Karima Kibble, Ebony Trotter, Shavonne Sampson and Negelle Sumter-better known today as Virtue-were all born into houses full of music, and with hearts for the Lord.
Using Gospel and contemporary R&B, Virtue delivers a message of relevance and urgency in a defined sound that has changed the landscape of contemporary Gospel.
“All of us had musical families, and just grew up singing,” Negelle relates. “We had all sung in other groups before the four of us got together, but we knew from the first moment that this was from God. We didn’t have to work at singing as a group.
We had a natural blend, and we also were of the same mind regarding the purpose of our singing. We were thinking ministry. We would have remained happy to serve God as a local voice. We didn’t even have a finished demo, but it found its own way to Verity and they signed us. It was something that God brought to us totally unexpectedly.”
The group’s self-titled debut album, released in the spring of ’97, earned nominations for three Stellar and two Dove Awards, landing a major hit on the Gospel charts with “Let the Redeemed,” and a top 10 Contemporary Christian smash, “Greatest Part of Me.”
Since their first album the quartet has set their own standard. With a sophomore effort, “Get Ready” (1999) they bless listeners with their cool harmonies and unique sound. Virtue seems to cover all music genres on this album from urban-contemporary “Get Ready,” “Put Your War Clothes On”, to the more traditional sounds “Angels Over Me,” “Be Grateful”, to the relaxing “Don’t Take Your Joy”. The remake of the Walter Hawkins “Be Grateful” hit has to be the best one out there.
The Dove and Stellar Award nominees continued releasing great hits on the follow-up CDs, “Virtuosity!” (2001), “Free” (2003), “Nothing But the Hits” (2004) and “Testimony” (2006).
“Testimony” was produced by and features the irresistible songwriting of Fred Jerkins III (Destiny’s Child, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston) and LaShawn Daniels (Destiny’s Child, Brandy, Michael Jackson). As with their other CD’s, “Testimony” showcases Virtue’s signature harmonies and worshipful emotive style with club-savvy, groove-driven songs.
“We want to touch those who have been raised in the Church but do not yet have a relationship with Christ,” says Negelle. “Each member of Virtue has a story to tell along these lines. Though we went to church all of our lives, there was a time when we were just going through the motions, until somebody said something that made Him real to us.
“And we want to reach people who are still wandering out in the world and don’t know Christ at all. Jesus commissioned us to go out and be fishers of men and we take that charge seriously.”
With a calm self-assurance that’s characteristic of Virtue, each member holds visions and dreams for the future that are remarkably of one mind. Negelle emphasizes that the group did not choose its name lightly.
“We would hope that people see Christ in us all the time-not just when we’re singing but in every aspect of our lives. We take the name Virtue very seriously. We didn’t choose it because we felt that we were virtuous in and of ourselves. We want to show people that if you strive to be like Christ and let Him work in your life, then you are a virtuous person.”