When Koryn Hawthorne sings, it fills your heart.
That might sound like something most singers can do. But it’s not. And therein lies the resonating power of Koryn’s voice and insightful lyrics.
Now the voice and the lyrics, which captivated viewers of NBC’s The Voice and soared to the top of the Gospel charts with the No. 1 single “Won’t He Do It,” are back. I Am, Koryn’s second album for RCA Inspiration, reclaims the energy and purpose of her 2018 debut album Unstoppable.
“I Am is who God called me to be,” Koryn proclaims. “I’m very big on purpose, very big on identity. With my first album I was figuring out who I was as an artist. Now I’m more confident in who I am.”
That’s immediately evident on “Pray,” one of the project’s two lead singles. Its dramatic keyboard opening — accompanied by a male voice earnestly cautioning, “You need to find somewhere you can run to” — sets the tone for the up-tempo track’s story about persevering through prayer come what may. It’s a soothing respite as COVID-19 continues to ravage the country. Written last year, ironically, “Pray” was also never intended to be the first single.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written,” says Koryn, who co-wrote seven of I Am’s 10 songs. “There was no way of knowing then what was going to happen in the world. Its encouraging message is so true to the times, so purposeful. There was no way we couldn’t release the song.”
Being promoted at radio now is I Am’s second single, the finger-snapping, boisterous opener “Speak to Me.” None other than gospel icon Donnie McClurkin gave Koryn his blessing on the song, which features a sample from his popular musical missive “Speak to My Heart.” Co-written by Johntå Austin (Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige), Troy Taylor and Try Bishop, “Speak to Me” finds Koryn joyously explaining why she cherishes her relationship with God.
Additional songs that capture the essence of who Koryn is musically include “You” and “Know You,” two more of her co-writes. Of the former — with its syncopated beats, horns and marching cadence — the Louisiana native enthusiastically notes, “It carries my energy.”
The insightful ballad “Know You” features Steffany Gretzinger, who also co-wrote the song with Koryn and Jason Ingram. Koryn’s focus here is on strengthening her relationship with the Lord. “This is worship, which sits at the core of my heart,” she says. “It goes deeper than religion. This song and ‘You’ define me as an artist and a person.”
An adventurous mix of R&B/Soul, Hip-Hop, Pop and Gospel, I Am is the next exciting chapter in the evolution of Koryn’s “urban inspirational” signature sound first showcased on Unstoppable. Her sophomore project flows freely from start to finish — a cohesive collection brimming with motivational messages. before segueing into equally powerful selections such as “Joy” (which interpolates Mary J. Blige’s 1995 hit “You Bring Me Joy”), “Peace” featuring fellow gospel star Jonathan McReynolds, the quiet yet commanding “How Great,” co-written by contemporary Christian music singer/songwriter Matt Maher and the riveting “Start from Scratch.”
In addition to reuniting with Unstoppable collaborators Austin, Taylor and Makeba Riddick, Koryn worked for the first time with GRAMMY®-winning producer Darhyl “DJ” Camper (H.E.R., John Legend) and genre-fusing artist/songwriter Daniel Breland (“My Truck”). As with Unstoppable, Koryn and crew recorded I Am in two weeks.
“I didn’t go into the studio with a preset plan for either album,” says the fearless experimenter. “When you work with people who are gifted, it’s fun, easy and organic.”
Becoming a recording artist is the one plan the 22-year-old Koryn has followed since she was a child growing up in Abbeville, Louisiana. Singing in her family’s church, Lighthouse for Jesus, she also listened to everyone from Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin to the aforementioned Blige and Michael Jackson. Making her public debut at a talent showcase in Las Vegas — and winning — Koryn began auditioning for America’s Got Talent, X Factor and American Idol by age 11.
But it was on The Voice that Koryn’s raw, versatile vocals caught the ear of GRAMMY®-winning producer/artist Pharrell Williams (who compared her career drive to Beyoncé’s). After ascending to the finalist level and winning fourth place during season eight of the NBC TV series, Koryn signed with RCA Inspiration.
Debut album Unstoppable reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart, yielding the No. 1 Gold-certified single “Won’t He Do It” and the No. 3 title track. The former was originally conceived and written for the soundtrack of Greenleaf, a drama about a megachurch minister and his family now in its final season on the OWN Network.
Set to host the 35th anniversary of the Stellar Gospel Awards, Koryn won her first Stellar Award in 2019 for Music Video of the Year on behalf of “Won’t He Do It.” She’s also a two-time Dove Award winner for Unstoppable (2019 Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year) and “Won’t He Do It” (2018 Contemporary Gospel/Urban Recorded Song of the Year). Her “Speak the Name” garnered a 2019 GRAMMY® nod for Best Gospel Performance/Song, while “Won’t He Do It” gave Koryn her first 2018 GRAMMY® nomination in 2018 under the same category. Her additional industry accolades include the Billboard Music Awards (2019 win for Top Gospel Song/”Won’t He Do It”) and NAACP Image Awards (2019 win for Outstanding Gospel Album, Traditional or Contemporary/Unstoppable).
A self-professed warrior for God, Koryn hopes I Am “will affect people’s hearts with songs that are like prayers working in their lives. That’s why I’ll never get tired of singing.”