Israel Houghton is an American Christian singer, songwriter, worship leader and producer. He is popularly known for the song “Presence is Heaven” and under his belt are six Grammy awards. Lilys Njeru spoke to him
It’s your second visit to Kenya. What about this country makes you want to come back?
The people. I find Kenyans to be very kind and friendly and I believe that anybody will enjoy being in the same environment with such people. There is also something fascinating about the Kenyan culture. On the flip side, I haven’t learned any Swahili word.
Have you always been religious? How would you describe your spiritual journey?
I was brought up in a Christian home but nevertheless, there have been many moments of self-doubt along the way.
There were many times I questioned if I believed in God because of what I had grown up around and had been told.
I had to make a personal decision that I wanted to have a personal relationship with God. That realisation has been my foundation and helped answer any faith crisis I experienced before.
You have won many awards and accolades along the way as a worship singer. How does that make you feel?
To be honest, I don’t know. I, however feel indebted to the engineers, producers and anybody else who has contributed to the success of my music journey. Sometimes, the people that you don’t see on the frontline work as hard as artistes to ensure that the world gets the best.
You have released to the world more than 25 Christian gospel songs. Do you have a favourite?
I get asked that quite a lot. I don’t have a favourite. Each song that I have written or collaborated with other artistes speak for a particular season. “Your Presence is Heaven to Me” for example, speaks of finding contentment in Christ while “You are good” is about thanksgiving.
In your journey as a Christian music singer, what is one of your major discoveries?
That it is important to find balance. In my previous marriage, I was a workaholic and spent too much time travelling around the world. However, in my current marriage, I’m often at home and spend ample time with my wife, Adrienne Bailon. To fellow artistes, it is good that they find balance in whatever they do. Family comes first.
Are you at a good place right now? Not only spiritually, but also socially and professionally?
There has been a lot of transitioning in my life in the past few years; getting into a new marriage, leaving Lakewood Church and starting a programme for the homeless in Los Angeles. In spite of all these transitions, I’m at a happy place with myself, my family and God.
Occasionally we hear of Kenyan gospel artistes competing and holding grudges against each other...
Wait, gospel artistes holding grudges against each other? That’s an oxymoron and very ridiculous. The gospel industry takes such a small percentage in the music industry that I’m lost as to why we should be in competition with each other. To be honest I have never heard of that before. And you can quote me that where there are such fights, God is not there.
What are you preparing for your fans?
I am working on a television and film project to be released soon. It is an exciting project but sorry, I can’t share more about it now.
Things to know about Israel Houghton
Popular for his cross cultural music that blends together elements of gospel, jazz, rock reggae, he is a six time Grammy award winner scooping his first in 2012 for Best Pop/Contemporary gospel album. Other awards include Dove GMA Awards (11 awards) and two Stellar Awards.
Israel formed New Breed Ministries in 1995 with his ex-wife. The group is comprised of world class musicians and singers.
He was born to a white mother and black father. However, his mother and biological father separated when he was eight months and remarried when Israel was one-year-old.
The singer found his new love in 2016 after divorcing his wife of 20 years. There were rumours that his current wife contributed to the divorce, something that Israel was quick to refute, noting that before the separation, he and his Adrienne were just friends.
The song writer admitted that his infidelity was to blame for the split and took to Facebook to apologise to his fans across the world.
Besides being a music singer, Israel was the co-executive producer of I’m in Love with a Church Girl, a movie that was released in 2013. It was on this set that he met his current wife, Adrienne Bailon who starred as Vanessa Leon.
Before the separation rumour surfaced online, Israel was ministering at the Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas where he had been a worship leader for five years. In March 2016, when the internet was awash with the divorce rumours, he was sent on an indefinite leave although the church maintained that his employment had not been terminated. He has since found a new place of worship in Los Angeles.
Israel admits that away from the mic, he is a very shy person and a lover of hats.