Gospel musician Kevin Pringle dedicated his life to lifting spirits. Three months ago he was found shot to death in his house.
That Sunday the spirit was really, really high," says Chandra Williams, music director for West Philly's United Baptist Church, recalling how the choir sang for what seemed like forever. Williams in her low soprano and Kevin Pringle in his tenor, went back and forth, echoing words of thanks, and soon the entire congregation was caught up in the spirit of worship.
Pringle often wrote songs for the choir to perform, but this particular hymn, "You Didn't Have to Do It, But You Did," would grow to have special meaning. That Sunday was the last time Williams would see her friend alive.
"It was an ironic Sunday," says Williams. "The words are: 'Lord, you brought me out of the darkness into the marvelous light. You didn't have to do it but you did.' And it ends: 'I just want to thank you.' We just went back and forth, ad-libbing. It was almost like a farewell concert now that I look back on it. Like a farewell between he and I."
Typically after services, Williams or her sister Christa would take Pringle home. But on that Sunday, Christa dropped Pringle off at Drexel University, where he was scheduled to photograph a fashion show.
"I can still see him getting out of the car, see him as clear as day," she recalls. "He always wore a T-shirt and carried a messenger bag. I can hear him say, 'Okay, I'll talk to y'all tomorrow.' I never thought when I dropped him off that that was going to be the last time I saw him."
A week later, on June 2, Pringle and his roommate Arthur Stanley III were found shot to death in their West Philadelphia home. The police still have no leads on their murders, but that hasn't stopped the rumors from flying within the gospel community.
When it came to gospel music, Kevin Pringle, 42, was a virtuoso. He was a skillful songwriter, composer, singer and producer who led several local groups, including the Children of Israel, for which Stanley sang alto.
Desperate for leads in the nearly three-month-old double murder, the police have asked anyone with information to come forward. And because both men were gay, they have also turned to the gay community for help.
"Activism in our community was not a mainstay in Kevin's life," says Doug Shaps, executive director of OutFront, a local gay-advocacy organization that serves as a liaison between the police and the city's gay community. "He was involved with his church more than anything else."
But within the gospel community, where Pringle is said to have inspired many, only a few of the people PW contacted were willing to talk on the record, or at all, about his life and music.
"Because rumors have surfaced, and no one knows the circumstances behind his death, I think people don't want it said that they added stuff to something," says Chandra. "But I can't stand that with all the positive things that Kevin has done, that people, people that Kevin has made a positive impact on, are afraid to come out and talk."
Chandra Williams, now 31, was 11 and singing with the Philadelphia Youth Mass Choir when she first met Pringle. At the time, he had a small gospel group called Kevin Pringle and Company, and he had asked Williams to join after hearing her sing. Williams and her sister, Christa, began rehearsing and recording with the group at Pringle's rented studio at Broad and Poplar streets, and over time their working relationship evolved into a deep friendship.
"Kevin was like a brother to us," says Christa. "He called our mom and dad 'Mom' and 'Dad.' When he said, 'my sisters,' people knew he was talking about us."
Under Pringle's direction, the choir grew into the Children of Israel, a group of more than 30 people. Pringle would recruit people who shared his love for gospel music and bring them together.
"Kevin's thing was he didn't think people helped each other, so he had a heart for everybody," says Chandra. "He tried to incorporate everybody, so the group really didn't have a lot of soloists. We had people who wanted to sing and loved to sing."
Pringle, who grew up in Strawberry Mansion, had his singing debut in the children's choir of Cornerstone Baptist Church at age 5. He went on to sing with the Philadelphia Youth Mass Choir, the Louise Williams Community Choir and the West District/ Voice for Christ, led by gospel singer Catherine "Kitty" Parham, who would later sing at his funeral. He recorded his first solo effort, "It's Gonna Rain," at age 9.
Pringle later formed and directed several community gospel groups, his latest being Professor Kevin Pringle and the Children of Israel Ministries Chorale. Through these experiences, Pringle evolved into a self-taught musician and talented songwriter.