than happy letting the Almighty decide that path for him.

“Yeah, there are things that I hope for and wish for the group as a whole, but I am content with allowing God to be God,” he said. “It’s great to have a vision for yourself, yes, and I’ll say this — I just want whatever God wants for us, wherever He leads us, we will follow, wherever He takes us, we will go."