Earlier this month, on March 6, the biggest night in gospel music was featured on the TVOne cable channel…The 2016 Stellar Gospel Music Awards.
Regular readers of djrobblog know that this blog site normally covers more mainstream genres like R&B, rock, and occasionally even blues. Well, those popular music forms – or at least many of the singers who popularized them – have their roots deeply embedded in gospel music. Many of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century, like Ron Isley, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Whitney Houston, have or had a strong foundation in the church and the music that emanates from it.
Gospel music, however, was not given a high profile platform to celebrate its greatness until the first Stellar Gospel Music Awards in 1985 which was spearheaded by its founder, chairman and CEO, Don Jackson. The show was a hit! And there would be many more years of Stellar Awards to come…in fact, every year for the past 31.
Being an avid gospel music fan, I have tuned in to the Stellars almost every one of those years. And, like most other genres, gospel music has evolved tremendously over the years. Whether you take comfort in the traditional hymns of the church or choose to “get your praise on” to the latest urban contemporary gospel music, the Stellars have consistently showcased excellence on every level.
And this year’s 31st Gospel Stellar Music Awards was no exception!
In case you missed the show this year or you would like to relive some of your favorite Stellar moments of 2016, read on a little further and I’ll give you a quick recap.
The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada was totally packed out with gospel music lovers from all over the globe ready to delight in live performances by some of the top-named artists in the industry. Rickey Smiley and Sherri Shepherd formed a dynamic duo to host the show and kept the audience involved and thoroughly entertained the entire show.
One of Smiley’s opening comments – with tongue planted firmly in cheek – noted that the show was taking place in Las Vegas, a/k/a “Sin City,” but, for this occasion, they were renaming it “Salvation City.”
There may have been some truth to that new moniker, because the show seemed to have a stronger sense of unity among the artists – something missing the past few years – as well as a greater atmosphere of worship from start to finish.
This year’s celebration was special for other reasons as well. Often in the music industry, trade publications and even blogs like this one compare and contrast “new school” versus “old school” music. Is one better than the other? Have we lost the true meaning of music in commercialism? Etcetera.
Gospel music historically has not been immune to this type of analysis and, on many occasions the two camps – old school and new school – are often pitted against one another. However, this year’s show didn’t involve that level of “hate” between the generations, nor did it throw shade at either of the two schools of music.
Instead, new artists were embraced and traditional artists and pioneers were given their just rewards – all on the same stage. And let me tell you, the producers of this show merged the two beautifully.
The Big Winners
Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy kicked the show off with a bang with its new single, “Bless the Lord” which brought all the audience members to their feet. It was as if Brown and his crew had walked into Clarke Kent’s telephone booth, quickly morphed into their superhero attire, then set the arena ablaze with Brown’s Grammy-nominated, billboard gospel chart topper, “Worth.”
By the way, every gospel music fan knows that Brown was snubbed at the Grammy’s for the award for Best Gospel Performance/Song. On any given Sunday, “Worth” is the song you will hear from the choir stands to cars of the parishioners.
Brown lost to the more familiar Kirk Franklin and his inferior song, “Wanna Be Happy.” THAT song by Kirk Franklin?…Really?! With all due respect, Kirk…love you my brother…but that song is probably one of the worst you’ve ever done. But I digress…
Despite the Grammy snub, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy became even more acquainted with the Stellar Awards stage on this night, with repeated trips to the awards podium. You don’t see it in the above picture, but Brown brought with him a golden broom to this year’s awards – one he used to sweep every category for which he was nominated! That’s TEN wins for ten nominations! Marvin Sapp, who was one of the four winners of Stellar Honors this year, previously held the title for most Stellar wins with seven, which he accomplished back in 2009.
And about that old school/ new school camaraderie I mentioned earlier? Well, the Stellar Awards paid homage with a Lifetime Achievement Award presented to O’Landa Draper (posthumously) which was graciously received by Draper’s sister, Teresa.
Gospel greats Donald Lawrence, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, and Ricky Dillard were dubbed the “Brat Pack” that night as they took a trip down memory lane singing a few of Draper’s well-known hits like “Jesus Touched Me,” “I’ve Gotta Feelin'” and “I’ve Got a Reason (to Praise the Lord).” A presentation accompanied by O’landa Draper’s Associates was nothing short of magnificent.
Another big winner of the night came as no surprise. Tasha Cobbs was awarded the Albertina Walker Female Vocalist of the Year as well as Best Praise & Worship CD of the Year for “One Place Live.” Ever heard of a little song over the past couple of years called “Break Every Chain”? Yep, she did that!
Cobbs electrified the atmosphere with her new soon-to-be hit, “Put a Praise on It.” Trust me when I say, Cobbs won this award hands-down because that entire project is simply amazing.
Other notable moments
I mentioned earlier that the Stellar Honors featured four of gospel’s best. The “Class of 2016” were Jonathan Slocumb (first comedian to host the award show), Yolanda Adams (most awarded female artist in Stellar History), Bishop Marvin Sapp (Sapp made history in 2009 with seven wins in one night), and the one and only Lady Tramaine Hawkins of the highly acclaimed Hawkins dynasty. (No doubt Anthony Brown will be receiving this recognition in the future for his record-breaking accomplishments on this night.)
Memorable performances by Best New Artist, Casey J, who sang her songs “Fill Me Up” and “I’m Yours”; plus an awe-inspiring collaboration by Pastor Donnie McClurkin (“Stand”), Karen Clark-Sheard (“Dwelling Place”), Marvin Sapp (“Never Would’ve Made It”), and Yolanda Adams (“That Name”); and finally Bishop Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir’s performance of their incredible new single, “It Will Get Better,” brought the house to its feet in praise.
It was yet another prime example of how the Stellars bridged the gap between new school and old school.
All gospel fans know that Bishop Walker has produced countless choir hits over the years and this one (“It Will Get Better”) will definitely become a new church anthem in 2016…you can take that to the bank!
Also, Pastor William McDowell’s “Spirit Break Out” truly created a sound that was like heaven on earth (forgive the pun!).
Lastly, the finale, which featured Kirk Franklin performing his song, “1-2-3/Victory” appeared to be a crowd pleaser as well.
Great gospel music is comprised of a diversity of sounds, style, and delivery. Most importantly, it is unlike any other music form in that it celebrates the spirit of one’s personal relationship with God.
Overall, this year’s performances were well thought-out and well executed. And one of the main reasons this year’s Stellar Awards were so impressive was that the awards actually reflected how gospel music fans felt about the music, both new and old school.
A common theme among all the performances and Stellar Awards winners was the emotional element. The songs that touched the hearts the most were all apparently born out of some painful life experiences for the artists involved. Hearing some of the testimonies behind the songs made the messages even more relevant and refreshing to the listener.
Unity was another theme. Though we all may have differences of opinion about morality and what’s socially acceptable in this day and age, music somehow knits us all together, and this year’s Stellars certainly reinforced that notion.
After tuning in to the Stellars, I was left feeling revived, encouraged, and energized.
It doesn’t get any better than that!
Cameo Fox Faulkner
Guest writer Cameo Fox Faulkner is a gospel music enthusiast – and my homegirl – from Central Virginia who has been a faithful follower of djrobblog for its entirety (14 months). This is her first blog post and I am honored to have it right here on this blog site!
P. S., you all need to show her some love, or you’ll have to go through me (literally, because I approve all comments before their posted…hehe)…DJRob
Finally, this article is dedicated to the memory of Minister and legendary gospel artist, Daryl Coley, who unexpectedly died Tuesday night at the age of 60.
May he rest in heavenly peace.