LAURINBURG — A military man and Laurinburg native, raised in a household filled with the hand-clapping, foot-stomping rhythms of soulful gospel and the classical sounds of smooth jazz, is honoring the roots of his musical inspirations with the release of his sixth album.
Though he put his love of music on hold for an Air Force career, at 49 years old Bruce McKenzie has fully embraced his passion.
“When it came down to it my heart is in that gospel music,” McKenzie said. “Once you get removed from something it’s hard to get back connected to it. I have a lot of messages from God that I’ll be sharing. It’s been a journey, boy, I tell you.”
McKenzie threaded the strings on his first guitar — a gift from his mother, Barbara McKenzie — at 12 years old. Barbara would later set her son up with music lessons.
A major influence in McKensie’s musical career was his family, who was heavily involved in playing and singing gospel music. Many friends and mentors helped inspire and encourage him to pursue his love for playing the guitar, songwriting and composing.
“My aunt, Lucile McKenzie, she had a gospel group in Laurinburg that was called the Angelettes of North Carolina,” he said. “It was pretty much a McKenzie family gospel group. I was a very, very young boy and I used to see her with the group singing and practicing … .”
“I heard it around the house all the time,” said McKenzie. “I grew up with it. It was just all around.”
McKenzie played guitar for several gospel quartets and recorded a few demo gospel projects in North Carolina and South Carolina before his military career, which began when he joined the Air Force after graduating from North Carolina Central University in 1982.
“One of my really good friends, Greg Bass, he was from Laurinburg,” McKenzie said. “He ended up joining the Air Force. He came home on leave and I got really pumped up about his experience and I wanted to join as well.”
Although he was dedicated to his profession in the military and taking care of his family McKenzie missed performing his music.
“I’ve been playing gospel music all my life,” he said. “I just wanted to go back to my roots.”
His sixth and newly released album, Don’t Forget Where You Came From, is now on sale on iTunes, Amazon and Laurinburg’s own Gospel Music and Christian Bookstore on Main Street.
“This album means everything to me,” McKenzie said. “It’s a message from God and I wanted to share it with many people.”
The album consists of a collection of songs through the last 25 years of his life that play homage to the gospel groups he played with in the Laurinburg area. He said he does everything on the album — the drum programming, the back up singing and lead singing — but didn’t forget to mention his youngest child, 6-year-old daughter, Jazlyn, who also wanted some credit for helping out with the recording equipment while he was in the studio.
McKenzie said his favorite song on his newest album is “Don’t Forget Where You Came From.”
“I’ve been in the Air Force for 26 years and I’ve been all around the world,” he said. “Too often I’ve traveled and you meet people from all walks of life. Sometimes you just have to look back and that’s what this song is about. … That’s the most meaningful song to me personally.”
He said that he hopes that the song reminds people that they can look back on their life, realize and appreciate loved ones who helped them achieve their goals just as his had.
Rachel McAuley can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 15. Follow her on Twitter @rachelmcauley1.