Each year the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation (GMHMF) seems to out-do itself with a celebration that captures the best of gospel music. This past Monday, Sept. 15 was an event of epic proportions as the 6th Annual Evolution of Gospel took place at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
The eager concert-goers knew all too well that the free Evolution of Gospel celebration was no ordinary concert. The star-studded event celebrated Gospel Music Heritage Month which was made possible through the efforts of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex) and her co-sponsor Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) when they introduced a bill declaring September as Gospel Music Heritage Month.
Jonathan Slocumb and Roland Martin served as emcees and delivered laughs throughout the evening, with Martin even ribbing the congresswoman about the $23 that he paid for parking. But, the night was really all about celebrating the uniqueness of gospel music and was a compendium of praise, exaltation and foot-stomping and hand-clapping.
GMHMF Chair and Gospel Music Advocate Carl Davis welcomed the audience with reflections on gospel music. His intonation and cadence drew the crowd into the gospel experience as they sprinkled his welcome with “amen” and “yes!” Davis then introduced Congresswoman Lee who, accompanied by Charles Humbard, CEO of UP Tv (formerly Gospel Music Channel) gave an enthusiastic welcome and recounted how Gospel Music Heritage Month came about and gospel’s impact on the American landscape from Mahalia to Elvis and beyond.
Dottie Peoples served up an explosive “Testify.”Independent artist Eric Carrington delivered an enthusiastic “Living by Faith” and another indie, Chad Brawley gave a compelling rendition of his single “Greater” that featured the vocals of Clifton Ross. They were followed by Minister Howard Watson who shared the history of gospel music.
One of the highlights of the night was Y’Anna Crawley performing “Open Up My Heart” in tribute to honoree Yolanda Adams. The singer seemed to reach into the deepest recesses of her being to deliver a performance that brought the audience to its feet and sent social media buzzing.
Teresa Hairston, founder of the Gospel Heritage Foundation (and Gospel Today) shared the history of Thomas Dorsey and the evolution of the National Convention of Choruses and Choirs. That was followed by the Washington Performing Arts Society Men and Women of the Gospel Choir, who gave a salute to some of the greatest songs in history, including “Precious Lord” and “Peace Be Still” which was masterfully delivered by Maestro Herndon, evoking memories of the late, great James Cleveland.
The legendary Edwin Hawkins took to the stage and delivered his groundbreaking “Oh Happy Day.” Hawkins who has crossed the 70-year mark was robust in his delivery and shows no signs of slowing down.
Letters of Congressional Appreciation were given to stalwarts in the gospel industry and GMHMF’s partners, Teresa Hairston, Mary Gentry, head of the National Convention of Choirs and Choruses, Bishop Albert Jamison, Chairman of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) and Edwin Hawkins, head of the Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar. In a touching moment Ms. Gentry was escorted onstage by Thomas A. Dorsey, III. The presentations were made by Congresswoman Lee, Carl Davis and James “Jazzy” Jordan.
The DMV’s own, Stephen Hurd performed “Seal It With A Praise” from his most recent album and the night turned to a time of tributes for Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin and Sen. Lincoln, who were all honored for their contributions to the gospel genre.
Yolanda Adams tributes
GRAMMY Chief Advocate Daryl P. Friedman saluted Yolanda Adams on behalf of the GRAMMYs and its president, Neil Portnow. He shared how involved the multiple award-winner is supporting young people and schools.
Dottie Peoples paid tribute to Adams and thanked the multiple GRAMMY award winner for the impact she made for women in gospel music and said, “so many females couldn’t go through the doors that you’ve gone through.” She then went on to perform a high energy rout of her hit “On Time God.” Fellow Houston native Kathy Taylor gave a passionate performance of songs that included, “The Battle Is Not Yours.”
Sen Blanche Lincoln tributes
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater hailed Sen. Lincoln as a “daughter of the Delta and a child of the South.” Anthony Brown and group TherAPy paid tribute to Sen. Lincoln with a medley of traditional songs that included “We’ve Come This Far,” “Amazing Grace,” and “I Decided to Make Jesus My Choice,” among others. Brown turned The Kennedy Center into a powerful worship experience that invoked the images of days of old where Gospel music was the only solace for a struggling people.
Kirk Franklin tributes
Comedian,singer/actor David Mann recalled his long-time friendship with Franklin dating back to high school year. Tasha Page Lockhart, who is signed to Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Recordings label sang her hit “Different,” which was produced by Franklin. She and Tamela Mann teamed for an enthralling performance of “Now Behold the Lamb.” That was followed by Mann singing her certified-Gold hit, “Take Me To the King,” yet another gem from Franklin’s pen.
Congresswoman Lee called the honorees on stage and presented them with the Gospel Music Heritage Month Medals of Honor, accompanied by Carl Davis, Jazzy Jordan and Charles Humbard. As she presented the medals she quipped that they were the “Kennedy Gospel Honors” and would be entered into the Congressional Record.
In her remarks Yolanda Adams expressed her gratitude for the honor and said she was glad to be able to be doing something that loved that she would do for free. Sen. Lincoln remarked that she was thankful to be surrounded by “this incredible gift of music” and thanked her “sister” Congresswoman Lee. She also thanked Carl Davis for always being there and always being “smooth.”
Kirk Franklin thanked fans for their support and making it possible for him to do 20 years of “Jesus music” and also spoke of his early beginnings at GMWA. He gave a touching tribute to his wife, Tammy who he said was “my best friend, lover, soldier, my wife.”
Another great year
This was another outstanding year for Evolution of Gospel. It was very evident that DC Host Committee Chair Ron Magnus and Vice-Chair Jared Sawyers worked tirelessly behind the scenes with a team of dedicated committee members to ensure flawless execution of this event that is quickly becoming one of the premier events, not only in the DMV but in the greater gospel community at large.
In fact, the Evolution of Gospel celebration reached higher heights this year as a collaboration with Charles Humbard’s UPtv and Stellar Awards founder Don Jackson‘s Central City Productions resulted in the show being filmed for its television debut on UP. The show is slated to air later this month. Check local listings for dates and time.
The gospel community came out in full force to enjoy the celebration. Spotted in the audience were Byron Cage, Maurette Brown Clark, 2012 honoree Shirley M.K. Berkeley, Jawn Murray, Phillip Carter, Robert E. Person, Stephen Key, James Murphy, Kendall King, Pastor Jerome Bell, Javon Inman, Jimmy Russell, Ginger on Sax and Martin Cornwell.
Carl Davis served as Executive Producer for the Evolution of Gospel. Ernest Walker was the Event Producer and Jazzy Jordan served as Co-Producer. For more information on the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation, visit www.gospelmusicheritage.org.
© 2014 Sarah Hearn All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article in part or in its entirety on websites, newsletters, magazines, etc. without permission is expressly prohibited. DCMA takedown rules will be applied.