It’s rare these days to find a young artist who puts everything on the table. Who puts his whole heart into his music and passionately sings of his love for Jesus Christ. McReynolds is that rare find, who at 23 years old is on his way to becoming one of the most fascinating gospel / Christian contemporary music (CCM) artists of his time. With his exceptional songwriting, incredible voice, and his compelling debut album “Life Music,” there is absolutely no stopping Jonathan’s tremendous talent and natural star quality.
Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Jonathan grew up in the church and began playing drums at his church as a young child. He moved onto playing the organ and singing in the youth choir, inspired by gospel greats such a Kim Burrell, Smokie Norful and Israel Houghton, and even R&B and rock and roll giants like Stevie Wonder, India Arie, John Mayer, and Paul McCartney. But actually, singing was not his forte at the time. “I didn’t like singing back then,” Jonathan admits. “I wasn’t the type of person who was a front man. I was OK with just playing the organ. I wasn’t ready for that criticism of being out in front, and in the spotlight.”
However it was too hard to suppress that great voice and undeniable talent. His mother encouraged him to sing and use the gift that God had given him. So it was in high school that he began to listen to his mom and to God. “In high school you’re looking for an identity, you’re looking for something to separate you from something else, and singing just became my thing. God really had a plan for me.”
In 2007, Jonathan went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Popular Music at Columbia College in Chicago, which allowed him to perfect his vocal skills, master the piano, and study the performance, production, and business side of the music industry. He even set up a small studio in his dorm room, taking the time between classes to write and record music. But it was his junior year in 2009, when his life would be changed forever. He put together a few songs and created a CD called The Very Unofficial EP of Jonathan McReynolds to give as a Christmas gift for his family. “I got a good response from them and also from friends coming in and out of my dorm room who were just hanging out and listening to my stuff.”
Jonathan also posted the music on Facebook and somehow the CD was leaked to the local radio station. “One morning I woke up to 10 missed calls on my cell phone because one of my songs had just been played on the radio. I called into the radio station and the deejay invited me to his church. I went to the church and sold a thousand CDs in one day and things took off from there. I literally woke up and was an artist,” he says. Jonathan then went to Atlanta to for an event with Bishop Paul Morton and Pastor Jerry Parries, the president of Tehillah Music Group/Light Records, and was soon signed to the label after remarkable feedback.
And now there’s Life Music, Jonathan’s amazing debut album which takes listeners on a touching journey through his life experiences and his deep faith and connection to God. In the first single, “I Love You,” which is getting a lot of radio play and generating a lot of buzz, Jonathan proudly praises his savior and thanks him for being such a resounding force in his life, singing, “Just as sure as I know my name/I know one thing that will never change/I love you.” While in the honest and moving “No Gray,” Jonathan discusses the difficulty of navigating both worlds—the secular and the Godly—crooning, “Lord, I’m split in two/part of me loves the world/and the other loves you/so what do I do/I want to be saved but I want to be cool too/.”
According to Jonathan, Life Music is everything he’s truly about. “The album is about being authentic, genuine, pure and transparent. That’s who I am as a person,” he says. “I’m direct, I’m blunt. I’m not giving into clichés or Christian needs. It’s all about living a life that is worship, as opposed to just relegating it to one day—Sunday worship. Life Music is about encouraging people to live their whole lives, as hard as it is sometimes, working on living their lives for God. That’s what my struggle is about and it’s what my message of encouragement is as well. I was able to write, produce, play 85 percent of the instruments and I saw the songs literally from the ground up. It’s like my heart put out on a CD and I hope people hear and understand that it literally comes from heart.”
There’s no question that Jonathan is more than excited about the album, which debuted at #3 on the charts after its fall 2012 release, and ready for whatever is next. “I’m ready for whatever God wants me to do. As long as people can respect me as a man of God, a good musician, a good writer, I’m happy,” he says.
So what is up next? Jonathan just completed a series of online Unplugged-type videos for tracks off of Life Music which is getting a great response on Youtube, and plans on doing a live album next year for Tehillah Music. He is also back in school after receiving his undergrad degree in 2011, to receive a master’s degree in biblical studies.
The Christian music industry now has a young, impressive, multi-talented artist who is not afraid to open up his heart and soul and honestly sing about the ebb and flow of living in Christ. “I feel like God knows who I am. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and he wanted me to do this. What humbles me is that I know this is what God wants to do in this season of my life,” Jonathan says. “I see how it’s affecting other people. I see how it affects youth. I see how it affects young black men like me. He’s giving me the opportunity to shine, to point people to Him."