Donald Lawrence is one the most prolific, introspective, producers/songwriters that the Gospel industry has ever seen. It is safe to say that his name will be among the legends.

ESSENCE.COM sat down with Donald Lawrence to talk about the earlier years, his new project and having a successful career.

ESSENCE.COM: You started off as Stephanie Mills’ musical director early on in your career. What was that like?
DONALD LAWRENCE: I learned a lot working with Stephanie. She took a risk on me back then because I was really young and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was determined not to go down without a fight. I definitely attribute who Donald Lawrence is today to Ms. Stephanie Mills. For years, she came to me and asked me what I thought. She really put complete trust in me and I thank her so much for that.

ESSENCE.COM: How long have you been in the music business and what does success mean for you at this point in your career?
LAWRENCE: I’ve been doing this for eighteen years. For me success means getting to the point where I don’t do what I do just for chart positioning or radio airplay. I really do what I do to change people’s lives. And I don’t mean change people’s lives from a religious perspective, so after they die they go to heaven. Of course I want that too; but I want to change people’s minds about who they are. We all bring value to this earth. I think the happiest people are people who are living inside their purpose.

ESSENCE.COM: Your new album “Your Righteous Mind” is your first #1 album in 15 years. What is it about this project that the public has taken such a liking to?
LAWRENCE: I believe it’s about timing. It all has to do with the month your album comes out and where the industry is when it’s released. Some people feel like it’s their favorite album, so that always feels good to hear. I honestly didn’t think people were going to like this album that much. I didn’t use a lot of gadgets and tricks this time around. I really went back to that live sound and instrumentation. I approached this album the way I learned how to do production in the early 90’s. I’ve always been one of those people who like to dictate where we go, as opposed to following where it’s going.

ESSENCE.COM: You’re the host for Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound choir contest. Why do you think it has been so successful?
LAWRENCE: I think it gave a new look to something that was familiar. Verizon is giving choirs a big stage, putting them in arenas and wrapping it in a great multi-million dollar production. I’ve always found choirs to be fresh and marketable. I mean, you can use them in commercials, on country songs, on pop songs, in an opera, in church…anywhere. A choir does not necessarily dictate church.

ESSENCE.COM: What do you do in your down time?
LAWRENCE: In my down time, I love to go to the movies. I really love going the theater too. It’s like I’m a kid. I like productions. As much as I’m in the music industry, most people would do something else to relax. Relaxing for me is definitely going to see a Broadway play or some type of production. It’s what I studied in school, musical theater. I love watching the technique, lighting, costuming, choreography and everything. I’m definitely into fitness too. I do pilates, reflexology and walking. And I LOVE reruns of “Golden Girls,” “Frazier” and “Sanford and Son.” I can watch that all day!

Gerald Jones is the founder of Da Gospel Truth. Follow him on Twitter @dagospeltruth.