By Lou Mancinelli
For Germantown resident, drug and alcohol counselor, preacher and gospel rapper Laverne Hoffler-Duckworth, music has been an instrument of self-improvement. It’s music that inspired Duckworth to return to and finish college, and it’s through songs the rapper encourages others and shares her story of overcoming
This August, Hoffler-Duckworth, whose professional name is Blessed Noble, will release “Changed,” her first full-length gospel album, recorded this year. Though Blessed Noble brought her gospel rap to numerous churches through New York, Jersey, Maryland and Delaware in the late 90s into the early 2000s, where she preached, rapped and spread her message to crowds, she’s been off the circuit for almost eight years.
That’s because Blessed Noble could not afford to return to finish her final year of studies at Philadelphia Biblical University in Langhorne (formerly Philadelphia College of Bible). In foolish fashion, she had spent extra money she received from school loans on personal indulgences like a trip to California and clothing. No one had educated her about the proper way to manage her money. She learned her lesson the hard way, by almost forfeiting her opportunity at a college education.
“I got discouraged about school, and I got discouraged about rap,” said Laverne/Noble, 33, during a recent interview. “I left it all behind.”
Perhaps it was destiny that caused her to leave Philadelphia Biblical University behind at that time. A year later, while working as a waitress at a Ruby Tuesday’s by the Philadelphia International Airport, the John Bartram High School graduate (in Southwest Philly) met her husband. A romance developed between the manager and server, and in September, 2006, the couple married.
It was her husband, Joseph Duckworth, who paid for his wife to return to school to finish her final two semesters. It was her husband who continued to encourage his wife to express herself and to pick up the microphone and take up gospel rap again.
“He would say, ‘You’re pretty talented,’ and tell me to get back into what I love doing,” said Blessed Noble. “It took a few years before I was actually convinced.”
What convinced Laverne that she could capture the stage again was a performance she gave at the KeyStone Center in Delaware County, where last year she became a drug and alcohol counselor. When she received a standing ovation, she felt the old feeling of performing to share a message resurge within her. “When I perform I get to be another person,” said Blessed Noble. “I feel alive. I’m able to express myself as an artist and bring my message across.”
That message, that “God’s love conquers all, and anyone is capable of change if their heart is in it,” is something she’s inherited from the artists she grew up listening to like Diana Ross, Lionel Ritchie and Stevie Wonder. Their wisdom and her message is that of pressing on through hard times.
In the mid-nineties, at 17, Blessed Noble started performing and recording hip-hop with her group, Ms. Conduct. By 1997, Rhymestone, as she called herself then, left traditional hip-hop when she picked up gospel rap from the kids at the Sharon Baptist Church, formally located at 59th and Christian Streets in West Philadelphia. She began attending the church a year earlier and with the encouragement of Pastor Keith W. Reed, she wound up touring the tri-state area spreading her message through gospel rap.
The tours lasted for a few years, but when Laverne could not finish school, she thought she had left her dreams of higher education and performing behind. Blessed Noble says her husband, the patients at the KeyStone Center and the song “I’m not Afraid,” by Eminem were the trinity that ultimately inspired her to go back to school, however, and to return to the stage.
In 2009, Laverne graduated from Philadelphia Biblical College. She also released her first studio-produced EP, “Delivered,” that year, a six-song introduction to her rebirth as a gospel rapper. Most recently, Blessed Noble shot a video for her song “I Believe in You,” at the home of the Sykes-Gerhard family in Glenside. Janet Gerhard responded to a Craigslist post Blessed Noble made looking for a place to shoot her video.
“I Believe in You” is from Blessed Noble’s effort, “Changed,” to be released this August. So far, Blessed Noble, who now attends Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, on Cheltenham Avenue near the Route 309 Intersection. Under Pastor Alyn E. Waller, Laverne recorded eight of the album’s 10 tracks at Philly studios Smashed Cat Recording and BMR Entertainment.
“When Blessed Noble approached our family, we had three requirements,” said Gerhard, whose two sons helped capture the video. “The music should honor and glorify God, strive to advance a message that is uplifting in the face of the trials and difficulties of marriage and family, and sort of jokingly, could she have the camera crew wrapped up before dinner begins at 7 o’clock?”
The video shoot fit right in with the Sykes-Gerhard family’s commitment to promote young, talented musicians in the region. For the past five years the family has been part of the Cresheim Valley Church that worships at Chestnut Hill Academy, where one can hear nationally known vocalists like Ruth Naomi Floyd and Justin Hopkins sing at religious services, according to Gerhard.
“We wanted to be a part of the framework of support for Blessed Noble,” said Gerhard. “She’s a talented singer with an important message to advance in the world in which forgiveness seems harder to ask for and to receive and is needed more than ever.”
If you’re interested in experiencing the energy of a Southern Baptist gospel choir and a new interpretation of an old message of overcoming obstacles, Blessed Noble will perform June 25 at Six Flags Great Adventure in Baltimore, MD, with longtime gospel artist Marvin Sapp. Following that, she’ll grace a gospel festival in Atlanta.
Laverne will be having a CD release party in the near future, but the date was not firmed up by press time. For more information, to listen to and/or purchase music performed by Blessed Noble, visit www.blessednoble.com.