Christian pop and urban gospel artist Brandon Camphor defines his calling by one word: purpose. The Gospel Billboard-charting songwriter and Maryland native won his first music competition at age 10 and has since continued to build on his successes.
This Black History Month, join contributing writer Cynthia Gross as she sits down with Brandon Camphor to discuss the opportunities and challenges of being an independent artist, what he believes is the secret to his band’s longevity, how he emerged from a dark season of depression, and the role of faith in his journey.
Take one listen to Brandon Camphor & OneWay’s hit single “God of Mercy,” and you would presume that Camphor always had a stage-ready voice. But this was not exactly the case. “When I was a young child, I would sing around the house, and my parents and my brothers – I’m the middle child of three boys – they would all just tell me to shut up because I sounded sick,” Camphor laughed.
“I also remember the day that I was affirmed. I was riding in the car with my mom. I was playing a Karen Clark Sheard song, and I imitated this run that she did, and my mom looked over at me kind of shocked like ‘wow, Brandon, that sounded good.’”
Camphor cites his parents – Michael Camphor and Delores Powell – as two of his biggest influences. “They raised me to believe in myself and that I could pursue whatever I wanted to. I attribute that to them, the great faith I have. If I believe it, then it’s possible to me. If I can see it in my mind, then I’m going to go after it.”
Musically, he was inspired early on by worship music, specifically Darlene Zschech, a former member of Hillsong Church, as well as Israel Houghton and Beyoncé.
“I can’t put a stamp on all the music she puts out because of the content, but when she releases a new project, I go and study the behind the scenes,” said Camphor of Queen Bey. “Whatever shows the process of how she got it done like ‘Homecoming.’ I love, admire, and respect her work ethic.”
To nurture Camphor’s growing interest in a creative career, his parents enrolled him at Thomas Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School – and later, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he met Angela Jones and Fred Cleveland, his future bandmates, serendipitously.
Camphor launched his group, Brandon Camphor & OneWay, in 2007 while in college. He notes that the intent was not to start a band. In support of an upcoming show, he reconnected with Jones and Cleveland and asked if they would sing with him. Jones declined to perform but attended the show to support, and Cleveland sang alongside Camphor.
“From that one show we did, we started getting all of these calls to sing around the DMV area, and so, I always had Angela and Fred with me,” said Camphor. “There was another young lady at the time, Jayna Gross, who we would bring in. She attended Berklee College of Music with my music director, Joshua Davies, and that’s how it all began.”
The band released its debut album, Regeneration, in 2009, and soprano and fashion designer Julia McMillan rounded out the lineup a year later. In 2012, Camphor entered a competition called Most Powerful Voices and won. The prize was a single deal with Music World Gospel founded by Matthew Knowles, the father of Beyoncé. Unfortunately, Brandon Camphor’s excitement was short-lived.
“He ended up getting into some legal troubles, which ended up never allowing me to experience the fullness of the record deal I had just signed because it put a lot of limitations on what could happen,” Camphor shared. “So I was signed there really for just a couple of months, and what was a big dream became a nightmare.”
When one of Camphor’s friends invited him to stay at his New York apartment for a month while he traveled the world, Camphor accepted the offer. Little did he know, the apartment was down the street from The Brooklyn Tabernacle, which would open a wealth of new opportunities for Camphor.
“Most people know the choir more than the church, but I started attending the church,” said Camphor. “And what seemed like the end for me was actually the beginning of a whole new journey that I didn’t even know I would be taking in life.”
Camphor auditioned for 6-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and was accepted. His first performance involved singing at the inauguration of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama. “I was standing on the National Mall,” Camphor recalled. “I don’t mean to keep mentioning Beyoncé, but she was there. She sang the national anthem. And I’m on the same platform as her with this choir that I’d never imagined I would be singing with.”
In 2015, Camphor began to feel a spiritual nudge to shut down his band, which completely baffled him. “I didn’t do it immediately. It was kind of like an Abraham-Isaac kind of moment. Abraham prayed for Isaac, and then, God’s like, give it back to me. And I’m like ‘huh? The very thing I’ve been dreaming of, you’re telling me to shut it down?’”
“They just had to trust me,” said Camphor, reflecting on the moment he told his bandmates. “It didn’t make sense even to me, and it wasn’t easy. I was tearfully walking away, but every moment where I thought a door was closing, another door opened.”
The very next day, Camphor received a call from Jim Cymbala, senior pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, with a job offer to join the church’s staff. “You can call it a coincidence, but I call it God.”
“Martin Luther King said that the church hour is the most segregated hour in America,” Camphor added. “Part of what I appreciate most about Brooklyn Tabernacle was it really gave me the closest picture I’ve experienced of what heaven’s going to be like.”
“The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is a melting pot of different ethnicities and backgrounds. You had former drug addicts, you had lawyers, you had full-time professional singers. Black, white, Asian, Caribbean, Hispanic. It was all walks of life, and they came together and made this one unified sound to one God.”
After five years of service on staff at The Brooklyn Tabernacle, Camphor’s mountaintop moment hit a deep low with the pandemic. His position ended, and Camphor moved from New York to navigate through his “rough transition.”
This season challenged Camphor’s faith, and he noted that he is no stranger to depression even as recently as last year. “I poured out all my resources into my dream, and I was broke. I was hopeless, my accounts were negative, I owed thousands of dollars to people. But even when I didn’t want to feel it, I felt the nearness of the presence of God in my life. It wasn’t intrusive. It was just there. It was like, ‘I won’t let you sink.’”
“I never wanted to go through the door of taking my own life, but I saw it. I know what it’s like for people who get to that point, but the difference for me was Jesus. Knowing my present wasn’t the promise. It didn’t match. I knew it wasn’t going to end that way although I had permission to feel it.”
One thing that was healing for Camphor was the revival of his band, which reconvened in 2020. “At totally different stages of our lives, we came back together. The difference now though is all that I learned being at Brooklyn Tabernacle, I decided that I wanted to do it this time for myself.”
Camphor launched his own record label, TOMii Entertainment, noting that it “doesn’t come without its hardships,” including bearing the financial responsibility of the artists the agency manages, but he is grateful for the journey.
Per Camphor, what has kept his band’s relationship strong after 16 years is a shared sense of purpose. “Everyone’s plate is full, but when we get together, it’s a commitment. It’s something I think we all know we’re supposed to be doing, not that we have to do.”
“Even though we maybe haven’t seen some of the big career highlights that we would want to see, there’s been a blessing on our union when we’re together. What comes out of those times, it bears good fruit. It’s the kind of thing that lets you know, alright, this wasn’t a waste of time.”
And Brandon Camphor’s future is undoubtedly bright. In his own words, “Today, I am encouraged. Today, I’m still going. Today, I haven’t given up because I know the promise looks different than the present.”
Be sure to connect with Brandon Camphor & OneWay on social media @bc1way for the latest on their exciting upcoming projects, including their new single, “Forever,” which drops in March.
Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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