This year's Grammys has a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new, as far as gospel music nominees. As is the case with any kind of music, both spiritual/Gospel and secular, it is ever-evolving. So is the case with Gospel music. Young and talented Gospel artists like Mali Music have stepped on the scene and brought with him a contemporary and soulful sound. In addition, you have mainstays like Erica Campbell (one half of the group Mary Mary) who has been around, but has released new material.
Some of the others who have been nominated for the Song of the year category include Smokie Norful for "No Greater Love," Karen Clark Sheard for "Sunday A.M." and The Walls Group's for "Love On The Radio,". As for Gospel Album of the year, there are "Amazing" by Ricky Dillard and "Withholding Nothing" [Live] by William McDowell. The remaining Album of the Year albums are also highlighted below. As has been the recent tradition with Gospel music, each song does work with the tracks, the beats, and voices in impressive enough fashion to pull any secular listener in, but, lo and behold, when listening further, you notice that the words are truly purposeful and spiritual. This is especially the case with The Walls Group's song "Love On The Radio," which implores the radio community and DJs specifically to give a little love to Gospel music and the word of God.
Shoutout to Christian rapper Lecrae whose album "Anomaly" made history occupying top spots on Billboard's Gospel Albums and Top 200 list. While lending his voice and lyrics to Erica Campbell's Grammy nominated song "Help, he is also in the running for Best Rap Performance for his song "All I Need Is You". If that wasn't enough he is also nominated for best contemporary Christian music performance/song for his song "Messengers," featuring For King & Country.
Since I wrote this article to be a playlist/guide for the gospel categories of the Grammys, I won't attempt to make any "scientifically informed" predictions of winners or losers but I can say who I am rooting for. In the category of best gospel performance/song my heart is with Erica Campbell and her song "Help". I believe that most people can admit to getting to a place in life in which you have cried out "Lord I need your help". The power of this very simple message connected with its engaging beat has won my vote.
In the best gospel album category, Ricky Dillard's album "Amazing" lives up to it's title. While his tribute to Washington, DC's iconic Godfather Of Go-Go music Chuck Brown in the song "Higher" by itself was enough to win my support, the strength of this album is the way that it reminds us of the power of a good choir. This album takes the listener to church. I promise you that it will have you shouting in your car.
Let me also say that I am rooting for Lecrae in any category he is in. If he was nominated in the classical or children's categories, I would want him to go home with those awards as well. Lecrae reminds the world of what it means to be a dope MC. He has the ability to rock the crowd. He breaks down categories and shares the gospel of Jesus Christ unapologetically with people of varied social locations in a way that is empowering and transformative. Some of the best sermons I have heard this year were on his "Anomaly" album. I am praying that he will make history and at the very least walk home with the award for best rap performance.
The expectation and the potential outcome of the Grammys will show that gospel music continues to have a meaningful place on the music scene. You have the feel, taste and inspiration of pioneers like James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson and the recently departed Andre Crouch combined with the influences of musical styles and rhythms of more recent generations. Gospel music is alive and well, continuing to take the Gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.
BEST GOSPEL PERFORMANCE/SONG
Help - Erica Campbell
As is the case with many, both those who know they need help and those who don't, this song calls for help from above. It goes into the one place that we ALL know we can get it and Erica Campbell calls on Him through song and with the "help" of Lecrae and her daughter, Krista Campbell.
Born and raised in Inglewood, CA, along with her sister, they eventually formed the duo, Mary Mary and have torn up the gospel charts. They have always been around Gospel from an early age. Their mother was a choir director and their father was an evangelist and gang/youth counselor. This gave them an entrée into gospel, even though they have performed secularly.
"Help" is the first solo album from sister, Erica, without her sister, Tina. The song has been met with good reviews, as it is a Grammy nominated song.
Sunday A.M. - Karen Clark Sheard
This song gives a feel for what a person, particularly a Godly person feels on a Sunday morning. This Gospel songstress gives a feel for the worldly things that go on during the week, but has renewal, revival, re-energizing and a spirited feeling on Sunday morning. Yes, people are trying their best to just get to Sunday morning to be able to do better, be better and get better.
Ms. Clark comes from a renowned family of singers, The Clark Sisters, hailing from Detroit. Like a fellow Grammy nominee, Erica Campbell, the Clarks sisters were raised with a noted and accomplished choir director for a mother, so it is and was natural for these sisters to be singers. She has performed with and without her sisters over the years. Not surprisingly, she and her sisters have been credited with helping to popularize contemporary Gospel.
Though she still works hard with and without her sisters, they have been performing for over 30 years. In addition to this Grammy nominated song, Sunday A.M., Ms. Clark Sheard is in talks to play Aretha Franklin in an upcoming biopic.
I Believe - Mali Music
A relative newcomer to the music business by age standards, twenty seven year old Mali Music (or Jamaal Pollard) has produced and performed a song that is almost a throwback. In "I Believe" he describes the fact that he does and how deeply he believes. He gives the many reasons why he may not want to believe, things like other people, the things going on in the world, the rearrangement of outside influences. He talks about being one of those "ol' people" even though he is only 27, which provides a bit of an irony.
Born Jamaal Pollard in Phoenix, he took to the piano at the age of 5 and began singing in his church choir at the age of 11, which by then he was living in Pine Bluff, AK. He has been doing well for much of his adult life. He is somewhat "self-made" in that he made much of his early music in his house and in his bedroom. He has had 4 albums that were met with commercial success. He has had great performance, both as a traveling artist and at various industry shows like BET Awards and The Essence Festival. His album "Mali Is..." has been a chart topper.
Mixing elements of traditional beats and traditional lyrics, Mali Music gives one the feel of "an old soul" with the production and release of "I Believe." There is talk of genocide, homicide, bad economic situations, people turning away from the Bible, but in spite of it all, he does and will continue to "believe."
No Greater Love - Smokie Norful
Smokie, with his soulful and gospel delivery, takes this classic gospel song and turns it into a Grammy nominated song. He tells of the troubles that we all see, know, and experience and gives the listener a confirmation and affirmation as well as something that many already know, but comes through in song. He exhorts that there is NO GREATER LOVE than that of Jesus.
Smokie Norful is a pastor, singer and song-writer of note. He was raised in Arkansas, with a degree from U of A - PB. He later moved and is a pastor from Bolingbrook, IL, as well as award-winning and nominated singer. In addition to the Bolingbrook campus, he also has a campus on the southside of Chicago. Some of his awards include, but are not limited to Grammies, Stellar Awards, BET Awards, RIAA nominations and the list goes on. In addition, he works in his community and has done both secular and spiritual work.
The song is one that gives inspiration and motivation to a world that may not know why people like Smokie Norful has been so successful, so well-received and of course, blessed. The song is beautiful with its singing, insight and encouragement. It is yet another strong contender for the Grammy Gospel Song of the Year.
Love On The Radio - The Walls Group
"Love On The Radio" is a song that has brought gospel into a entirely new area and arena. It has many of the elements of a hip hip hop/r & b song, but gives the kind of lyrics that makes the secular listener stand up and notice that there are people, a community, some singers that have polished, modern-day, cheerful beats that are talking about Gospel subjects
Coming from a musical family, four of the Walls have decided to make music their life and business. Following in the footsteps of other musical families such as the Jacksons, the DeBarges, and more along the lines of the Clark Sisters, this Texas based group is hitting it big. Darrel, Rhea, Paco and Ahjah are set to put contemporary Gospel on a trajectory that will keep it in the eyes of the listening music public. Their objective and purpose as a singing group is to tell the word of the Lord.
This song gives a look into some of the other subjects that are spoken about on the radio such as taking off clothes, drinking, and other things that are seen as ungodly. The Walls Group makes it clear that these songs exist, but wants to get some love on the radio through the word of God and talk about the love of Jesus. An unabashed, direct request is being made to the radio community and the voice and gatekeeper of the radio, the DJ. Next time you play a song, how about some God, how about some Jesus, how about a little love on the radio?
BEST GOSPEL ALBUM GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
Help - Erica Campbell
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26mUheoNqWA - Interview
"Help" is the debut album for singer/songwriter and half of the duo of Mary Mary. Ms. Campbell has been performing with her sister for over 15 years and the duo has established itself as a mainstay in the Gospel community. This first studio album was produced by her husband, producer Warren Campbell. It has been met with both critical acclaim and commercial success.
Born and raised in Inglewood, CA, along with her sister, they eventually formed the duo, Mary Mary and have torn up the gospel charts. They have always been around Gospel, from an early age. Their mother was a choir director and their father was an evangelist and gang/youth counselor. This gave them an entrée into gospel, even though they have performed secularly.
There were two singles released before the release of the album, which set the stage for a fantastic album release. Released in March of 2014, it debuted number one on the Gospel charts and number six on the Billboard 200 charts. In addition, many music critics have sung its praises as an album that returns Gospel to its roots. In addition, as far as the "star" system, there have 3 out of 4 stars and 3.5 out of 5 stars. While trying something new (as a solo artist) Ms. Campbell seems to be continuing her good streak as an artist.
Amazing - Ricky Dillard
Ricky Dillard has taken a very well-known word is the Gospel community and made a great album that has been sung at award shows, in choirs and probably in showers when going to work, going through troubled times and of course, on one's way to service. There are other words and sentiments when thinking about the Lord, but when going through life's trial and tribulations, you can remind anyone within earshot, included oneself that He is "amazing." The sentiment and album are AMAZING.
Like many music and Gospel prodigies, Ricky Dillard started very young, learning and loving Gospel music from his mother and grandmother. By the time the Chicago native was 5 years old, he was directing the youth choir. He went on to direct other choirs. Upon hearing various influences, such as Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, Marvin Yancy, amongst others, he started recording solo albums that has now spanned over 20 years.
The album has 13 songs, of which the best and favorite is the one that shares the album's name, "Amazing." Many of the songs are one word or one sentiment that is true to the Gospel roots. Songs like "Celebrate The King," "Grace," "Grateful," Stay with God," and of course, "Amazing" make this a good album to be a part of anyone's Gospel collection, which is but one of the reasons that it is nominated for a Grammy for "Album Of The Year."
Withholding Nothing [Live] - William McDowell
Known for releasing good music that fuses contemporary Gospel and other musical genres, William McDowell is at it again, with his 3 album in 5 years. This 2 disc set combines studio songs with live music. There are 13 tracks that allow the listener to "get their praise on." Songs like "When I Call Your Name," "There's Something About That Name," "Can't Live Without You," along with the title song, "Withholding Nothing," almost assures that it will continue to be well-received.
Pastor William McDowell is the pastor of The Deeper Fellowship Church in Orlando, FL, though he was born in Ohio. A forward thinking and ground-breaking man of God, Pastor McDowell has a few other chart topping CDs to his credit. He has both pastored and been on the music staff at different houses of worship since he was 16 years old. He opened his own studio, The Delivery Room, and that is what he has been doing, delivering great music that spreads the message of salvation, hope and faith.
In this album, Pastor McDowell is ambitious with this offering. Many times when people are ambitious, sometimes in an overly fashion, they run the risk of falling short. Pastor McDowell released a two CD set with both studio and live music and to the good of the Gospel and music community, he pulls it off well, which is but one of the reasons why he is being nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Album.
Forever Yours - Smokie Norful
One of the most recognized, popular and acclaimed Gospel artist is at it again. Smokie Norful has released an album that speaks to his love of God. Many will talk about what they do for and with God, what God does to and for them. Mr. Norful, essentially, has written and released a love letter to The Father. This 10 track album allows Mr. Norful to pour out his feelings and love of the Lord with songs like "He Loves Me," "No Greater Love," "I Need A Word, and the title track "Forever Yours."
Smokie Norful is no stranger to Gospel music, nor is he a newcomer. This generation of Gospel music lovers know his name, along with the likes of Kirk Franklin, Tye Tribbett, Heather Headley, so it no surprise that he is being nominated for a Grammy. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Pine Bluff, AK, he is the son of a minister, so he has been steeped in Gospel from an early age. He served the music ministry in his father's church until he went to serve in Chicago, where his career as both musician and minister took off.
As one embarks upon the journey of listening to this studio album that took 6 years to make, the listener comes to know and appreciate the meticulous manner in which it was produced. When speaking of the album, Mr. Norful talks about the collaborations, the time spent and, of course, the music itself. He feels as though it is his best album in what is a long and successful career. His work and aforementioned claim is answered by being nominated for a Best Gospel album nomination.
Vintage Workshop - Anita Wilson
In her second album, the former member of Donald Lawrence's The Company has blended several different genres of music to express herself on "Vintage Workshop." In addition to touching and using different genres, she goes back to her influences from different eras, such as music from the 60s, 70s and 80s to make this a worthy listen. No longer a secret within the Gospel community, she has won a Stellar Award, as well as Female Vocalist of the year at the Chicago Gospel Music Awards.
Ms. Wilson is a native of East St. Louis, where she got her start in music. Her music and singing brings to mind singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. Her smooth delivery brings will also make one think that they are listening to jazz, but she is a Gospel music singer, now, of note. Before stepping out on her own, she was a back-up singer for the likes of Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp and Vanessa Bell Armstrong. As witnessed by her two albums, she out on her own to stay.
Ms. Wilson has put together a nice collection of songs that has been well-received by the Gospel music community by debuting at number 2 on the Billboard Gospel chart. This 12 track album pays particular attention to her ever-evolving relationship with God, with songs like "Close To You," "Look What He's Done For Me," "Oh, How I Love Jesus, and "Keep Doing What You're Doing." Though there is no title song, the way that she fuses new and old, as well as various genres, the album's title becomes clear and it is a "Vintage Workshop."
BEST RAP PERFORMANCE
Lecrae - All I Need Is You
Best Gospel Performance/Song
Help - Erica Campbell
Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song
"Messengers," featuring For King & Country.
Lecrae is a Houston-based Christian hip hop artist who is nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rap Performance category for his song "All I Need Is You." Though he does not like to be limited to the label "Christian hip hop artist," the gospel message permeates his music. In the nominated song dedicated to his wife, he affirms life and love. His songs and his label, Reach Records and ReachLife Ministries show that Lecrae is a spiritually centered brother attempting to share the Gospel message outside of traditional musical boundaries and categories.
Good luck to Lecrae and all of the Grammy nominees!