O'Landa Draper's love affair with God's music began with his mother who was a Gospel promoter and also a recording artist. As a child he lived in Tennessee, Alabama and Washington D.C., before moving to Memphis when he was about 13. He joined a glee club around that time and his musical course was set. He started writing and singing Gospel continuously, much to the concern of his family, who weren't altogether "sure" he had what it takes. But in spite of mixed support, O'Landa persevered. He recalls, "I just knew there was something there. I was so mesmerized by the effects of Gospel on me. I would sit in my room and shed tears, feeling the import of what the words were saying and the life that they could bring." Pausing, he adds, "I always felt I had something to say!"
Continuing his musical studies at Overton High School in Memphis under the award-winning choir director Lula Hedgeman, he headed his first Gospel choir. O'Landa then went on to Memphis State, where he directed the school's Gospel choir. After school, he went to work for Federal Express part-time. In 1985, O'Landa Draper founded his own gospel choir, "O'Landa Draper & The Associates" in Memphis, Tennessee, with 12 loyal, energetic and dedicated singers. Over the years they have accomplished the extraordinary. They have grown to over 65 members, had record deals with Word Records and Warner Brothers, received Dove, Vision and Steller Awards, and were nominated six times for the coveted Grammy Award.
The Associates have crisscrossed the United States performing for thousands. You name it, The Associates did it. As a gospel choir director and trainer, O'Landa introduced a new dynamic, energetic style that was powerful, yet different and uncommon in this genre. They performed for three Presidents – Carter, Bush and Clinton – sang backup for Billy Joel on the worldwide television production of the 1994 Grammy Awards, dazzled BB King while playing at his birthday bash, performed with Patti Austin and Jennifer Holliday as well as top symphony orchestras across the nation.
O'Landa traveled the world, to France, England and the Bahamas conducting gospel music workshops. He was sitting on top of the world – handsome, athletic and charismatic. Above all, at 34, O'Landa was talented and passionate about his ministry and his award winning gospel music. He was soaring high as an eagle and was engaged to the beautiful and talented Patrina Smith. "Trina," as everyone knew her, was the sparkle in his eye. Life was grand.
Then, on July 21, 1998, in Memphis, came the shocking news. O'Landa had suddenly died of kidney failure. What would now happen to the choir? How could Trina and O'Landa's beloved mom, Marie, continue on? By the grace of God and the strength of one incredible family of singers, musicians, friends, and supporters – all agreed, O'Landa Draper's Associates MUST continue forward and help bring to fruition the wonderful seeds and dreams O'Landa planted over 15 wonderful years.
Programs founded by this dynamic, visionary young role model include: O'Landa Draper's "Dream Come True" Scholarship Fund for college freshman majoring in the performing arts field; O'Landa Draper's Humanitarian Award, recognizing local heroes; O'Landa Draper's Community Service Projects which supplied food and blankets to local homeless shelters and O'Landa Draper's Music Lovers Conference designed to educate and empower people across the nation about the power and art form of Gospel Music. All of these programs continue to build O'Landa's legacy.
It was his mother Marie who helped build in him his strong discipline, organization, communication, self-worth, self-value, self-esteem, spirituality and belief in God. She always taught him to determine his goals and aspirations and go after them. O'Landa Draper was blessed with incredible gifts and talents. Most of all, those he came in contact with were also blessed and motivated to reach out and make a difference in their own lives as well as in the lives of others.
It then happened. In February 1999, his dream finally came true. Seven months following his death, word came from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences that O'Landa's last CD, "Reflections," received his sixth Grammy nomination. Marie and Trina excitedly flew to Los Angeles and attended the 41st Grammy Awards Ceremonies, and graciously accepted on O'Landa's behalf – the coveted Grammy Award for "The Best Gospel Choir/Chorus Album"...best in the world! Bet O'Landa's flashing that big ol' smile from heaven right now in praise of God's special gift – The Associates.