The Preacher's Wife soundtrack producer reflects on the joyful Whitney Houston album
Singer-songwriter Mervyn Warren breaks down three songs from The Preacher's Wife soundtrack — and reveals which one made Denzel Washington cry.
Collaborating with the late Whitney Houston on the soundtrack for The Preacher’s Wife is one of singer-songwriter Mervyn Warren’s proudest accomplishments: “It was just an honor to be able to write arrangements and songs and actually have [her] voice combined with music that I was producing,” says Warren, whose other credits include Dreamgirls and Sister Act 2. Warren takes us inside three of the Grammy-nominated album’s best tracks.
"I Love the Lord"
Warren chose this Richard Smallwood hymn because he needed a song that opened with a strong solo part as opposed to ending with it. “I just knew Whitney would kill it,” he says. “Whitney actually sang that as a teenager in her mother’s church. So she knew the song very well.” Recording it was so much fun because Houston “never sang anything the same way twice.”
"Joy to the World"
When Warren joined the Penny Marshall-directed film, he inherited a rural church in Georgia that had been rented because the initial creative direction involved recording all of the music live to make it sound more authentically gospel. Warren recorded the Georgia Mass Choir singing his jubilant rendition of the Christmas classic in the space. Then he returned to Los Angeles and added professional session vocalists and instrumentalists to give it a more polished sound. "I understand why there was this thought process that, 'Oh, we want it to be authentic, so let's go to a rural church in Georgia,' but that's not the best way to combine authenticity with the level of expertise that is required for a Whitney Houston recording. We [needed] to strike a balance," says Warren, explaining the dual recording scenarios.
"Who Would Imagine a King"
With this song, Warren aimed to write something lullaby-like that could be sung by both a child and Houston and also sounded like it had been around for decades. "My main objective was to write something that sounded classic, was sort of childlike, but was fitting for Christmas, and was fitting for this sort of nativity play," says Warren of the song, which he composed with songwriter Hallerin Hilton Hill.
Thank God the song's lullaby-like quality made it relatively easy to produce, as Houston had the flu when they recorded it at her New Jersey home. “I said, ‘Listen, let’s just do it another day.’ And she said, ‘No, I have to do it. It’s a simple song. I’ll get through it,’” says Warren. In the end, the producer remembers Houston’s costar Denzel Washington cried when she performed it on set: “I was just pleased that he was moved in that way.”
The Preacher's Wife