The upcoming film Hidden Figures starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe has been the talk of the town for months now, and with its premiere approaching in just weeks, more details on other familiar names who worked on the inspiring project are also being recognized. One of those faces is gospel music powerhouse Kim Burrell, who is featured on the movie's soundtrack on the Pharrell-produced song "I See the Victory."
In an exclusive interview, we spoke to the Grammy nominee about her collaborative efforts with the "Happy" singer, why she was compelled to work on this powerful film, her thoughts on LGBT presence in the church, and more. See Kim Burrell spread the knowledge, below:
You have the honor of being featured on the single “I See the Victory” from the Hidden Figures original soundtrack. How did this originally come to be?
I got a call from Pharrell and he said, ‘I have a song that I would love for you to hear and it’s going in a movie that is a life-changing story and I think your voice is the one to convert the song.’ And so I flew out to LA, and I recorded it that night and here we are.
Why did you feel compelled to be a part of this project?
Pharrell believes in it so soundly and then to hear the story behind it. Me being a Black woman, of course I wanted to be a part of it. A life-changing story, and encouraging story of three Black women who were smart enough, brilliant enough, strong enough to be who they were. That created a formula to get men into space. What a wonderful story that will go down in history of our country and life and I was so proud that I was chosen to be a part of this because to celebrate each other is an easy thing for me to do.
You’ve worked with the amazing Pharrell Williams on this. How was that collaborative experience?
Pharrell’s such a humble guy and to be able to go in the studio and work with him — he was there the whole time and was engaged and encouraging and we had so much fun. After recording the song, 20th Century Fox said, ‘We really like her and we want her to come back and sing some more.’ So I had the opportunity to sing throughout the movie, I’m proud to say and my voice is all inside that movie and it means so much because the story is so amazing… It will go down in history for me.
There has been a lot of evolution in the church when it comes to social issues, especially the LGBT community. Kirk Franklin said last year, "It is horrible that we have made it where the Bible is a homophobic manual." As a leader in the church, do you think the Black church has wronged their LGBT members?
I wish I could say that I’ve kept up with what the church, in general, is doing. I don’t see where the church has made a huge exclusion. I think that God loves everybody. There’s a message of truth that has to be given to everybody — L.G.B.T., B.L.A.C.K., F.A.T., F.E.M.A.L.E. — To the whole world. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I could really answer if they’ve made strides in it. All I can say is that I think the Gospel is being preached and hopefully all who hear it will comply.
This film is all about positivity and achieving your goals regardless of whatever obstacles may occur. Can you give us an instance where you’ve overcome something that was difficult to achieve?
Being able to be in the music business for 30-plus years, I haven’t just been in the gospel side. I’ve had many opportunities that a lot of people haven’t seen or know about, from Pharrell to Alicia Keys to Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, you know, all the likes. To be able to remain in the music business and stay consistent and be relevant and open your heart and mind to change has been able to get me a great balance and to have fun while I’m doing it.
You are one of the most celebrated and lasting gospel singers in the industry. What do you think is the recipe to longevity in the gospel world?
Knowing who you are and not being competitive for negative reasons but staying relevant in thought and not just in talent and being open to great ideas and not just staying closed in to the church, but fulfill that scripture that says, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel men to come so God’s house may be filled,’ and that’s what my job is — to continue to use the gift God gave me and to take it wherever he allows me to go.
Hidden Figures focuses not only on scholastic achievement and excellence, but it also heavily portrays mutual female support. How important do you think this is, especially being a woman of power?
It answers so many prayers and hopefully the world will hear it. Recently, with so much racism being highlighted across the world, especially in the United States of America, it is unfortunate the hindrance that comes with denial of the inevitable truth about the intelligence of so many. And I think this movie is going to be a bold reminder of how good God is to the mind of the Black woman, and Michelle Obama has done an excellent job of portraying that and being consistent with that and I think that Taraji and Octavia and Janelle Monáe are the epitome of what we would expect of what we’re hearing about this movie.
What does “victory” mean to you?
Victory, to me, is a mindset. Victory, to me, is being able to accomplish what you want to. Victory, to me, is being able to prove that you’re great and that others are great. Victory, to me, is being able to watch your hands be put to something and you accomplish it, and victory is an understanding. It’s about being able to work hard and move forward and enjoy life, and help other people enjoy life.
Lastly, what do you hope listeners of this song will take away from it?
That they must be their inevitable them. That victory is on the other side of unimaginable conclusions of so many things. I want them to realize that these women had a tenacity and boldness and smarts and courage to be who they were.
Hidden Figures premieres in theaters everywhere on Christmas Day.
See the big news for the film in the video, above.
(Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)