Question of the Week: Lee Black

Eleven months ago, I had the opportunity to interview Lee Black, discussing his background in general and the strongest Southern Gospel song of 2009, “Faithful to the Cross,” in particular.

Lee is also co-writer of the recent Nelons song “Settled at the Cross,” co-written with Lyn Rowell and Phil Mehrens. In a recent email conversation, Lee mentioned some interesting facts, and I asked if he would be willing to elaborate on the inspiration for the song, and what it meant for him.

He replied:

Lee: I don’t remember the theme of the sermon now, but about four years ago, during a Sunday morning message, my pastor said something to the effect of, “Even if God never does another good thing for you, you can never question His love for you because of what Jesus did for you at the cross.”  That thought really resonated with me and I wrote it down in a little notebook that I used to keep for songwriting ideas and hooks.  But at the time, my own songwriting had taken a backseat in my life as I was working in music publishing for a record label and was responsible for pitching songs and trying to secure cuts for a staff of about 10 writers.
I got an email from Joel Lindsey inviting me to a co-writing retreat that he was putting together.  It sounded like fun so I decided to take a few days of vacation and attend.  Each co-writing session was setup by drawing names out of a hat – either two person or three person co-writes.  The second day of the retreat, it was decided we would have three person co-writes for the afternoon.  My name was pulled out with two fantastic writers, Phil Mehrens and Lyn Rowell.  As with any co-write, we each shared possible ideas that we could write.  I flipped to the page in my notebook with the “cross” idea and read it.  Both Phil and Lyn liked the idea and we decided to work on it.  I remember saying, “I’m not sure what the hook is, but the gist of the song is that even if God never does another good thing for us, we don’t have to question His love for us.  That was settled at the cross.”  I think we all looked at each other and said, “Settled at the cross!”  realizing that was our hook.  We worked all that afternoon and had a lot of the song written before taking a break for supper.  We agreed that we would get together with our co-writers from the morning session to try to finish those songs; and then the three of us would get back together later in the evening to try to finish “Settled.”   We got back together about 10:30 or 11:00 determined to finish.  After an hour or so, we had the song completely finished except for the first line of the song!  Talk about working backwards.  We finally finished about 12:30 and I remember falling into bed about 1:00 in the morning completely exhausted but so happy with how the song turned out.
After the retreat, we got a piano/vocal demo on the song and began pitching it.  A well-known quartet put it on hold almost immediately, and we were so excited!  But, as is often the case, closer to their recording date, they dropped it… disappointment!  Then Brentwood-Benson released it as a choral anthem AND the Nelons decided to record it and release it as a single.  Wayne Haun produced a great record and I thought Kelly sang it great!
I left the retreat that year with three new songs and a desire to be a writer more than a publisher.  The Lord really opened some doors and allowed me to sign a publishing deal with Word.  I wrote there for two years.  Earlier this year, I signed at Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing.
I’m so grateful to Joel for inviting me to the retreat because that weekend reignited a spark in me to really want to write.  And “Settled At The Cross” holds a special place in my heart because it was written at that retreat.  (Incidentally… remembering the weekend as I’m writing this… Marcia Henry and Allie Lapointe wrote “The Potter Knows The Clay” which would later be a big song for the Perrys at that same retreat!)
Daniel: Fascinating! Thanks, Lee!