Gospel singers#8217; work starting to catch on

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FRANKLIN—With a new compact disc in production and tour dates planned for the spring, a local couple is watching its career in gospel music take off.

“We are building a fan base that is phenomenal,” Raymond Felton said last week. “I’m overwhelmed.”

Raymond and his wife Letrice sing together in the gospel duet “Raytrice,” which records for Savage Music Productions Inc. in Ahoskie, N.C.

Having grown up in Suffolk and Franklin, respectively, their recent success is still a bit bewildering, they said during an interview in support of their CD “Unstoppable,” due in stores Feb. 1.

“We are selling out concerts after concerts, now,” Raymond said, but it’s still a bit of a surprise when they’re in Wal-Mart and have someone ask them for their autographs.

Since the couple started singing together about eight months ago, they have played at concerts in Franklin, Suffolk, Greensboro, N.C., and Durham, N.C., and at churches in the area. Recently they have begun to hear their music get heavy rotation on WLQM’s AM gospel station, 1250 The Light.

Louise Lankford-Morings, WLQM’s gospel program director, has been one of their biggest supporters locally, giving them air time on the station and introducing them at local concerts. She’ll do so again Sunday at 6 p.m. at New Hope Baptist Church in Franklin.

“They’re a real good group to work with,” she said. “Their music tells a story, and it’s inspiring to a lot of people.”

Though the radio station runs a satellite feed during the week, the weekend features local programming, including a generous helping of call-in requests. Lankford-Morings said she gets quite a few requests for Raytrice, especially for the song “Hard Sometimes.”

The station usually features traditional gospel music quartets, with some contemporary music thrown into the mix, she said. But Raytrice appeals to a younger group.

That’s just the generation Raytrice wants to attract.

“The whole concept behind what we’re doing is to get the youth off the streets,” Raymond said. “Our music provides an outlet for youth to be able to express themselves through dance.”

With a sound that ranges from traditional R&B to hip hop, Raytrice draws on the influences and experiences of its members.

Letrice, 31, a former employee of a local welding company, was the choir director at Faith Fellowship in Christ when she met Raymond in Ahoskie three years ago.

Raymond, 39, recorded R&B music with Mighty G Entertainment in Suffolk before signing with Savage, known for its hip hop gospel singers, including Blessed, RaySave and Soldiers Against the Darkness.

He said he got involved with Savage because he wanted to “start being more of a family man” after marrying Letrice.

“I stayed in trouble,” he said of his past. “I’ve seen WTRJ [Western Tidewater Regional Jail] more times than the COs that worked there. I’m a bad boy gone good. Through all my falling down, I was able to get up.”

His redemption informs such songs as “Hard Sometimes,” “Trouble in My Way” and “There is Power,” which, he said, “actually told the story of my life.”

“I know,” he says in the song’s intro. “I’ve been there.”

Raymond writes all the music for the duo, and he has high hopes for its impact on the community.

“It’s not just making music,” he said. “It’s making the world a better place to be in.”

With tour dates set for the spring in Colorado, Orlando and Washington, D.C., Raytrice is getting ready to take that music out into the broader world.

But for Raymond, at least, the true measure of their fame and impact will be much closer to home.

A 1988 Suffolk High School graduate and the last drum major to perform with that school’s marching band, he worked as an electrician on the building when it was converted into the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

“I’ve got a dream,” he said. “I just want a shot at that stage. I want Raytrice to be on that stage at least once.”