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Gregory Groover Jr. debuts new spiritual album

Local musician modernizes spirituals

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

Berklee alumnus Gregory Groover, Jr. found his passion in church. Not in the cloth, though both his parents are pastors, but in the spirituals performed at every service. These historic melodies stirred something in Groover and sparked the flame for his “Negro Spiritual Songbook,” debuting on Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL this week.

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“One of the things I found most interesting in my study of spirituals was the duality of it,” says Groover. “It’s not only for worshipping — slaves were sending coded messages through it.” That messaging, ways to cope with oppression and to find freedom, remains largely the same.

Groover’s album mixes the traditional words and melodies of spirituals with rhythms and beats of contemporary music like gospel, jazz and hip-hop. Many of these modern styles were born from the spiritual tradition, which is often referred to as the foundation of African American music. Groover is reinterpreting the music for today’s audience.


After Muhammad Ali died in 2016, Groover began working on a song called “Rumble, Young Man, Rumble,” a favorite saying of the famous boxer. He blended the song with the spiritual “Soon I Will Be Done With the Troubles of the World” to create a rallying cry tailored for the 21st century. “As a young man of color, or a young woman of color, you kind of feel like you have to rumble,” says Groover. “You have to fight. Even with all the degrees, I still feel like I have to work twice as hard to be recognized.”

A Boston native, Groover cut his teeth performing at Wally’s Jazz Club in the South End at age 16. He attended Boston Arts Academy high school, earned a full tuition scholarship to Berklee, and is now finishing a Masters of Music Performance Studies through Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute.

Having grown so much in the Boston scene, Groover hopes to pass some of that experience down to the next generation of musicians. He currently serves as a jazz music educator at the Boston Arts Academy. “It’s important to me that they can see someone who looks like them teaching and performing music,” he says. His greatest piece of advice to young musicians, he says, is to “trust that you have something valid and important to share.”

Groover has live concerts coming up August 17 and 18 at Wally’s and August 28 at the Beehive with Lee Fish Group. He’s working on several 2019 concerts with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and hopes to launch a tour of churches along the East Coast next year.

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