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When the Miller Brewing Company first approached Take 6 about recording a jingle for one of its beers, the company was probably thinking about the exemplary work the Grammy award-winning sextet had already done for other advertisers. After all, the a cappella vocal group's cool, finger-poppin' sound--a kind of jazzy updating of classic street corner doo-wop for the CD age--had already moved plenty of Levi's 501 jeans, Burger King Whoppers, and Domino's pizzas. Why not add a few brewskis to the product roster?
What the company and its ad agency had failed to take into account, however, was Take 6's most important affiliation.
"We are a Christian group, first and foremost," emphasizes member Mervyn Warren on the phone from a stop on their current U.S. tour. "And a lot of people who know us as a Christian group would be very disappointed if we `sold out' and did a beer commercial."
Junk food and jeans are one thing, apparently. But after a long night of spreading the good word of the Lord, it ain't exactly Miller time.
"We didn't even have to think that one over," Warren says of the brew meister's offer. "We told them flat out, `No.'"
The company was surprisingly understanding of Take 6's convictions. "They just went out and put together a group that sounds like us and did it with them!" Warren laughs good-naturedly. "And as a matter of fact, they did a pretty good imitation."
IF MILLER AND ITS AGENCY earned themselves a few weeks in purgatory for committing such a dastardly deed, at least they're to be forgiven for overlooking the religious subtext of Take 6's music. Lots of people can listen to the rich, gorgeous vocal work on a Take 6 album without really noticing the Biblically inspired messages that run through each of their songs. It's part of the secret of Take 6's considerable success outside of the gospel realm. And it's also part of the reason why so many artists and producers who want to use the suddenly hot Take 6 sound on their commercials, albums, movies or whatever, can't.
Since the beginning, when Warren, Alvin Chea, Cedric Dent, Mark Kibble, Claude McKnight, and David Thomas first began harmonizing in the men's room of a Seventh-Day Adventist college in Huntsville, Alabama, Take 6 has been bound by the strongly shared faith of its members to spread the spirit of Christian love in its songs. But an equally shared sense of humor and good salesmanship has kept the Take 6 repertoire from becoming preachy or heavy-handed.
Indeed, on the group's current single "I L-O-V-E U," the devotional lyrics are oblique enough that a guy could recite them to his girlfriend without sounding the least bit like a Jesus freak. And at other times, on both the group's self-titled 1988 gold-selling debut album and the current So Much 2 Say, the singers infuse so much irreverent humor and high-spirited fun into the proceedings that even a godless pagan who wouldn't know the devil from Heavy D could get off on the good-versus-evil tales they spin.
"We don't try to beat anyone over the head with Christian messages," Warren explains. "I believe if you just connect positive lyrics to a melody that people like, it's gonna turn over in their heads. We've all had that experience where you'll be walking down the street singing a song to yourself and you don't really know why you're doing it. Well, we'd like to think that our music could have that effect on someone. Only that instead of having some meaningless or negative lyric turning over in your head, it would be some positive little phrase, like `spread love.'"
The subtlety of Take 6's ministry has had its own positive and negative effects. On the plus side, the sextet's lighthearted, easily digestible approach has won them an audience far outside the grasp of the average gospel group. The Sixers turned heads at the 1989 Grammy awards when they walked away with top honors in both the gospel and jazz categories, and a few of their songs have even garnered airplay on urban and adult-contemporary stations. Subsequent collaborations with stars ranging from Stevie Wonder to Andy Williams, and Ella Fitzgerald to k.d. lang have further broadened their appeal.
On the downside, the casualness with which Take 6 delivers its message has attracted a lot of offers from advertisers and artists who'd like to use the group's distinctive wall of vocals without the accompanying moral baggage.
"I won't mention any names," Warren says, "but I can think of a few offers we've gotten that we had to back away from, either because of the image of the artist or the questionable nature of the song they wanted us to work on. Not to pass judgment on anyone, you know, but the fact is, we are a gospel group, and a lot of the people we've recorded with have been pop artists. So we have to be careful who we associate ourselves with. If an artist has a reputation for being very . . . liberal, then we might have to turn the offer down. And then, after we consider the image of the artist, we have to consider the particular song they want us to sing on. We don't have a problem with non-Christian music. But if the lyrics are questionable, we'd have to back away."