A story like that of George Huff would make a great novel. It has all the classic ingredients: a long climb from poverty to prosperity, unflagging determination against stiff odds, and a long shot that paid off big, all guided by faith in a power much bigger than any man. However, this is anything but fiction. This is George Huff, and it's nothing but the truth.
On George's national full-album debut, Miracles, one hears more than great songs, performance and production, though all that is there in abundance. Even more significant is the sensation of something almost rustling in the wind; something important and enduring, unfolding before your eyes and ears.
Brilliantly displaying George's singular, often stunning touch for deeply moving, soulful pop and r&b, Miracles is nothing less than the introduction of one of the most commanding voices in contemporary music today.
"Count on You" and "See What God Can Do" (one of six songs co-written by George on Miracles) both marry smooth, mid-tempo grooves to memorable melodies and hooks, given some serious r&b muscle by punchy and prominent bass and percussion, all adding additional arrays of color to George's already immense palette.
"`See What God Can Do' arose from that time between college and the early stages of American Idol, when I was pretty much at my wits end," George recalls. "I was discouraged by the way things had gone in school, and I knew that Idol, and the music business in general, was such a long shot. But it dawned on me that if I was to have a chance at anything, I had to change my whole point of view from, `What can George do?' to, `Exercise the faith you were raised on, and let go of having to control everything, and then see what God can do.' I did, and He was faithful to His promises."
The jazzy, funk-flavored "Fortunes" aces the often elusive goal of merging highly radio-ready, user-friendly fare with lyrics of substance and wisdom. "Hold on to Love" puts a cool retro-soul sound into a very hip, modern pocket, yielding what has all the markings of an enduring anthem and ode to the power of love, while "You Know Me" is a gorgeous, unforgettable ballad, gently and lovingly acknowledging both the unfathomably vast and deeply intimate aspects of the Almighty.
To all that, add an unfathomable high point for George - working with DarkChild Gospel's Freddie Jerkins ‘ "Brighter Day" and "Real Love." Both songs keep timely messages simple in musical packages that constantly move and press forward. "Brighter Day" celebrates a day coming when people unite and break free from situations that weigh them down, while "Real Love" talks about one real, great love of Jesus Christ.
"`You Know Me,' was co-written and produced by Bruce Roberts, who's written and produced for some of the major artists in the industry (Cher, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Barbra Streisand and many others)," says George. "I was blown away from the first time I heard it. Not only is it a beautiful song, but the words conveyed my heart so perfectly. People only see aspects of public figures, but never the whole picture of who they are. However, God knows me completely, inside and out. And I would hope, as people get to know me, they'll be able to see and know me beyond just an image; to see a person who's just as human, and as `normal' as they are, going through the same joys and struggles we all go through."
The title track "Miracles," which was written by Barry Manilow's music director, Ron Walters, specifically for George, was the one song missing from the CD - until they connected. "I listened to the song with my sister, and when I heard it, my heart dropped to my feet and my feet went up in the air!" says George. "Here's the song I had been looking for. It tapped into George Huff the person because my life has been a miracle. That's why I had to call the CD Miracles; my life has been full of them."
George was born and raised in New Orleans, and both church and music became integral parts of his life at a very young age. His discovery of his natural-born gift for song came when he was hardly more than a toddler, hearing "That's What Friends Are For"-the 1985, No.1 pop smash, featuring Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder-playing on the radio.
"When that came on I just started singing along, and I could follow them every lick of the way! I ran into the kitchen shouting, `Mama...Mama! I can sing!'" George recalls, laughing. "She looked at me and said, `Shut up, boy. You can't sing. Get out of my kitchen!'"
It was not long, however, before George's mother, and an ever-increasing number of people around New Orleans, began realizing that the little boy not only could sing, but was in fact supremely gifted.
"God just gave me this talent," says George. "I did my first solo in church when I was five, and by age six I was receiving invitations to sing in churches, of almost every denomination, on a regular basis several times a week. It was a pretty safe bet that if I wasn't in school, I was in church for most of my young life."
George was also reared in abject poverty, as his parents divorced when he was an infant, leaving his mother to raise him and his three siblings on her own in a federal housing project almost within eyesight and earshot of New Orleans' famed French Quarter. However, a cousin, many years his senior, became the father figure in George's life, ferrying him from church to church, and providing a positive male role model for the youngster. The combination of the diverse sounds of his hometown-a city world-renowned for its music-and the mix of popular sacred and secular artists that filled the airwaves, gave George advanced-study lessons-albeit from afar-in the art of singing. He recalls artists from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Gospel greats Daryl Coley, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong as capturing his imagination and having a deep creative impact on him. And though it would be some time before George was old enough to make a serious career decision regarding music, the sheer magnitude of his gifts had essentially already determined his destiny years earlier.
"I just loved singing so much," says George. "I was a pretty nerdy kid. We didn't have money for the `right' clothes to wear, and kids would make fun of me; but whenever I was singing none of that mattered. It has always been pure joy for me."
After graduating high school, George attended the University of Oklahoma on a full music scholarship. George's prodigious vocal abilities landed him major roles in the department's numerous operatic productions and garnered him rave reviews. However, at the end of his sophomore year, his scholarship money had been exhausted, and after completing his junior year on college loans, financial imperatives forced him to postpone his senior year. George took a job cooking and washing dishes in the school's cafeteria, keeping his sites set on the goal he'd set of a degree in Music Education and a career as a music teacher, even as he continued to be a featured, non-student performer in the school's musical productions. As he pondered what had become a frustrating, even depressing situation, an option presented itself which he had never before seriously considered.
The hit TV show, American Idol, was beginning its city-to-city try-outs for what would be its third season. With a combination of confidence in his abilities and a sense of resignation, George traveled to Houston for the first round of auditions. Passing the initial trial led to a series of additional auditions which finally won him a place on the show's actual on-air competition. After being nearly eliminated twice George rebounded with newfound vigor, to the rapturous approval of the show's judges and millions of viewers, ending the season among the Top 5 contestants.
That exemplary showing landed George a place on both American Idol's yearly CD of its winning contestants, and its ensuing 50-city tour. Upon the tour's completion, George soon found himself with offers from four different major record companies.
Of his decision to sign with Word, and use his talents for both entertainment and the sharing of the good news of the Gospel, George speaks with what is now a clearly focused vision, years in the making.
"I don't think hitting anybody over the head with the message of faith, as I've lived it and experienced it, accomplishes much good," he says. "I want my albums and my performances to be entertaining and engaging. But I also want people to be able to look at me as a whole person-not just an entertainer-and see someone they feel they can approach and relate to, and who relates to them as well.
"If I just live my life the way God calls us to, and people see that consistently-whether they even know what it is or not-then at some point they might start hearing the music in new ways and on different levels, too," he concludes. "That's when they're ready to really go deeper, and I'm excited about seeing that happen and being a part of peoples lives being changed."