It took 53 years for Smithville, Mississippi native Stephen B. Steward to know when he hit "the right time." While many men his age are looking forward to retirement, this California law enforcer of 28 years is ready to release an album. And no, Steward isn't trying to rock out, but praise in.
Growing up in a musical family of 11 siblings, Steward missed out on being a part of his family's gospel troupe. "I was too young to join," the 9th born of a large Pentecostal family told me during an interview. "By the time I was mature and ready, most of my siblings were married and had children of their own."
Many years passed before he considered pursuing music. He would go on to complete college and begin an interest in the California Department of Corrections. It would not be until the late 80s where he would have three major life changes. He would marry his wife of 28 years, Onesha, begin a career in law enforcement where he now serves as a parole agent, and develop a serious passion for songwriting.
"At the time, I was still not ready to release music of my own because I wanted to be the best father I could be for my children... I wanted them to never have an excuse to not succeed," the father of two mentioned. So for several years, he would be their sports team coach, music mentor, and proudly highlight his perfect Parent/Teacher Conference attendance. As a result, his daughter and son are now pursuing college and professional music endeavors.
But throughout the years, raising children was not just the only thing Steward did. His wife, Onesha, a senior management analyst for the City of Los Angeles' Department of Building & Safety, helped support her husband through various business and philanthropic work.
They were the first black franchise owners of Subway restaurants in South Central, LA. They marriage counseled many diverse and interracial couples for two years. And they would help spearhead the Youth Music Program of LOV Olive Branches; a faith based non-profit organization that was started by Onesha's family in ministry.
It was in this moment that Stephen got a chance to work with at risk youth and help them to tap into their musical talents. Music practice has been reported in recent years to help improve test scores and employment opportunities for youth and this further encouraged the couple to expand their scope. This year, the program launched their inaugural Youth Music Festival in Pasadena, California this past weekend. The event spotlighted many of the youth they have mentored and opened it up to many others as well.
It would also be the place where Stephan would go public about his lifelong dream. He was finally ready to perform and prove to the world that it was his time.
"The festival was a great opportunity for me to promote my music to everyone...I've been working on this album for 2 years and have written 300 songs, I've longed for this."
Stephen's debut album, Enter Your Gates, scheduled for release on May 20, is his way of "drawing people to the heart of God." A man of strong faith and religious principle, he considers this an album of "praise and worship."
"This album touches themes of forgiveness, restoration, healing and declaration... I want people to feel God's grace."
The 13-track record features numerous production collaborations, but audiences should expect to hear Steward's voice lead this album. His unconventional, faith-driven tenacity can be felt throughout the entire album. But one song in particular carries a depth that brought the artist to tears before he performed it in front of a packed arena in Pasadena.
"With My Whole Heart," his lead single off the new album, has already begun to spur positive buzz amongst gospel fans in the industry. "My mother always told me that whatever you do, do it with your whole heart," he said when discussing the inspiration behind the song. The track has already been nominated for Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for Stephen at the upcoming Rhythm of Gospel Awards. He is also nominated for Traditional Male Gospel Artist for his performance on the album as well.
With an upcoming TBN Television performance, the upcoming Rhythm of Gospel Awards, and his highly anticipated promotional tour, Steward feels more ready and confident than ever. "The album is universal and I haven't been more ready to let many feel the spiritual power of God through my many influences of gospel, acoustic, Latin, Jazz and African rhythms on this record."
But one influence that Steward will forever be grateful for was that of his longtime mentor, multi-Grammy winner, Andre Crouch. Crouch, who also performed during Steward's showcase in Pasadena this weekend, built a relationship with Stephan that has lasted for over 20 years.
"God told me to just be his friend," Steward said when first meeting him in 1992 at a songwriter's event in Colorado. "To now be blessed to grace the same stage with him was an honor."
Moments like this could never have been envisioned for Stephen B. Steward when he wrote hundreds of songs while overlooking valleys atop the patio of his home in Altadena, California. For many years he lived a life longing for this moment. Decades parenting, serving, praying, and working.
But if his debut album, Enter Your Gates, is a testament of his past 53 years, the world should be ready for an artist that is willing to devout his "whole heart" to the craft.