The Mean Green snagged some Grammy gold. At the 57th annual Grammy Awards show in March, rapper Lecrae ('02) won for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for "Messengers," which he performed with the duo For King & Country. Alumni saxophonist Jeff Driskill and trumpeter Dan Fornero, members of Gordon Goodwin and the Big Phat Band, took the award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for Life in the Bubble. And associate professor of voice Jennifer Lane Associate Professor Jennifer Lane was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Opera Recording Category for her role in Darius Milhaud's Orestie d'Eschyle.
"It means a lot to me," Lecrae says. "People are appreciating my music, the craft and the content. I'm really grateful."
Lecrae's ('02) road to the Grammys began in his freshman year at UNT when he visited the Music Building's recording studio lab.
From that lab, Lecrae, who attended UNT as Lecrae Moore, began performing and producing music that he developed into a huge career as a hip-hop artist. His recent Grammy win and two other nominations follow a 2013 win for Best Gospel Album for his work, Gravity. He has released seven albums, and his latest, Anomaly, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart last year ― a first for a rapper who is Christian. He is the co-founder of Atlanta-based Reach Records.
An applied arts and sciences major at UNT, Lecrae listened to the One O'Clock Lab Band in the University Union and says as a resident of Bruce Hall he found inspiration from other creative students being themselves.
"If you wanted to wear blue hair, you wore blue hair," he says.
At UNT he also found the ministry that led to his strong Christian faith and met his wife, Darragh Moore ('01). He attended Bible study at Plumbline Ministries led by Dhati Lewis ('99), a former Mean Green football player now based in Atlanta, started ministering to his fellow students and volunteered in a juvenile detention hall.
In his song, "My Whole Life Changed," Lecrae describes his tumultuous childhood and bout with drugs and mentions both UNT and Plumbline. His music is his outlet to express himself.
"I wanted it to be authentic," he says. "I never wanted to be a caricature."
Inspiring one another
For Driskill and Fornero, both Los Angeles-based musicians who attended UNT in the 1980s, the Grammy Award marks a big accomplishment.
"I still haven't really 'owned' that a band I'm in has won a Grammy," Driskill says. "This is the first time that the whole band has been recognized rather than the composition or arrangement. It feels really great."
The 18-member band had previously been nominated for 14 Grammys.
Fornero says his reaction could be summed up in one word -- "relief!"
"It's just great that Goodwin is finally getting the recognition he's deserved for creating his remarkable compositions and arrangements," he says.
Driskill has performed with many famed musicians, including Prince, Josh Groban and Annie Lennox. He also played for the soundtracks of Toy Story 3 and The Princess and the Frog. He's a member of the Chris Walden Big Band and the John Daversa Progressive Big Band.
Fornero, a former member of the One O'Clock Lab Band, played with the legendary Woody Herman. He's also been a member of the Brian Setzer Orchestra and has played with Tom Jones, Phil Collins and Neil Diamond. His work can be heard on the soundtracks of The Simpsons Movie, Toy Story 3 and Jersey Boys. He's also a member of the Bob Mintzer Big Band and released his own CD, Not So Old School, last year.
Fornero says UNT's emphasis on sight-reading and high bar of musicality prepared him for the "incredible amount of competition" among freelance musicians.
"North Texas provides a unique community where musicians inspire one another to greater musical heights," he says. "My time there was invaluable."