London gospel group the Kingdom Choir went from humble origins to performing at the 2018 royal wedding, leading to a deal with Sony and the launch of their debut album, more than 20 years after they formed.
Born and brought up in Tooting, South London, traditionally an area with a large Afro-Caribbean population, founder Karen Gibson was raised in the Pentecostal tradition and grew up listening to gospel music as well as jazz and soul. Attending church from age five, she began singing in the choir shortly thereafter; at nine she took up the piano, and later the oboe. In her late twenties she had a stint as a backing singer for the Beautiful South. The Kingdom Choir began in 1994 as an informal music group put together by Gibson, her sister Kimmie, and two close friends, after she was made redundant at her job in IT. They started out performing in church halls but soon graduated to gospel music events, where they made a name for themselves; their ranks swelled until they became a 20-piece choir. In 2000, they won Minstrels in the Gallery, a religious music competition organized by BBC Radio 2. In 2002 they were nominated for best U.K. choir at the Oasis Gospel Awards; that year, they were invited to perform at Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Golden Jubilee. They would go on to perform for Bill Clinton and Desmond Tutu, and alongside the likes of Elton John and Luther Vandross. In 2018 they were asked by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to perform a version of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" at their wedding. Their performance was seen by an estimated global TV audience of nearly two billion and catapulted them to instant stardom -- they were mobbed on their way out of the chapel. Record labels soon came calling, and the choir signed to Sony for the release of their debut album, also titled Stand by Me, encompassing gospel versions of pop and soul classics alongside traditional hymns. ~ John D. Buchanan