By Tony Cummings – From CrossRhythms.co.uk
One of the most off-putting aspects of the whole American Christian music scene is how divided the industry remains along racial grounds. Black gospel radio stations will seldom consider playing any music by white artists and the scenario is reversed with white CCM stations giving little or no exposure to gospel music (whether traditional, R&B or hip-hop). Addressing this perplexing anomaly are a vocal group from Boston whose musical style is an amalgam of black and white influences.
Ashmont Hill got their name from an inner city area of Boston, Massachusetts. They are led by Phil Thompson who formed Ashmont Hill out of Jubilee Christian Church, his father’s congregation in Boston, with sisters April Joy Thompson and Deborah Bullock, along with Deborah’s husband Will Bullock. Commented Phil, “We actually love all types of Christian music. We grew up on The Winans and Commissioned; me and April were BeBe & CeCe growing up.” Added sister April, “We also grew up on Michael W Smith and Amy Grant. We love listening to Hillsong, Nichole Nordeman, Natalie Grant, Leeland – we love Leeland! Our Dad instilled in us from the beginning the need to be a church without walls. It really fed into our belief that the Body of Christ needed to hear the music that the Lord was inspiring within us.”
April spoke to ChristianMusic.com about the origins of Ashmont Hill. “There are five boys and three girls in our family. We all grew up singing. It’s a very musical family. We performed at weddings, funerals, that kind of thing. Then one day my dad asked four of us to sing something before he preached, one of his favourite hymns. We really liked the way we sounded together. Philip and I have always wanted to do something professionally. We always had that desire to record and sing. It was like a divine moment for us.” Originally, the quartet included brother Michael. When he became youth director at Bishop Thompson’s Jubilee Christian Church, it became impossible for Michael to tour. Deborah’s husband, Wil, replaced him, keeping it in the family.
The group’s creamy harmonies and desire to challenge the prejudiced thinking inherent in the black-white divide eventually paid off when, in 2008, Ashmont Hill signed with Axiom Records. While the group were still working on their self-titled debut with producer Sal Oliveri they landed an opening slot on tour with CCM’s most popular female singer Natalie Grant. The ‘Ashmont Hill‘ album, with its mixture of originals and worship songs (including two Matt Redman numbers), began to get attention from both black and white radio stations with the inspirational ballad “Song Of Glory” eventually becoming a Top 5 hit. The album finally reached number 10 in the black gospel charts and number 16 in the white CCM charts.