At a national worship event last year, Bishop Cortez Vaughn decided to end his music set with a song that would come to change his life: “You Deserve It.”
“My hallelujah belongs to you. All of the glory belongs to you.”
In the audience that day was JJ Hairston, a national recording gospel artist who had worked with the likes of Beyoncé and Shirley Ceaser.
Awestruck at the performance and the crowd’s reaction, Hairston immediately approached the Kansas City, Kan., minister with a proposition: “He told me, ‘Bro, we’ve got to record this.’” Vaughn recalls. “You’ve got to come sing this for me.”
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A few weeks later, Vaughn traveled to Washington, D.C., to record. So in love with the finished product, Hairston and his accompanying choir, Youthful Praise, decided not only to add “You Deserve It” to their upcoming album but to name the album itself after the song.
“I guess he knew he had something,” Vaughn says, laughing.
“Something” may be selling things short. “You Deserve It” has become the thing in gospel music, a massive global hit that was rewarded earlier this month with a Grammy Award nomination for best gospel performance/song.
In addition to amassing more than 40 million views on YouTube, the song spent 21 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Song Sales chart, 18 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Gospel Songs chart and 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Gospel Airplay chart.
“No way I could have predicted this,” Vaughn, 39, says. “I’m still in awe.”
The song caught the attention of gospel legends and choirs worldwide and helped land Vaughn a record deal.
The single lists Vaughn as a “featured” performer on Hairston’s song, but the tenor listeners hear throughout is Vaughn, the founder and senior pastor of Faith City Church in Kansas City Kan., and provincial bishop for the North Central Province of Global United Fellowship.
A little more than a month before the Washington High School alum travels to Madison Square Garden for the Jan. 28 Grammy ceremonies, Vaughn spoke with The Star about his musical beginnings, how he crafted one of the biggest gospel songs on the planet and which celebs he’s looking forward to seeing at the Grammys.
The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: What is your music background?
A: I started church and playing drums when I was 4. By the age of 5 I was playing for different artists and known as the “boy wonder on drums.” My grandfather was a great part of that. I was a drummer. I had no intention of playing a keyboard or any of that. Until one day my grandfather takes me to a (church) shut-in and prayed for my hands, and after that it’s history. So I started playing keyboard and piano and so on.
Q: When did you first write “You Deserve It”?
A: In 2014 in Fayetteville, North Carolina (where he was visiting a church). We wrote the song in the middle of a worship experience. (Vaughn co-wrote with fellow music ministers David Bloom of North Carolina and Demond Reed of Texas.)
Q: That’s interesting. How were you able to write a song in the middle of a church service?
A: We just got full of the spirit. And as we say in the church, the Holy Ghost just kind of did it’s thing (laughter). The original concept of the song came to David and then myself and Demond. We came and added different elements to it. As a writer, sometimes you just get in that mode. And when you are the minister of music or when you’re a service’s worship leader then you have the freedom to flow that creativity directly into the worship experience. So that’s what happened. It was a moment where God gave us the lyrics, and the song’s creation just happened.
We then began just singing our own versions of the song in our respective churches. I’m singing it here in Kansas City, Demond is singing it in Texas, David is singing it in North Carolina, and it really began catching on. But nobody really thought at the time that it needed to be recorded.
Q: So JJ Hairston’s role with the song was moreso getting it put on wax and helping amplify it?
Q: When was the first time you realized how big the song had become?
A: At first it was when the song was picked as the single (for Hairston and Youthful Praise’s album) and it was put on radio. But when I really saw that the song was doing what my heart’s desire for it was, was when I saw it being performed in Bangladesh and Europe and Africa. That really let me know that this is major, that it’s not just an anthem for the black church but that it was everybody’s song. There were Presbyterian, evangelical, nondenominational, denominational. Everybody from Rod Parsley to T.D. Jakes was singing this particular song. And it took over social media. That’s when I knew this was something.
Q: Who are some of the famous people that you know who have performed the song?
A: Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Winans, Jonathan McReynolds … Kim Burrell, Tamela Mann. Those are just a few that I personally know have done it.
Bishop Charles Blake, who is the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, his church has performed it and also allowed me to perform it. And that’s a church that’s visited by a number of celebrities and famous people. It was there that after I performed the song, actor Courtney B. Vance came up to me and just embraced me and said, “Man, I needed that.” And it’s like, ‘I watch you on TV, man. You’re “Law and Order” (laughter).’ So to have that kind of feedback, to have him come to me and say that, to have Cookie Johnson (wife of Magic Johnson) do the same, that was an amazing feeling to have.
Q: Could you have imagined you’d be Grammy nominated that day in 2014 when you wrote the song?
A: No way. Honest to God truth. You don’t think in those moments that that can happen. But God did that. I’m still in awe. So the closer we get to January 28th, the closer I get to boarding this plane, the closer we get to New York, it’s like oh my God, this is happening.
Q: What was it like the moment you realized you were getting a Grammy nomination?
A: At first JJ called me and was like, “Are you sitting down? We’ve been nominated for a Grammy.” And I was cool. It hadn’t really sunk in until I got my official email from the Grammys. When I got that email it was like, “This is not hearsay, this is from the horse’s mouth, this is happening.” Tears filled my eyes.
My grandfather prayed for me years ago that God would fulfill the gift that he placed in me. So part of me was like, wow, this is happening. The other part was me wishing he could be here to see this. I wish he could be here to see his prayers and to see the words spoken over my life actually happen.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the Grammys?
A: Just being a part of what I’ve watched on TV. I’m looking forward to the red carpet, to sitting in the audience and having that feeling of watching men and women I’ve looked up to for years get their awards. Just looking forward to taking in the experience.
Q: Any particular celebrities you’re excited to meet?
A: This will be my first time in Madison Square Garden. Oh man, this is the Grammys. Everyone comes to the Grammys! Denzel (Washington). I think he goes to the Grammys. I hope I can see him. And I know I’m a church boy, but I’m still looking forward to meeting the R&B artists, the rappers, the singers. I may get to holler at Jay Z (laughter). He may want to give a contribution to my church, who knows? (Laughter.) I’m just looking to take all of this in.
Q: Any artists you’re listening to now?
A: A lot of the stuff I listen to is not new stuff. I’m back on Michael Jackson. Little Richard. Anthony Hamilton. I’ll pull up old Prince stuff because of the musicality. Earth Wind and Fire. Otis Redding. Marvin Winans. Fred Hammond, he is the influence. The way I do worship is Fred Hammond. So now that I can be able to text him and say, “Fred, whats up?” that’s surreal.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m working on finishing up the new project now. I don’t like to give dates. Preferably we’ll have a single that will hit the airwaves if not by the end of January, by the beginning of February. The album will feature my version of “You Deserve It” that will have a different twist to it from the JJ Hairston single. Fred Hammond is on that project. We’re doing a song together that we wrote together. It’s something I can take to my grave. Like I wrote a song with Fred Hammond! It’s crazy! There will also be one or two other surprise artists that we’re working on that I’m excited about.
Q: You signed a record deal earlier this year?
A: Yeah! With Tyscot Records; they’re one of the oldest, most stable black-owned gospel music labels around. I’m excited to be there. Tyscot is the truth. I’m loving it. They’re doing a great job. We’re excited with the new stuff we have coming. As far as I’m concerned, this is our first Grammy nomination, but I’m already looking forward to the others to come.
The Grammys & KC
The Grammy Awards will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 28 on CBS. The nominees include three Kansas City area connections:
▪ Bishop Cortez Vaughn of Kansas City, Kan., is up for best gospel performance/song for “You Deserve It,” with JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise.
▪ Music producer Anthony White, a KCK native who goes by “J. White,” is up for best rap song for the Cardi B hit “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).” Cardi B is also a nominee for best rap performance.
▪ Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony are up for two Grammys: for best engineered album/classical and for contemporary classical composition. Both are for the album “American Symphony — Finding Rothko — Picture Studies,” Adam Schoenberg, composer.