Home Interviews Exclusive Interview with the star singer and songwriter Steve Arrington
Exclusive Interview with the star singer and songwriter Steve Arrington PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Wednesday, 20 October 2010 15:04

Steven Ralph Arrington was born in 1956 to Dan and Lillian Arrington in Great Lakes, Illinois. Shortly after his birth the family returned to their hometown of Dayton Ohio. Music has always been a part of Arrington’s life. He grew up listening to the popular music of the day on the radio and in the family home on the record player. Iconic singers like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye are just two of the names that impacted on his young life, foretelling what would be a relatively successful music career.

By age five, Steve Arrington was already demonstrating one of the musical skills he would become adept at playing drums. Pots and pans were his instruments then (One can imagine the sounds of the clanging and banging, making his parents and siblings happy. It was his latent talent bubbling to the surface). His grandparents recognized his incipient talent, and at age seven bought him his first drum set. He was well on his way to becoming a successful musician. By age 13, Steve Arrington was a regular performer in the Dayton Battle of the Bands talent show. He was a regular feature performer in various talent shows around the city, serious business in his hometown, akin to the old Star Search TV show or American Idol.

As Arrington continued to hone his musical skills, he was determined to make a name for himself in Dayton, becoming a highly touted and demanded drummer in Dayton. He played with local bands of the day, such as The Soul Illusions and Eluders, an opening act for popular crooners of the day. Names like Spider Turner, The Five Stair Steps, Irma Franklin, and others…

By his senior year in high school, he had hooked up with another band, The Young Mystics, many of whom would go on to form the core members of the late 70s, 1980s Funk band Slave. In 1975, Steve Arrington and his friend Victor Godsey (who became the keyboard player with Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame) began touring the United States with a lounge band called the Murphy’s. In the interim, Slave signed a recording contract with Cotillion Records, and soon released their self-titled debut album. It went to the top of the Soul charts with the #1 Funk hit, Slide, which earned Slave a Best New Group and Best Male Group Grammy nomination in 1977.  

Always passionate about his music, in 1977 Steve Arrington relocated to California to hone his musical skills with legendary Latin percussionist Coke Escovedo. He also played with Pete and Sheila [E] Escovedo. His sojourn to California included an extended tour with the Salsa West Coast Latin All Stars, led by the Escovedos, featuring one Carlos Santana on guitar. Arrington returned to Dayton in 1978 and hooked up with Slave, as the drummer and later as lead singer. The result was five albums, including The Concept and Showtime. The group released smash hits like “Just a Touch of Love” in 1979 followed by “Watching You” in 1980 and “Snap Shot” in 1981. In 1982, Arrington founded the innovative funk band, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame and released two albums, Hall Of Fame I and Positive Power.

In 1984 was a turning point in Steve Arrington’s life; he had a Christian epiphany and transformation. But he continued to record music, releasing three albums, including Dancin' In The Key Of Life (the most successful solo recording), The Jammin' National Anthem and Jam Packed. In 1986, Arrington was nominated for an NAACP Image Award as Male Artist of the year; that same year, he embarked on a very successful “Dancin' in the Key of Life” European Tour. According to music editor, Scott Galloway, the album paved the road for groups like Sounds of Blackness and Be Be and Ce Ce Winans to walk the line between gospel and secular soul.

With his evolution into a more spiritual music style, Arrington increasingly began to see himself as a music minister of the Gospel. By 1991, this spiritual transition saw him completely removed from the record industry “to seek God and truly find God’s will for his life”. This transformation allowed him to solidify his faith, giving him the strength to embrace the values and expectations of his new life, while resisting and purging himself from the damaging effects of his secular life and music career (the proverbial temptations about sex, drugs and rock and roll). Since his life’s transformation, Steve Arrington has been serving as an evangelist, pastor and music minister. It’s in this new and spiritual musical world that he has found serenity and solace, by ministering to audiences both musically and orally. He continues also to maintain a busy schedule on the spiritual circuit. In 1994, a compilation The Best of Slave was released. It is widely regarded as a first-rate anthology of the group’s recordings.

Through the years, Arrington has been a keynote speaker at the People of His Presence International Praise and Worship Conference, with Rev. Derwin Ward, Martha Munizzi and Vicki Yohe. In December 2005, Steve Arrington played drums on the Hope For The Nations Tour of Cardiff, Wales, London, England and Amsterdam, Holland. Along with his wife, Leslie, both travel wherever and however they feel God leads them to spread an understanding of the Joys of the Arts in the church and the love of God to all.

Over his long career Steve Arrington has become renowned for his vocal style; this is evident on such classics as “Watching You”, “Just A touch of Love”, “Snap Shot” and “Wait For Me” all recorded with Slave; “Weak at the Knees” (sampled by Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri and many artists), and “Nobody Can Be You, But You”, etc. In August 2006, another Slave compilation, Definitive Groove was released.

On October 2nd  2009,  Arrington released his latest CD, Pure Thing. He produced, wrote and arranged all the songs. On this new collection the artist pays tribute to two civil rights icons Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks on “Song for Coretta and Rosa”. It is important to highlight the date December 1st 1955, a pivotal point in American history and African-Americans fight for human rights. On that date, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Louise Parks became an historical icon when when she refused to give up her seat on the Cleveland Avenue bus to a White man. Her stoic act led to a 381-day boycott of the city’s bus system conducted by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. That event, considered as the beginning of the American Civil Rights Movement, ultimately brought the transit system to its knees.  On the morning of December 21st 1956, Dr.  King and Rev.  Glen Smiley, a White minister, shared the front seat of a bus of the newly integrated Montgomery public transit system.  It was the first victory of many hard-fought battles of the Civil Rights Movement.  Following the assassination of Rev.  Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King continued to play a significant role in keeping her husband's as well as the African-American's dream of freedom alive.  It is as a tribute to her contribution and legacy that Steve Arrington honored the mother of the Civil Rights Movement with a special song on his  latest CD.

We spoke to Steve Arrington on December 1st 2009, on the 54th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Over the course of the interview, we discovered an artist who shares with us the main messages of his new CD and other projects.  This article was published on www.afrotoronto.com on March 2010.  Interview conducted by the Editress-in-Chief of Mega Diversities Patricia Turnier.


P.T. When you were growing up, which artists did you admire the most?

S.A. Very young, I was a heavy Motown fan. I was fascinated by everything related to Motown: Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, etc. When I became older, I began to listen to Sly Stone which I loved. It evolved later to an attraction for Yes’s music because it is very emotional. At that time, I was moving quite a lot as a kid with my family. I lived in different parts of town in predominantly black neighborhoods. There were times also when I lived in predominantly white neighborhoods throughout my childhood until my high school years. In this respect, I was exposed to so many different types of music: funk, soul, progressive rock, jazz rock, fusion music, R&B, etc.

My brother Gary Shaw loved so many types of music. So, I listened as a kid to Motown but also to other genre such as The Doors. While I was growing up, my musical tastes took me also to John Coltrane, Miles Davis (his earlier work), etc. I came to appreciate the music from the 40s, the 50s and early 60s where you could hear heavy jazz. So, in summary this was my evolution in terms of my musical tastes until my early 20s. My interest in the Hard Rock band Yes from England or from other cultures such as Indian music allowed me to have a grand range in my eclectic tastes in music. I appreciate my progress regarding my interests in this field because it allows me today, at my age, to still be open to different genres and styles. It is one of the things that I am most proud about. The fact that I was exposed to many types of music very early in my life definitely served me well.

 P.T. In the past few years, you evolved as a Christian recording artist. Throughout your career you went from pop music to Christian music. What triggered the shift? Can you share with us your journey which brought you to Christian music?

S.A. As a child, I grew up in a church. My great uncle Charles Cook was a preacher and he noticed when I was very young that I was passionate about music. He used to call me musc because it was his way to process that word. In the African American community, especially in his generation, the English language had his dialect and own flare. It would be different from the Queen’s English which has been established. To get back to your question, I grew up in the church but me and my family left the church later.

During my junior high years and later, the church was always in me. It was like a back-drop in my world. I used to write poetry in junior high and high school. I was interested in spiritual matters, in Buddhism, Islam and so on. I remember when the Beatles, Carlos Santana started to get into the gurus. I was fascinated by that. Taking those things as a mindset and back-drop, my spirituality developed into my young adult years. My religious belief started to move from the background to the forefront of my life, which led me to a place (around 86) where it came to a point when it was going to become a priority in my journey. This is how the direction of my life changed in terms of spirituality.

P.T. According to music editor, Scott Galloway, Steve's solo album, "Dancin in the Key of Life", paved the road for groups such as Sounds of Blackness, Be Be and Ce Ce Winans to walk the line between gospel and secular soul. What do you feel about that statement?

S.A. To say that I was a trendsetter or a person of vision is an honor, but I leave it to the writers to assess. For me, I was just doing what was in my heart and I just followed the path I thought was the right direction for me. I love those other bands and I enjoy listening to their music on gospel and secular radio stations. I appreciate being a part of that fraternity. I never look at myself as the trailblazer, but if Scott Galloway sees it that way it’s great. I perceived this also as a blessing for my work and an honor to be considered innovative with a visionary capacity.

P.T. In your new album Pure Thing, what are the main messages you want to convey to the listeners?

S.A. Well, Pure Thing is an album from my heart. It is not directed toward a specific demographic. I did it the way I believe the music was from the beginning. Before, people where just doing their thing, but now it became a heavy business. Sometimes, the music even becomes secondary and artists have difficulties to fully express themselves, especially after they started to get older. I think that jazz, blues and gospel are the genres of music which allow artists to be ageless. It is possible in those venues to grow, to develop and keep pushing the art.

It gives them the possibility to continue to do music and be heard. Regarding R&B and pop music it is harder after a certain age because you have the pressure to follow a certain trend. I have nothing against artists who chose that direction, but it is where I am in my life right now. I think the Internet opened up a tremendous avenue to develop as an artist. I wanted to do an album from the bottom of my heart. Another thing which is important about the CD Pure Thing is the God factor we deal within our lives. I love the Lord and I love Jesus. My music reflects that. At the same time, the message is about relationships, romance, politics. The song regarding Coretta and Rosa speaks about history in America. The opus Holla talks about a very important social problem: racism.

The song “I like what you do” is a vocal and emotional thing which allow the listeners to fill the blank. It is a very passionate song. I dedicated it to God, my wife and my friends. I left it open instead of using a story, a verse and so on. The fact that the listeners have to fill the blank makes it fun and it is a unique way to look at things. The other thing about the Pure Thing album which is very important to me is that this record is a look back at the past from where I come from. It represents a synopsis in a way of my career up until now and also from the music that I studied. For instance, I use some bottleneck guitar which is usually associated with southern blues music. It creates an opportunity for me to pay tribute to the music of the South which came out after slavery. I even moved to the blue music scene from Chicago where I am originally from.

For instance, there is a guitar solo in the “Soul Food” and “Pure Thing” songs. The other thing about my CD is the fact that I started to look at my career from Slave and Hall of fame. You find it in my album music like “I’m on fire” and “Holla” which have echoes of from Slave and Hall of fame time of my career. There is the gospel sound which represents message music and comes from a social position that has been a tradition in black music.

I am thinking about artists such as Sly Stone (who played a critical role in the development of soul, funk and psychedelic music in the 60s and 70s), Gil Scott-Heron, known as the Godfather of rap (he is called also the founder of political rap) and Curtis Mayfield. The latter was born in Chicago and is considered as the pioneer of funk and of politically conscious African-American music. He was more specifically a trailblazing voice in the black pride movement. He injected social commentary in his work. His influence allowed me to add flavor into my own music and continue in that tradition.

I want to add that I have been inspired also by Marvin Gaye who dealt with social issues. His music is still relevant and his records have become a classic. I want to pursue my artistic work in that vein. You will find this trend in songs such as Soul Food in my album. The listeners will find jazzy songs such as Coolin and Sunrise where I just wanted to enjoy the fact that I came up with some fusion and jazz music. This CD represents an eclectic mix of the musical influence (funk, etc) which became part of my repertoire throughout the years. I feel privileged to be a part of the fraternity in the artistry of such music and I am grateful that I’ve received great reviews from people around the world.

P.T. You paid a tribute to two iconic figures. Talk to us about your lovely Song for Coretta and Rosa. How this idea came to you? What inspired you to write and sing about those legends?

S.A. Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks are two very important historical figures. Firstly, I thought about the life of Coretta Scott King after her husband’s death. She lived such a dignified life and she was a wonderful woman. I thought about how it was for her to be by the side of such a great man, a prophet, a Christian martyr. She never remarried and she raised (alone) her children as a widow. She had overcome so much hurdles with her husband who was in the forefront when he was alive. I believe that the contribution of a wife in this type of situation definitely needs to be magnified. She went through those things with him: the marches, the attempts on his life prior to him being assassinated and then the assassination itself. She had to learn how to live after Martin Luther King’s death.

I thought that she led a courageous life. I wanted to pay tribute to her for all those reasons. Their children got involved later in activism: political life, civil rights and the social landscape of America. Regarding Rosa Parks, she was also a dignified lady. At a time when we hear derogatory lyrics towards females, I thought it was important to highlight the life of the iconic figures of the civil rights movement. So, I decided at this time it would be great and important to honor women like Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.

We have to remember that Rosa Parks was the female who really started the movement. Rosa Parks showed courage and stoicism to stand up against the powers of that time for African-American people, to say we are tired of this racial America where we live and we are going to face whatever hurdles with the purpose to defend our rights. It was Rosa Parks who decided that she was not going to sit in the back of the bus. It has been chronicled and the story has been told many times. I wanted to speak about it from the angle of the courage this woman gave to the men. It allowed the men to stand up.  

Rosa Parks was the mother and spearheaded the movement. She was a beautiful petite woman with a very nice name. She had the courage to fight segregation and she commanded respect. Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, along with her husband raised the nation’s collective social and political consciousness through their non-violent actions. It changed the politics of the U.S. Non-violence became the new form and symbol of American politics. Dr. MLK was a national hero and asked America to live up to its ideals.

He was the prophet for racial and economic justice in the U.S. The Civil Rights Movement increased the participation of American citizens in the democratic process which led to significant changes in the US. Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King left their marks on this country and the world forever. They were fearless and they were among the foremost civil rights ladies of their epoch. They worked tirelessly to make our lives better and to help future generations reach greater heights.

I strongly believe that it was a spiritual battle and not only a civil rights combat. Coretta Scott King after her husband’s death kept the dream alive for decades by giving her time to ensure that people through the King Center would be educated about the non-violence philosophy to make the world a better place to live. We stand on the shoulders of these great women. Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King paved the way for important breakthroughs such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed by former President Lyndon Johnson. So, it was very important for me to pay tribute to those pioneering spirits with their visionary leadership. As an artist, I wanted to celebrate and honor their contributions which must stay in our collective memory. They bestowed on the world a very powerful and universal message regarding the non-violence philosophy.

P.T. What critiques did you receive from the listeners of the Coretta and Rosa song? More specifically, did you have comments from the Parks and King family?

S.A. I don’t know if both families had the chance to hear the song, but people who listened to the record say that it is an important piece.

P.T. I am sure that it is just a question of time that you will hear from the Parks and King family. I think also that your song should be part of the upcoming MLK movie[1]’s soundtrack.

S.A. Thanks. Regarding the listeners, they feel that it was required in the climate of music today where we do not hear enough tributes to women in songs. We hear rather a lot of shedding in terms of hurtful, misogynist lyrics. However, it is important to explain this situation by the fact that when, for generations, the African American community have been enslaved, deprived of their identity, their culture, their family (for instance, the destruction of the roles between genders, atavism), etc. They were told that they were subhuman and so on. All this negativity does not just disappear just like that after the end of slavery. It can take generations to get over all these issues, especially when you have been deprived for so long of imperative tools (such as leadership strategies) and needs. An institutionalization of the mindset of people occurred. It can take generations to remove those mental shackles. We are getting better, but residue remains in America and unfortunately we hear some of it in today’s music.

In the 60s, we had icons like Rosa Parks or MLK to stand up for us and for future generations. Now, fortunately, we have men such as Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, intellectual luminaries who give (an healthier) voice to the issues of the Black community. They also continue to bring up issues such as civil rights with the purpose to push forward America from the grassroots position to the high levels of government. It is an exciting time right now.

P.T. Are you planning a tour soon in the United States?

S.A. Yes, I will tour in April and May. That would be a good time to be back here.

P.T. Is the Slave group planning to get back together in the future and do a tour?

S.A. We speak from time to time. Just yesterday, I talked to Mark Hicks. We stay in touch periodically and we are still friends. We wish each other well. We are happy that things are fine for us and we are still doing our things separately. However, there is nothing planned right now in terms of getting back together, but you never know what could happen in the future.

P.T. We learned in the media that you are working on a book. Can you tell us more about it?

S.A. At one time, I was deeply involved in writing a book, but my life started to change and music became a priority. I had to decide to continue preaching in the church and playing drums. So, I chose to combine my preaching career with using good new music. I began to make albums again afterwards. Having all this in my life was going to change the direction of my book which was specifically about the lives of musicians with a church perspective. Right now, my songs Coolin and Sunrise are playing on smooth jazz stations so these songs are not perceived only as gospel music.

This is very new and exciting for me to have songs in these venues. I have to reassess how I will have to write the book. Now, I am really and fully engaged in the new position in my life and I will see where it will take me. This will allow me to see the impact and to have a more precise idea on what I could write about and eventually get published.

P.T. Do you have other projects that you can share with us?

S.A. Many younger musicians have contacted me. They want me to be involved in their own projects and they want to benefit from my experience.

P.T. Do you see yourself as a mentor to them?

S.A. I guess so. I am 53-years-old. It is fun to have younger musicians interested in collaborating with me because they like what I did. So, I am looking to do some things in that department. I am also looking to putting out new music and new lyrics. I see myself continuing as an artist recording. I see myself doing that for the years to come. I really feel that I have a lot to offer creatively. I feel like a teenager right now (laughs). This is how excited I am.

P.T. Do you have a message for your fans?

S.A. I want to say to them: Love, Love, Love, Love, Love (laughs). It is the most simple of things and yet it is the hardest of things when other emotions and agendas are involved to tackle love. I want to say to my fans that I want to “major” in love and bring good news. It is a wonderful place to be when you are walking with people who only want to love somebody if somebody wants to let them. All of us are on this journey together because we are all on this earth for a time. We can say I am more important than you because I have this amount of money in my bank account or you are more important than me because you have this title by your name. The truth is, we are all here for a time which makes us all the same. Nobody is able to take away the gift that God gave us, and he has put all of us here for a certain time. So, it is a Christian duty to love, to make the journey easier, which helps us to face the unknown of everyday. God loves us.

The fans told me that they were happy to have me back, so that really feels great. I really appreciate that and it means a lot to me. I am a fan of music. It is fun to see that people enjoy my work. I can be a fan of my own music like I can be a fan of other people’s music. I can sit back and listen to the CD I made, which I enjoy. I didn’t know what would be the impact of my latest work on people because I removed myself from the milieu. This experience really feels like a blessing.

P.T.  Thank you so much for this great interview Mr. Arrington. It was a real pleasure to spend an hour speaking to you!



 Music and Lyrics by Steve Arrington


Praise God... Coretta we love you, and Rosa we love you; And, we thank you for letting the Lord use you.  Through the good times and the bad times you were right there at the right time, And, we thank you for letting the Lord use you over and over again.  Coretta, you and Martin set out to be a loving family.  Yeah, yeah.  With many dreams as far as the eye could see, what would be the destiny along the way, boom, here comes God with a mission that would be real hard.  Yet, ya answered the call, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Rosa, that day on the bus, ya just had it.  Ya just had enough.  Tired of runnin' and playin' it off.  Little did ya know you'd blown the roof off.  Courage came to many because of the little lady with the sweet name... Rosa, Rosa, Rosa, Rosa yeah, yeah.  It was hard.  It was so, so hard.  I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Discography of Steve Arrington

Albums with Slave

  • 1978:  The Concept-Atlantic
  • 1979:  Just a Touch of Love-Cotillion
  • 1980:  Stone Jam-Cotillion
  • 1981:  Showtime-Cotillion

Other albums

  • Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, Vol.  1 (Atlantic 1983)
  • Positive Power (Atlantic 1984)
  • Dancin' in the Key of Life (Atlantic 1985)
  • The Jammin' National Anthem (Atlantic 1986)
  • Jac Packed (Manhattan 1987)
  • Pure Thang (God Factor Records 2009)

Solo Releases

  • 1980: Summertime Lovin'/"Special Effects From Mars"- (12") - Salsoul
  • 1985:  Dancin' In The Key Of Life - (LP) - Atlantic
  • 1985:  Dancin' In the Key Of Life - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1985:  Feel So Real - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1985:  She Just Don't Know - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1985:  Turn Up The Love - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1986:  The Jammin' National Anthem - (LP) - Atlantic
  • 1986:  The Jammin' National Anthem - (LP) - Atlantic
  • 1986:  Homeboy - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1987:  Stone Love - (12") -  EMI - Manhattan
  • 1988:  Lost And Found (You Can Find Me Present) - (12") - Nubian
  • 1991:  No Reason - (12") RCA

LP Releases as Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame

  • 1982:  Way Out/Pocket Full of Air - (12") - Konglather
  • 1983:  Hall of Fame - (LP) - Atlantic
  • 1983:  Way Out/ - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1983:  Weak At The Knees - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1983:  Nobody Can Be You - (12") - Atlantic
  • 1984:  Positive Power - (LP) - Atlantic
  • 1984:  15 Rounds (12") - Atlantic
  • 1984:  Hump To The Bump - (12") - Atlantic


  • 1994:  Stellar Fungk:  The Best of Slave Featuring Steve Arrington - Atlantic Rhino Entertainment Company
  • 2003:  Party Lights - Rhino / Atlantic-
  • 2006:  Slave

Web site:  http://www.stevearringtonministries.com/

To buy Steve Arrington latest CD go to:  http://www.digstation.com and http://www.cdbaby.com

The album Pure Thing is also available on iTunes:  http://www.amazon.com and other digital outlets

To listen to some tunes go to http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/sarrington


[1] A Steven Spielberg production