William Murphy III
Worship & Justice
William Murphy’s Worship & Justice is Sunday morning music for Monday morning. The three-time GRAMMYⓇ Award nominee says, “For 20 years, God has given me music for Sunday. But this time, the Lord said that what I do on Sunday is not just to encourage, but also to provide people with the wisdom, grace, and power to do something on Monday."
This is the refrain of Murphy’s seventh album, Worship & Justice, slated for release on July 15, 2022.
It’s Murphy’s first album since his GRAMMYⓇ-nominated 2019 chart-topper Settle Here. It’s also the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only affected his ministry but nearly took his life. “I was infected with COVID twice. The first time, I almost died, but the Lord kept me. I got vaccinated, and I contracted COVID again, but this time, it was very mild. The biggest effect on me as a pastor and singer was that my calendar from March 2020 to the beginning of March 2022 was pretty much nonexistent. Everything went from jumping on planes to jumping on Zoom.”
Murphy and his family temporarily closed the doors of their dReam Center Church in Atlanta during the national lockdown and conducted Sunday services online. Two years of living in a social and communal vacuum made the December 4, 2021, live recording session at the church that much more satisfying. Murphy says, “We were gathering for the first time in almost two years. We had over a thousand people in the room. People still had masks on but it was like a wind of fresh air to see the room filled again.”
The joyful return to collective worship is expressed eloquently on Worship & Justice’s “House of The Lord,” a song Murphy wrote with Shannon Davis 25 years ago and updated for the recording.
In general, however, the album is a response to the events that have led to widespread social unrest in the U.S. over the past two years. Murphy explained, “If I’m dealing with my congregants, I’m dealing with what’s happening in the street. I’m dealing with families affected by police violence. Music is an open door to address these major issues, yet nobody was addressing it in a direct way in gospel music. The hearts and the minds of the people have been open and receptive, but I felt the prophetic voice was missing. As a prophetic voice, as a creative voice, I had to address it.”
Historically, and for good reason, spirituals and gospel songs coded social messages in lyrics that appeared to outsiders as uncomplicated prayers and retellings of Bible stories. With Worship & Justice, Murphy wants to liberate the restorative power of Sunday worship so it is not just a coping strategy but an explicit call for change.
Notable examples on the album include “Set the Prisoners Free.” Murphy wrote the song, based on Psalm 146, with longtime collaborator David Outing. It pays homage to Michael
Brown, Eric Garner, and George Floyd. Murphy explained, “We turned what happened into a cry of help to God. None of us have all the answers, but God has the answers.”
The “Worship and Justice” title track, also a Murphy-Outing collaboration, invites Jesus into the conversation. Murphy said, “It says, ‘let’s gather on Sunday so we can get the strategy and strength to do something on Monday’.” The song also includes a featured appearance from GRAMMYⓇ and OSCARⓇ-winning artist, actor, and activist Common.
Providing a powerful introduction is the lead single “Just Us,” with its wordplay on “justice,” encompassing the album’s philosophy. At one point, Murphy and the musicians interpolate “We Shall Overcome,” the Reverend Charles A. Tindley’s gospel-hymn-turned-civil rights-anthem, the ideal example of church music as catalyst for change.
The production of Worship & Justice is a family affair for William Murphy. Son David introduces his father on the recording, while “Hosanna” is sung by Murphy’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Keilah. The Praise & Worship song “Testify” was written by his brother DeJaughn, who also wrote and sings “WOW [Wonder On Top of Wonder].”
Kenneth Leonard is the album’s producer. Several members of dReam Center’s music department assist as musicians and background vocalists. This includes the church’s new music director Reggie Strong, and second assistant Eugene Brown, both of whom appear on “There is Grace.” The song is the live recording’s spiritual turning point. Murphy laughs, “Brown came up and wrecked the place! It was basically time to go home after he got done, but we had some more songs to do!”
Murphy collaborated with Aaron Moses and Chandler Moore of the GRAMMYⓇ Award-winning worship collective, Maverick City Music, writing with Moses on “There is Grace,” and with Moore on “Already Won.” Murphy says, “I had an opportunity to play some kind of a role in their life from afar,” adding, “They make me feel so old, but it’s okay!”
“The Just Shall Live,” about assuming authority over disease, was written for a church member struggling with health challenges. Murphy recalled, “I started singing the song [to him] in the hallway of church one day. I said, ‘God gave me this song for you.’ That was probably three years ago. Three weeks before the recording, Kenny and I were editing songs from the set list, because we had too many, but I said we had to record this song.” Murphy is gratified to see the song minister to members of his church, and hopes the recording will do the same for others battling health issues.
After the album’s release, William Murphy plans to promote the album by conducting Worship & Justice Weekends nationwide. “We’ll go into cities on a Friday and Saturday and address social justice issues.” It will be a chance to spread his message: “Even if it’s just us, there’s still enough of us that we can change the world.”