"Unbelievable voice. Indefinable music." It may be the fastest, most ad-friendly way to communicate what to expect on the December 2003 debut CD from George Rowe, Think About That, but it doesn't begin to convey just how amazing this man's talents are. There's the law degree he earned after a full-ride scholarship to Pepperdine and the voice that draws comparisons to everyone from Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake. But, of course, as with all other Rocketown Records artists, George is also a thinker and writer, with cuts already recorded by Avalon's Janna Long and by Kristy Starling.
But front and center in his mind right now is his music and the message he hopes to communicate through it.
"My music is straight ahead pop and AC with a real soulful bent to it," says George of Think About That, which was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Brian Steckler and executive producer Brent Bourgeois. "I grew up listening to greats like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Aretha Franklin and still listen to current R&B like India.Arie and Musiq. I love the intelligent writing of Wayne Kirkpatrick and Gordon Kennedy, and I'm also a big sucker for great vocalists-singers like Jody McBrayer of Avalon or Celine Dion. All of these influence my style."
Though he didn't start out with one theme in mind, George says that lyrically Think About That often speaks to a topic important to him: grace and forgiveness. "One song, 'Blessed Assurance,' is pulled from Romans where Paul is talking about the struggle we all have, the internal battle that we feel and God's limitless grace to always take us back, even when we do choose the wrong path," he explains. "And my favorite song from the album, 'Broken,' represents a real valley moment. It was written in a difficult time in life. It's a plea for help, a begging for direction, for guidance from God."
Born in New Jersey, George Rowe III-or Keewah Ly Eickelberger as his birth certificate states-was immediately given up for adoption and placed in Newark's foster care system. Unfortunately, he landed with an abusive, neglectful family. Enter George Rowe Jr. and his wife Ida, who were looking to adopt a child. When Social Services first told the Rowes about George, the prognosis wasn't good. The neglect was so severe that the 14-month-old baby was in a hospital and not expected to survive.
"My parents visited me in the hospital, and after seeing how thin and frail I was, just wept," says George. "Never missing an opportunity to feed someone, they brought me home. For the first time in my young life, I went home. They immediately poured love all over me and gave me life. They saved me. I have a deeper understanding of my relationship with God that parallels my relationship with my parents."
Growing up in Clayton, New Jersey, a small one-traffic-light town outside of Philadelphia, George recalls an adolescence that revolved around church. "My grandfather was a preacher, and our church family was always our life-not just a part of our lives, it was our lives. We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. Faith has always been there, behind me, in me."
And though the same could be said about music-that it's always been a part of who George Rowe is-it wasn't his first career path. In fact, George graduated on a full scholarship from Pepperdine University's School of Law. "I've always been attracted to law. I've always felt compelled to champion the cause of others and always enjoyed the challenge of talking my way into or out of something," he says with a smile. "I remember a high school research paper I was assigned to do on Lord of the Flies. I found the phone number of the author William Golding, who lived in England, and called him from the school phone. We talked for about an hour-and-a-half about the novel, and I got this incredible background of the story. When the phone bill came, the principal wanted to punish me and make me pay for the expensive call. I went before the school board and argued 'How can you put a price tag on education?' I persuaded them to 'drop the charges,' and I got out of what otherwise could have been a pretty sticky situation. At that moment, I thought, 'This is fun. This is what I want to do for others. I want to go in the courtroom and argue on behalf of other people.'"
Still, George and his wife Merritt realized during his final year at Pepperdine that being an attorney was just not his calling. "The law was intellectually stimulating, but I felt like something was missing, or perhaps like I was missing something. When singing, on the other hand-whether in a room of four people or a room of 4,000-I was being used to touch lives. Music affects people in a way that few other mediums do."
Now living in Nashville, Tenn., the Rowe family-which also includes Ireland, 5, Addyson, 4, and Jake, 2-are looking forward to a busy fall as George tours with label mates Shaun Groves, Ginny Owens and Christine Dente on the "Night in Rocketown" tour before Think About That releases on Dec. 2. "I want listeners to hear the album or a song in concert and walk away saying, 'I identify with that. I feel that. I've been there. I am there now. I know what he's talking about.' I hope this album touches a moment in everyone's lives somehow, either in the low of lows or in mountain top highs, and encourages them to keep moving forward in the journey."