The gold-selling Shekinah Glory Ministry has changed praise and worship music in urban America with its majestic pageantry and songs of devotion. At the heart of this revolution is its minister of music and fine arts, Phil Tarver. This 6’7” giant of a talent has now stepped center stage with his own brand of praise and worship music on his third U.S. solo CD Place of Worship (Kingdom Records). Although, Phil Tarver’s known for leading Shekinah Glory Ministry hits such as “Stomp” and “Arise/Shine”; his new Top 30 radio smash, “God Is Able” is creating a new identity for him as a soloist.
This career success has been a longtime coming for the 46 year-old Phil Tarver who is the oldest of five children raised in Chicago, IL. He was a normal, middle class kid. “I was into G.I Joe, soft ball and all those things,” he laughs. “I was just a kid on the block.” Although, Tarver excelled in athletics, he eventually made music his love. “We moved into a neighborhood where a lot of my friends were musicians,” he says. “I soon had to make a choice: sports or music. So, I chose music.” He played brass instruments in the Percy Julian High School band and he started guitar picking for the Top 40 cover band Street Player and then, the Reggae outfit, NYBINGI that used to play at the Windy City’s Wild Hare club.
Then, Tarver attended Central State University in Wilberforce, OH on a music scholarship for a couple of years before returning to Chi Town. “I wasn’t really focused on school so I left,” he explains. “I went back to Chicago where I attended Bishop Larry Trotter’s church, Sweet Holy Spirit. That’s where I met this beautiful lady that I made my wife.
”After Phil Tarver and Vondrea married, he worked in the shipping and receiving department for FedEx during the week. He spent his weekends as a member of the gospel group, Michael Houston & Ministry, for almost eight years. However, by 1989, Tarver had taken a break from professional music. “We had started to attend a new church called Temple of Praise,” he says. “I sang on the praise team and we did the type of music you’d hear at Integrity Music. This was the period of Ron Kenoly and Fred Hammond & the Radicals for Christ. The goal then was just to serve in the ministry and I had no interest in recording and traveling. I just used that time to deepen my relationship with God.
”What came next was Valley Kingdom Ministries International - an eight thousand member Chicago church – known for its worship services. The Tarvers left their prior place of worship because of some doctrinal differences and were visiting other assemblies in search of a new spiritual home. The Tarvers and their five children began attending Valley in June 2000. “We joined and were just members and didn’t get involved in the church until three months later,” Tarver recalls.
By October 2000, Phil Tarver was invited to join Shekinah Glory Ministry and became a worship leader in the fellowship. “What a lot of people don’t know about Shekinah Glory is that not only are we artists but we also are responsible for the praise and worship at the Valley,” he says. “So we spend time, fasting, praying and teaching during rehearsal times, preparing for worship.
”While Tarver had found a comforting home at Valley, his family was homeless between 1999 and 2002. “No one at the church knew about our living situation,” says Vondrea. Just prior to coming to Valley, she had lost her job and Tarver’s salary alone couldn’t maintain their mortgage and other financial commitments. “Our home went into foreclosure,” she continues. “We were moving in and out of places, hotels, staying with relatives. There were days Phil would get up with the worship team and minister and God would pour new songs out of him and we’d leave there and have to go to a hotel. We never said anything to anybody about our situation.
”In spite of the displacement, the kids adjusted well. “The kids were having a party,” Vondrea says. “They were swimming in the hotel pool every day and then visiting with friends and relatives we stayed with. It didn’t affect them. We’re supposed to be like that. If we could have the heart of our children, that’s what God wants. They knew we were going to take care of them. God wants us to know that He’s going to take care of us too.
”They eventually found a home to accommodate their family in March 2002. After Tarver’s work on Shekinah Glory’s gold-selling 2004 CD Live where he led songs such as “How Deeply I Need You” and “Arise, Shine”, Kingdom Records asked Tarver to record a solo project. In 2005, the same year Tarver was appointed a minister of music at Valley, he went down to Brazil for almost three months to mentor praise and worship teams at various churches. Those singers and musicians ended up backing him on the live CD Be Pleased that Tarver recorded there.
This mentoring concept has become a regular part of Tarver’s ministry now. “He goes out on a Friday and teaches the band and singers at whatever church he’s going to the songs,” says Vondrea. “On Saturday they have rehearsal and then, they do a concert Saturday night. Then, he stays over and leads praise and worship at that church on Sunday morning. The praise teams are excited because they get that one on one time with Phil and its very effective in teaching the teams on various topics about worship.
”The ministry continues with Tarver’s latest music. His 2007 CD Draw Nearer spent nine weeks on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart (peaking at #14) while the funky radio single “Betta Than That” rose to #19 on the Hot Gospel Songs chart. The sing-a-long worship anthem “God Is Able” is already a Top 30 smash and his new CD “Place of Worship” promises to be his biggest hit of his career.
In spite of Tarver’s busy schedule, he and his wife, Vondrea, make time each year for a family trip with their five children Phillip (22), Phylicia (20), Isaac (19), Tenetia (17) and Alicia (15). Tarver has just one goal for the future. “To continue to create music where people can enter into the presence of God,” he says. “That sets an atmosphere for God to come into their hearts and lives.” In other words, a place of worship.