A wing and a prayer

A former University student and her sister release their own gospel album

Adrienne Baker

Articulate and spirited, former University student Ava Johnson and her sister Noelle Johnson take gospel music to a new realm by combining hip-hop, jazz, rock and social commentary in their most recent album, “Ava and Noelle: Dawn of a New Day.”

The album’s contemporary gospel sound, influenced by a variety of artists from Yolanda Adams and Louis Armstrong to Erykah Badu and Maroon 5, is perfect for casual listening or rocking out when no one is watching.

No matter how you choose to listen to music, when listening to “Dawn of a New Day,” it is impossible to ignore the pipes on these young women. Their vocal precision, dynamics and control allow for a type of musical expression often lacking in young artists.

The sisters write and produce their own music, through their label, Her? Records.

Ava Johnson, 19, and Noelle Johnson, 17, are breaking barriers in more ways than one as they pursue careers in music. Often confronted by sexism, Ava Johnson has come in contact with experienced producers who suggest that she stick to singing alone. But this doesn’t faze her. Not only is she producing her own albums, but she is working with other artists as well.

In the spirit of traditional gospel music, the sisters said they want to affect the lives of others. “We want to inspire people to be passionate about something in their lives,” Ava Johnson said. “If our music doesn’t reach out and touch people’s hearts, then I don’t want to sing it.”

Through positive lyrics and Christian messages, the sisters said they want their music to be uplifting. “We listen to it ourselves when we need to be up-lifted,” said Noelle Johnson.

The sisters, born in Louisiana and from Woodbury, Minn., started performing together at the ages of 7 and 9, in white lace dresses. They perform as full-time musicians now and are far more likely to be seen with a Harley Davidson motorcycle than a lacey dress.

In the last year, they have had approximately 75 to 100 concerts in places from California to Texas, Atlanta and New York.

“We are starting to generate a buzz,” Ava Johnson said. “People are starting to recognize us.”

In an industry with plenty of derogatory and threatening lyrics, being able to spread music with a positive message is a dream come true for the Johnson sisters. “Music reflects society,” Noelle Johnson said. “If music can change, then society can change too.”