When Lisa Page Brooks was a youngster, her mother was bound and determined that Lisa and her sister would be singers. But Lisa wasn’t all that comfortable with her voice. It was much deeper than other girls her age. She’d try to sing soprano by warbling along with Tramaine Hawkins records to no avail.
“I thought that would increase my range and make it higher,” she says. “It didn’t, so I had to accept my low register.”
She’d inherited her pipes from her father, Warren Harris, who sang the bottom line for the Monitors, a Motown label group.
“He sang bass, low voice, and I think that’s why my voice is so low,” says Lisa. “I used to kind of hate that, but I said, ‘Well, I got to get comfortable in my own skin.’”
Today, Lisa is a pastor, and her deep, rich alto voice is her signature. It has made her a star in the gospel music constellation.
Tucked away on Eight Mile Road just east of Southfield Road, a converted business suite is the Restoration Fellowship Church International. Each week, nondenominational ministers Lisa and her husband, Michael Brooks, glory-roar to folks ready for praise, song and dance.
A recent Sunday is typical. The service begins with song. Michael is on keys and Lisa is warming up her voice, straight gospel, enriched in soul. The hardened Peavey speakers quiver and barely hold Lisa’s tremolo. Michael and Lisa are soon joined by drums, bass and guitar. Worshipers sing and raise their hands in praise. The energy is breathtaking.
Those wise to the gospel scene know the Brookses well — Michael as former keyboardist, songwriter and singer in the legendary band Commissioned, and Lisa as lead vocalist of the female quartet Witness. Both groups flexed beyond contemporary gospel and received crossover appeal with their urban/R&B/pop grooves.
But Witness has not put out a record for six years. Now the group is ready to support the release of An Appointed Time on the Boston-based Axiom Label. Lisa had put out a couple dexterous solo albums, but fans convinced her to go back into the recording studio with Witness.
“The whole Witness thing never died,” says Lisa. “Every time I would go [perform], I’d get requested to do Witness songs. I would get e-mailed, letters. People always approach us, ‘When is Witness gonna record again?’”
Joe Langham, vice-president of operations at Axiom, knew that signing Witness would warrant respect for the upstart label.
“As a new label, Witness was a name we needed to validate the label,” Langham says via phone. “I began working for the label in April of 2003, and my first order of business was Witness. I came into the door with a bang.”
Witness’ first recording, Keep Looking Up, came in 1987 on Tyscot Records.
The group earned national notoriety in 1991 when it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Gospel Group.
The group’s 1993 album, Standard, came out on Church of God International (CGI), and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Gospel Album Chart. The title cut became the group’s most celebrated song.
The next two years brought the albums He Can Do the Impossible and A Song in the Night on CGI.
In 1995, Witness won a Gospel Music Stellar Award for Best Contemporary Group Performance and a Gospel Music Workshop of America Best Contemporary Song Award for “Get in the Way.”
In 1997, Lisa came out with her first solo album, More Than You’ll Ever Know. Another solo disc, Love Is An Action Word, followed in 1998.
Lisa, 40, says she can’t remember a day in her life without singing. When she was a girl, her mother required her to sing with her sister, Laeh, who is also a member of Witness.
“She made us,” Lisa says. “If you wanted to play outside in the summertime, if you wanted to ride your bike, she’s going, ‘Lisa, Laeh, come here; I want you to sing this song.’
“You’d want to play and she’s making you rehearse, so it paid off, but when you’re a kid, you don’t understand that — you just want to play. She made us sing, made us sing, and I thank God she did.”
By the time she was attending Detroit St. Benedictine High School, Lisa was performing with her mother, Shirley Harris, and Laeh in The Voices of Eden, a combo that sang at local churches and faith gatherings.
In 1979, while performing with the family group, she met her future husband, Michael.
“I was a teenager at the time. I can’t remember exactly where we met,” she says. “But, as a matter of fact, a few times he played for our family group. We sang at a couple of churches and we didn’t have a musician, and he was there, so we asked him to play for us. But, you know, it’s just so crazy not knowing that way down the road that I’d be married to this man.”
Michael, who has always been a prolific songwriter, approached Lisa in the mid-’80s with the idea of creating an all-female gospel act.
“My husband is all-around. He started Witness, owns the name, owns the production company, he writes and does all the producing,” Lisa explains.
Before Axiom’s Langham contacted them, Michael was encouraging Lisa to do another Witness album.
“He kept presenting the whole concept to me. It was really heavy on him to record us again.”
An Appointed Time took about 10 weeks to record.
“I called it divine connection, because it was really awesome the way God just kind of placed the puzzle, put the pieces together to make it happen again,” Lisa says. “Once we started it was like we’d never stopped.”
On the album, Lisa was again joined by her sister, primary member Lou Ann Stewart, and newest member, Lisa’s daughter, Natasha Brooks.
“That was something to see, to see her sing,” Lisa says.
Son Justin plays drums and keyboards on the recording.
The family ties don’t stop there. Lisa’s multi-instrumentalist brother, Charles “Ollie” Harris, has been a constant collaborator with Michael on producing and arranging. Lisa loves the interconnection, saying it helps with creative thought and makes the tedious recording process much more tolerable.
“We all like different types of music, so the music is versatile,” Lisa says. “I love that because it’s not just one thing. That’s really important to me — I never want people to get bored.”
Witness fans will be pleased that the Witness sound they’re accustomed to isn’t lost on An Appointed Time. The vocals are still passionately strong and the music tightly orchestrated. Songs like “Battles,” “Yes I Touched Him” and “Clap Your Hands” each have an uplifting pop-hit flavor. Witness has scheduled a national tour scheduled for this summer.
Witness performs Wednesday and Thursday, May 5-6, at the Fifth Annual Pastors & Church Leaders Conference at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 W. Seven Mile Road. Doors open at 7 p.m. Call 313-543-6000. For more on Witness, visit www.witnessisback.com.Scott Harrison is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]