Kenny and Christia DeShields

Husband and wife Kenny and Christia DeShields used their time in isolation to write and record.

Kenny DeShields thought he knew what love was when he married his wife, Christia, nearly a decade ago. At the time, he planned to release his debut album to celebrate his new life.

But DeShields said he needed to grow as a man before he could express himself.

In the past 10 years, DeShields focused on being a husband and father, a life that taught him about love. That prepared him to finish his album, “The Real Love Project,” the recording he had long yearned for, one that draws on difficult experiences and faith to express how everyone needs love.

“I think the biggest part of the process has been my maturity,” DeShields said. “I had to go through some hills and valleys and some really dark nights and some really amazing shining moments I think to be able to capture the different sides, the sides of what love is.”

Now, DeShields is ready. After a string of singles and the release of the music video for his song, “How I Feel,” the gospel artist is showing the world how he’s changed. The video for the song features DeShields, his wife and his three children.

“That love has inspired my love for my wife and for our kids, so in the video you see Christia there, the boys are in there,” DeShields said. “A couple months ago, I was just like, I don't know if it's the right time to release this, a lot of people have been going through a whole lot and Christia, she encouraged me, she was just like, ‘I think people are ready to smile and want to laugh and have fun again.’”

DeShields’ musical roots trace back to his childhood in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where he was raised in a musical family and a missionary Baptist church. His mother taught him how to play piano, and his father’s collection of soul and R&B music led DeShields to want to explore all kinds of music and collaborate with artists from various backgrounds.

“The Real Love Project” includes contributions from an ensemble of St. Louis musicians, among them, Theresa Payne, Russ Mohr, Anita Jackson and singer/songwriter Courtney Orlando, who helped produce the album.

“Bringing Courtney Orlando as the producer has helped take this to a whole ‘nother level,” DeShields said. “He's been able to bring that soulful side and then stretch me even vocally in terms of production quality, while still holding very true to the message.”

But it’s DeShields’ wife, author Christia, who serves as his true partner in music and in life.

They co-wrote at least five of the album’s songs. During the coronavirus pandemic, they've used their time in isolation to write and record. Christia DeShields said many of the songs touch on their relationship and the troubles they see others going through.

“So many of our friends are struggling in their marriages,” Christia DeShields said. “This pandemic just like exposed anything that was going on, you know, you're stuck in the house with your spouse, and usually you're probably not, you're at work doing whatever, but it's exposed a lot of cracks and relationships.”

Songs like the yet-to-be-released “I Won’t Let You Be Lonely” and “Fight For Love” speak directly to those challenges, Christia DeShields said. The couple said they hope the songs provide solace to listeners who are going through rough times over the past year.

“We've known of like three suicides of friends during this time, and so ‘I Won't Let You Be Lonely,’ those songs, I feel like they speak across cultural lines, they speak across religious lines and all of those things,” Christia DeShields said.

The song, “Imagine,” written with singer Russ Mohr, decries the continuing wave of violence against Black people. Kenny DeShields said they want to urge religious leaders to talk openly about race.

“How does the church help speak into these things, like how do we help process this together?” DeShields asked. “It’s either the church, in many ways, is either super silent on it or kind of just saying whatever comes to mind, sometimes it's not necessarily always the right thing.”

But more than anything, the DeShieldses want the music to let people know that love can overcome hurt feelings. It’s what he sings about on “That’s When You Love,” a song Kenny wrote several years ago.

“That song basically, I think, summarizes what the whole Real Love Project is about,” Kenny DeShields said. “When life is tough, when it's unfair, when you have been the one that has been wronged, that is when you love.”

Reprinted with permission from St. Louis Public radio:

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