Deeply Rooted

Gospel background helps band establish style, gain loyal following

For five years now, the Brownskin Band has pounded the local circuit while establishing itself as a household name.

The band’s music is a blend of funky soul with a twist, according to Nate Brown (drummer) and Joe Cummings (keyboardist). Members perform at bars, clubs, festivals and private functions such as parties and weddings. The band has a loyal following of young and old fans.

Brownskin Band has attracted a strong following in the area. --Photo provided by Brownskin Band

Many of the fans are active members of local churches. They all share a love of Brownskin’s music. In 2010, Brownskin released a self-produced CD titled “My Love To You.” They have been nominated twice for the SAMMY Award and have won the Upper New York State Award for best rhythm-and-blues band.

Nate Brown, 42, also known as “Peanut,” is the band’s founder and leader. He was raised playing in the church during an era when many in the “black church” were told that musicians and singers could not do both “the Lord’s work and the Devil’s work.” That meant if you played in the church it was frowned upon if you worked on the secular circuit.

Peanut is the son and a nephew of some of the most renowned local gospel singers and a much-respected preacher. I wondered if it had been a conscious decision for him to choose to perform outside of the church, so I asked him about it.

“It’s about making people feel good about themselves,” Peanut said. “We always pray before we perform, and we always ask that we will be able to reach someone and touch them in the way that pleases God. People have actually come up to us after our performances to tell us that they were touched by something that we played. That’s how I know it’s OK.”

The band’s other members have musical and church roots as well. Gary Carter, the group’s male lead vocalist, is Peanut’s cousin and shares part of the same legacy. Rounding out the band are Ekwan Brooks (keyboard), Jonathan Dale (bass) and Danielle Mitchell. Danielle is the group’s female lead singer and Joe’s sister. All of them have a connection to church, and some of them still play there regularly.

Joe, or “Lawd Dweez,” as he is sometimes called, shared some insightful things in our conversation. He said that he believes the Syracuse area has “some of the best talent on the East Coast” but that it lacks a record label capable of marketing the sound on a national level.

Peanut follows the philosophy that music should be for the people. “When we are asked to perform, I always consider it an honor and a privilege, and I accept it with humility,” he said. “After our performances, I always try to show my appreciation by sending an email to say thank you or by giving them a phone call.”

That formula must be working for them. The band performs at numerous functions. Brownskin has a gig booked for nearly every weekend.

“Their music is good, culturally relevant and uplifting,” said the Rev. Brian Hill, pastor of the King’s Healing Room, where three members of Brownskin perform. “At the King’s Healing Room, our ministry deals with many individuals and families who are struggling financially, emotionally and spiritually. There is a need to reach out to them. Through God’s grace, Brownskin has been able to help us to do that.”

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