By chance, I was fortunate to meet worship leader Fred Williams while visiting my corporate office yesterday [article originally written September 4, 2008].
We talked for a few minutes and I asked if he knew Chris Simpson. I hadn’t seen Chris in a long time and wondered how my old friend was doing.
Chris had already been a full-fledged gospel singer with John P Kee by the time I met him – a fact he conveniently hid from me for several weeks after we had met. I knew Chris had gone on to travel with Kirk Franklin and then cut his own album, but we hadn’t seen each other for many years. I was always extremely proud of Chris and kept up with his life from a distance.
What I didn’t know is that Chris was tragically killed by the injuries he suffered from an out of control car back in June ’08. My heart dropped inside my chest. I could feel myself struggling to catch a breath. Chris was only 36 years old.
My mind wandered to his family…
I wish I could tell them how much Chris Simpson meant to me as a friend.
So, here’s my story about Chris Simpson…
Read every word and you may find out a few things about Chris you never knew.
I met Chris back in the early 90’s. We were hired as telemarketers for NEST Entertainment and worked directly under Marshall Simms. Shannon Winn-Cannon was our manager.
This wasn’t my first gig as a telemarketer – it turned out to be my last. It wasn’t Chris’ first one either. He used to tell me about working the phone room for Televangelist Robert Tilton. He “accepted donations” and “seed faith offerings” for Robert Tilton.
The only problem was that Chris wasn’t allowed to handle callers wanting to “plant a seed” greater than $1,000. He laughed when he told me, but I could tell it bothered him too.
Chris and I hit it off almost immediately. I’ll admit, we were an odd pair. I was the big white guy and Chris was the super-cool black man. A telemarketing room is like that though… like a war-time fox hole… everybody is just trying to make it to payday. Nobody is there because they want to be. That’s where Chris and I became friends – in the bloody trenches of that window-less telemarketing room.
Chris could outsell anybody in the room… if he wanted to.
Most days, he let me have that “honor” while he entertained me with funny stories about life on the road and his incredible voice impersonations.
Our supervisor, Marshall Simms, would get mad at us for not staying on the phones, but Chris would crack a few jokes and she would just walk away shaking her head and laughing. I didn’t get in any trouble when Chris was around. He had my back!
I knew that Chris didn’t want to be tied up to that earpiece… nobody does.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear that auto-dialer beep in my ear and ramble off the first few phrases of my sales pitch… “Hi! This is Mike with NEST Entertainment. We’re the ones that make those animated Bible videos…”
Chris’ heart was in singing and ministry, but we were stuck in the telemarketing trench… together.
Chris did this impersonation of Martin Luther King Jr. sometimes when he was selling. It was so good. People would buy the dumb videos just to hear him talk.
We wasted a lot of time swapping stories… his stories were always better than mine… especially the stories about John P Kee.
If it wasn’t for Chris, I wouldn’t have even come to work most days. Chris would always tell me, “Hold on Mike. We’re going to get out of here someday.”
Chris hid the fact that he was a gospel singer from me for awhile.
When he finally let the cat out of the bag, he said, “Yeah, I do a little singing.” I said, “Cool, I can play a little keyboard. We should get together and do something.”
I can still remember Chris’ response, “Yeah, that sounds good”.
The only problem was that I really did play a little keyboard and Chris was a serious singer… real serious… best I’ve ever known personally.
I found out just how good he was when he accepted my invitation to come sing at my church in Grand Prairie, TX. one Sunday morning.
Our Sunday service started at 10:00 a.m.
Chris showed up right on time (CFT) at 11:00 a.m.
I motioned to him to the front and he sat down on the platform next to me. He had brought a home-made audio tape with his background music and I thought to myself, “God help me! I’m in so much trouble with the Pastor.”
I never heard Chris sing before that morning. I just figured he could sing… that ragged looking mix tape had me worried big time.
Chris brought the house down! There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole church. I don’t even remember the name of the song, but it was so powerful and fit right in with what the Pastor was preaching that morning.
I just remember thinking, “Chris, you told me you sing a little.”
Every note that resonated out of his body was God’s gift to anyone fortunate enough to hear a hint of what the angels really sound like.
Chris and I did some more ministry things together outside of work, but I lost track of Chris shortly after I left that telemarketing job – forever – just like Chris said would happen.
God got us out of there and I’ve never had to go back.
People have come and they’ve gone leaving me all alone, but I heard you say, “Chris, be strong.” You keep me holding on. – Chris Simpson, You Keep Me Holding On
I always hoped Chris and I would hook back up…
I guess we will, but it will be on the other side of the pearly gates instead.
I miss you Chris.
p.s. If you’ve got a minute, take a look at this video featuring Chris on vocals with Kirk Franklin… “I don’t need material things, all I need is the love you bring…”
p.p.s. Today is July 31, 2013 and I’m reading this article again… while listening to Chris sing, “He Can Do It!” from his Conversion album. Still miss you buddy. See you on the other side.