Photographer John Bogen Jr.

Q & A with Street Gospel Singer Otis Lee


Writer: Nick Gambino


Otis Lee Corley Jr. or Otis Lee is as real as you can get in the music industry. With a musical background firmly rooted in gospel, he hasn't strayed away far from his roots since his musical journey began as a little boy. Though to peg him to a single genre like gospel or R&B would be to limit him, to put him in a box that he refuses to conform to. 


With touches of R&B, hip-hip and gospel, Otis is more interested in communicating with the people, touching on topics that grab hold in his mind and don’t let go. True to form, his projects usually revolve around a single concept, exploring it from every angle from beginning to end. 


We sat down with Otis to discuss his unique style of music and where he’s come from and where he’s going. 


How long have you been a musician?


Oh man. A lot of people say “all their life,” but literally all my life. I grew up in a music family so I’ve been singing since I was 9 or 10. My parents knew when I was even younger that I wanted to make music. I was always drumming on stuff.


It’s one of those things that was embedded in me. My dad was a gospel singer out of Winnfield, LA. My grandmother used to open for Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino and people like that. 


Was your voice developed at 10 years old? 


No (laughs). I didn’t know what I was doing. I loved to sing. I always considered myself at the bottom. I have three sisters who really sing and where I come from there’s just so much talent. I just had a passion for it more than others. I’m not the greatest singer, but I stay in my lane and do what I do. I think God blessed me with just a passion to pursue it more than others. 


Tell me about your journey to a career in music.


In college, I was part of a group, EBONI. We recorded a song called “Fancy Girls” and then another called “Running Out of Time.” They were pretty successful and soon we were doing a bunch of performances on campus and going around to other schools. One day we just up and left to Atlanta with no money or anything. Didn’t tell our parents or anybody. We fell into the musical game in Atlanta, meeting people like Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, Monica, Usher and whoever was hot at the time. We got an audition to go on Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” and they loved us. We went on the show and won seven times. That resulted in us doing major shows in Atlanta with names like Mariah Carey and Trey Songz. Eventually I moved to LA and have been doing music ever since. 


Who was a big influence on you in music?


My influences were more gospel. Commissioned, Fred Hammond, Marvin Seth, Darryl Coley and artists like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Bobby Womack. 


Your biggest influencers were from gospel. How did you wind up doing R&B?


Well see, that’s just the thing. I don’t just do R&B. My songs are more spiritual. I even write for gospel artists. I never changed. I just did a song called “Be Fair.” It was a song geared toward Donald Trump. I have a whole project called the E1B1A project. It’s strictly an album speaking on all the nonsense going on. Some of it is biblical. All these songs are geared toward the culture and are spiritual based. 


So you don’t really have a genre?


I call it Street Gospel. I don’t want to go into church and talk to people that are supposed to be saved already. That isn’t the purpose. The purpose is for me to talk to the everyday guy I can relate to or the people on the street that are going through stuff or the people that are struggling in their marriage. I’m interested in music that feeds the souls of people in need.


Otis Lee is carving his own path in the music industry, refusing to fit neatly in a pop star box labels seem to specialize in. By following his gut and making art that reflects his truth, he’s been able to forge a career working with some of the biggest names without ever sacrificing his integrity.

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