Not long after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the music industry, Thaddis “Kuk” Harrell was flat broke. The bills were piled high, and he and his wife lost their home and their cars, but Harrell, then children’s worship leader at Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, had faith.
He began studying Creflo Dollar’s prosperity gospel even though friends thought he was crazy. So when a call to do session work with singer Paul Anka brought $250 in temporary financial relief, instead of paying the overdue phone bill of the same amount, Harrell gave the money to the church. The very next day, he said, he got a call that brought in some $10,000 worth of work.
Ten years later, Harrell is still following his faith and enjoying one of the most successful years he’s had in the music industry. As a member of Atlanta based RedZone Entertainment, with his cousin Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and hip-hop artist Terius “The Dream” Nash, he is responsible for some of the biggest songs this year.
First, “Single Ladies,” the song that had women wriggling their fingers in solidarity with Beyonce, earned the songwriting crew two Grammy nominations. Then, the song which Harrell co-wrote for the biggest movie of the year — “I See You” from “Avatar,” sung by Leona Lewis — was nominated for a Golden Globe. The Globe awards show is being televised at 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
“As a kid, you see this dream, and you are shooting for that, and your mind and heart and everything is tied to that almost in an unhealthy way,” said Harrell on a recent morning at RedZone studios. “I think a saving grace for me was that God released me from how I was tied to it so that when it happens, you have the right perspective on it.”
Growing up in Chicago, Harrell and his cousins knew they wanted to be in the music industry. Their moms sang jingles for radio and television commercials, and an uncle had a jingle production company where they all worked developing their writing and producing skills for clients ranging from McDonald’s to Kraft. In 1992, they decided to pack up and move to L.A. with three trucks, six cars and 13 family members.
Things didn’t go quite as expected.
“The trip was a disaster. From the time we left Chicago and got to L.A., the whole company had disbanded over some family stuff,” Harrell said.
A few determined family members continued working together, but after a few years, Harrell wanted out. One night, he attended a concert at a neighbor’s church and found himself transformed. He embarked on what would become a 12-year stint in children’s ministry. “I wasn’t making records, so I wasn’t making money, but I was following what I know God had placed in my heart,” Harrell said.
For almost a decade, Harrell and his growing family struggled financially; then he began sowing as little as $20 to praise-a-thons on Trinity Broadcast Network. Things started to happen, he said. Work trickled in here and there until that day when British producer Simon Franglen called with several thousand dollars’ worth of work. Franglen, now an old friend of Harrell’s, recalled their first meeting.
“This bloke we had never heard of came over. We heard him sing once and this glorious noise came out,” Franglen said.
Franglen also noticed Harrell’s spirituality. “When he would come over and sing backing vocals, he would always want to say a prayer before we started singing and thank the Lord for the gift,” Franglen said. Harrell’s gift as a musician, Franglen said, is having a great sense of how vocals should sit in a track. Not only can he tell an artist what to do, but because he is such a good singer, he can show the artist how to do it.
With the future looking immeasurably better, in 2004 when Stewart called asking Harrell to move to Atlanta and work with RedZone, Harrell decided it was time for a transition. Stewart, who had some success with artists such as Britney Spears and B2K, wanted to take RedZone to a higher level and decided the way to do it was to go back to the family roots, Harrell said.
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