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The Soul-Searching Journey of Grammy Award-Winning North Carolina R&B Artist Greg Cox

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Grammy Award-winning producer Greg Cox performs for Charlotte audiences.

Editor's note: A version of this episode of Amplifier originally dropped in November 2019.

In fall 2018, North Carolina native Greg Cox released his debut full-length album titled “E T C .,” which takes the needle of a record player and places it in the grooves of gospel, R&B and soul.

The title for the record, “E T C.,” could easily apply to the growing list of collaborations he's been a part of since moving to Charlotte in 2015, partnering with artists ranging from J. Vito (who's sung background for Anthony Hamilton as part of The Hamiltones) to Emily Sage (the singer known for her cinematic jazz-pop sound). But more than that, the album title gives an audience a glimpse into the multi-hyphenate's world as a gospel singer, R&B producer husband, father, Charlotte community-builder — etc.

"Community … community is everything. When you get around people, the best parts of you come out. You become a better person, a better version of yourself. And I think that’s what the future is for Charlotte.”
– Greg Cox

Interview Highlights:

On being inspired by his gospel-singing father, Johnavon “Bo Peep” Sauls:

So, my dad is a huge inspiration to me as a gospel legend in the Southern quartet Revive. He had his own style and produced for a lot of people, wrote songs for a lot of people, had a hit song in the ‘90s, toured a lot and served in his local church. He was held in high regard. He would walk into places with me and my family, and people would call him “Bo Peep,” and then they would look at me and say, “There goes Little Bo Peep!” He was a phenomenal performer. You would hate to come behind him. I would even hate to come behind him at my own shows.

The gospel message reaches the world. The entire world. Whether you have $1 million in your bank account or 5 cents or you’re in the negative. He made songs that made everyone feel connected together. It changed me. It changed my outlook on life. It changed my outlook on what music could do for people.

On his start in music:

I thought I was a rapper at first. And then when I figured out how hard it was to rap songs, I was like, “I’m going to produce.” I just loved chord structure and how certain chords back-to-back change your mood and how you feel. And then I realized that words could do that later.

On popular music/artists arising from the church:

The church is a breeding ground for talent. That’s where record label scouts would go to see who was singing. You don’t go to the karaoke bar to see talent, especially not in the black community. You go to church. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. I could continue to go on and on and on about where the best singers were and are. The best singers in the world? Black church. Just go! Even here in Charlotte, there’s a bunch of churches where you could go and be wowed.

On his 2019 single “Good Day:”

I create music from what I need to hear. I wrote a song called “Good Day.” My mom has breast cancer and when we were in the doctor's office ready to do some labs, there was a piano in the waiting room. So we were laughing and playing music. It stuck with me that she was so into the moment. She wasn't thinking about tomorrow or next week: she was living in the moment of now.

On being mentored by award-winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin:

To me, Kirk Franklin is one of the best composers, producers, writers, performers of all time. You can’t put him in a box. I don’t think he’s had a year where he’s put out music and hasn’t won. It’s like Golden State Warriors winning a championship every year. Kirk is a living, breathing music icon.

He had a song called “Strong God” that he was trying to find someone to sing on, but he didn’t want the traditional gospel voice to be on it; he wanted someone with something else. And I guess when he heard my voice, it made sense, so he reached out. He’s been a big bro ever since.

On his full-length debut release E T C.:

I wanted to showcase a guy being born in the ‘90s and also meshing everything that I am in one album. I am gifted, but I’m also caring, selfish at times, etc., etc., etc. So that’s why I named the album “ETC.,” because I’m all of those things.

The album starter “Bigger Dreams” is a song about me having bigger dreams, but not about bigger stuff (like a six-bedroom house). My sensei told me, “If your dreams only include you and what you want, your dreams are too small. You need bigger dreams. Your dreams need to include everyone.” So my dreams had to change. I couldn’t continue to have these dreams that don’t even reflect what I believe anymore. They were dreams that were sold to me. Like, if you want a family with four kids, you can’t have a Lamborghini … where are you going to put the car seats! No. Absolutely not. You can’t have a cherry red two-seater with kids and a dog and a wife. [This life and dream] is bigger than you.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Greg Cox - "Idiot" feat. Petey Pablo
Revive - “He’s In My Heart”
Revive - “He’s a Friend of Mine”
Greg Cox - “Everythang”
Greg Cox - “Good Day”
Kirk Franklin - “Strong God” feat. Greg Cox
Greg Cox - “Bigger Dreams”
Greg Cox - “Find a Way” feat. Emily Sage
Greg Cox - “Three Words”
Greg Cox - “The Other Side” feat. Emily Sage

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.