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Yum! At A Glance
Published on July 12, 2021
Yum! Brands Helpdesk Specialist Ray Jeffries sampled several extracurricular activities as a child. He tried all the “balls” — tee-ball, basketball and football. He even enrolled in a karate class. But it wasn’t until he took singing and piano lessons that something clicked inside of him.
Soon after, Jeffries started singing with the choir at a Louisville, Kentucky-based church, and at 8 years old, met Jason Clayborn who would eventually form an eponymous community gospel choir called Jason Clayborn and The Atmosphere Changers. Twenty-five years later, that group, with Jeffries as one of its tenors, opened the Stellar
Awards, reaching a national audience on BET.
Prior to his performance, Yum! spoke to Jeffries about his melodic side hustle and how his career at Yum! has elevated his position in the choir.
Do any of your coworkers know you’re opening for the Stellars this
The whole Helpdesk knows. We were up for a nomination for the Stellar Awards for Contemporary Choir of the Year, but first, people had to vote for your group online before you snagged the nomination. And all my coworkers actually went on the Stellar Awards site and voted a couple of times! We didn’t end up getting nominated, but that support meant a lot.
My manager Trent Bashore is probably my biggest cheerleader on the team. When I told him that we were going to perform, he immediately looked up the channel and time, so he could watch. To be able to bring the gospel music that I love to work and to share it with my team, it’s been a good bridge for me, to know that they are so willing and open to it.
If you didn’t get nominated, how did you end up with the
invitation to perform?
A couple of weeks ago, Jason received a phone call from our record label and was asked how he felt about opening. Somewhere along the line, the music that we put out registered with someone who wanted us to step on the stage and minister to not only the people who are going to be in that auditorium, but anyone who’s going to watch the show. It’s just mind-blowing, and I don’t think it’s going to really hit home with a lot of us until we get to Nashville [where the awards are hosted].
You’ve been singing with Jason Clayborn (first, with his mom's choir, the Metropolitan Gospel Music Connection, and then in 2016, with The Atmosphere Changers) on and off for most of your life. Are the Stellar Awards the pinnacle
so far in your experience?
I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished so far, especially last year with us releasing our first album, “God Made It Beautiful,” and being able to survive the pandemic as a group. We’ve been afforded a lot of different opportunities, like singing at Breonna Taylor’s birthday celebration in June, and collaborating with Jack Harlow and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine on their song “Same Guy.” I hold these things in high esteem, but I would say that the Stellar Awards are our No. 1 at the moment. However, I don’t think that this is the cap for us in any capacity.
Do any of The Atmosphere Changers have full-time jobs like you and
sing on the side?
For Jason, this is his full-time job with him being our choir director; he’s also the minister of music at a local church in Louisville where the group was originally formed. Everyone else within the group either has a full-time job or is in school or a mixture thereof. So, we usually have to rehearse on the weekends.
But you work Saturdays on the Helpdesk, so how do you plan around
your untraditional schedule?
What’s funny is I actually thought about that when I was taking the Helpdesk role. I was like, “How is this going to affect what I do with the group?” I’ve just been fortunate to have been able to get the schedule of Wednesday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., so I’m able to still get off at the same time as everyone else during the week at 5 and to have all day Sunday to rehearse.
Why is gospel music so important to you?
When I listen to gospel music, I feel something inwardly and having continued to grow my faith as I’ve gotten older has shown me how a gospel song’s lyrics can get me through different situations. Sometimes, I’ll put a song — like Kierra
Sheard’s “Always Win” (who’s also performing at the Stellar Awards) or “You’ll
Always Hear Me” by Valencia Lacy — on repeat for a week, whether I’m having a hard time, busy or whatever the case may be.
What have you learned at Yum! that you’ve taken to your side
hustle with The Atmosphere Changers?
Yum! has shown me an open and honest way to communicate. Here, I’ve been able to have conversations that are sometimes hard, but needed, about my career progression, and even for personal growth, and it hasn’t been frowned upon but celebrated.
The way I’ve taken that to the group is I’ve allowed myself to be more open when we have these conversations on The Atmosphere Changer’s leadership team that I’m part of (he’s also part of the group’s wardrobe team). Prior to Yum!, if I disagreed with something, I would be very guarded or I wouldn’t say anything at all and feel upset. But now, I’ve been more confident and said, “Hey, let’s talk this out for a second, and let’s make sure we come to an agreement.”
Now, the group looks at me as a voice of reason, so having been pushed outside of my comfort zone through Yum!’s open culture has really improved my life both in and outside of work. I was even asked to be the creative director on one of our videos because I had the nerve to suggest some ideas with one of our managers.
The 36th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards filmed Saturday, July
10, in Nashville, Tennessee, and will air on BET on Sunday, August 1, at 8 p.m.
ET/5 p.m. PT. For the latest information, including photos, videos and more, visit BET.com and thestellarawards.com.
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