Who's the Newcomer with Eight Stellar Award Nominations?
Every now and then, a new gospel artist makes such a considerable splash that you can’t help but take notice. This year, whether on radio, television, the web, or stages across the nation, the buzz about Charles Jenkins has been both undeniable and uncontainable. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with this pastor and artist at the top of his game, who's nominated, along with his choir and CD, for eight Stellar Awards, and you’ll avoid embarrassment at the proverbial water cooler of the gospel biz. Click here to see Kirk Franklin announce the 28th Annual Stellar Award nominations.
After 50 years of service, the founding pastor of Chicago’s legendary Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Clay Evans, passed the baton to 24-year-old Charles Jenkins, a pastor he had personally groomed for the task.
Over the next several years, Pastor Jenkins more than quadrupled the church’s weekly attendance. But even as he expertly navigated the challenges of church leadership, few could have seen 2012 coming.
This year, Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago released their debut single, “Awesome,” on his own label, Inspired People (an imprint in partnership with EMI Gospel). The congregational worship anthem rocketed to the #1 spot at gospel radio, remaining there for 11 consecutive weeks. During that time, the church choir’s debut album, Best of Both Worlds, entered the Billboard Gospel Albums chart at #1, where it stayed for three weeks.
“We were hopeful that it would be impactful,” Jenkins says as he describes the journey so far. “We were very prayerful. If anything is a surprise, it’s the broad impact. People have been impacted around the world.”
To be fair, Jenkins and his church choir are not new to the music industry. The church has long been renowned for its rich gospel music heritage, perhaps best known for the hit single “I’ve Got a Testimony,” from the album of the same name, released by Rev. Evans in 1995, just one of 25 albums released during his tenure as pastor.
Similarly, Jenkins’ musical roots run deep, having co-written “You’ve Been a Friend” with Israel Houghton and Aaron Lindsey, a tune featured on Houghton’s GRAMMY Award-winning 2005 Alive in South Africa project with New Breed.
Just Getting Started
Still, Best of Both Worlds marks the first venture of the church’s current music ministry. Grab a free download from the project here.
“It’s our first single, our first album,” Jenkins says. “To see that impact in such a short period of time is incredible.”
“Incredible” mounted to “virtually unbelievable” this past Labor Day weekend, when Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago performed at Jay-Z’s groundbreaking “Made In America” outdoor concert event. The choir was the only gospel artist invited to perform, and the invite came at the hip-hop mogul’s direct request.
“I got a phone call from Live Nation telling me that Jay-Z wanted Fellowship Chicago to be the only gospel artist that would be giving a performance,” Pastor Jenkins explains. “The premise of the event was to feature music that was ‘made in America,’ which gospel music was.”
“I thought ‘they’re just using his name to invite people,’ but I soon learned that it was actually him that wanted us to come. So, we went and did a one-hour concert. It was a huge honor. Very impactful. The best part is that we were invited to simply do what we do – share God’s love through music.”
With industry heads – both in gospel and beyond – turning to observe him, Jenkins suggests that they’re just getting started. For starters, Inspired People is actually much more of a creative brand and movement with its sights on several new endeavors.
“Inspired People is a lifestyle brand committed to inspiring people. We inspire you, through music, through ministry, through fashion, through creative content. The whole idea is to inspire the world through various mediums,” shares Jenkins.
And lest anyone believe Pastor Jenkins is too preoccupied with the music ministry to carry on his duties as pastor of a now 8,000-member church, think again.
Jenkins is overseeing quite a few new projects in 2013, including a massive expansion project costing upwards of $50 million. The holistic community development opportunity will create 400 new jobs on Chicago’s Southside. The ministry is also launching a community center, which will offer a 24-hour live-in facility for young men who want to get out of gangs, but might otherwise be murdered in the process. And, yes, the church will work on its sophomore album, with a targeted release date by the end of 2013.
Of the seemingly daunting tasks, Pastor Jenkins declares: “I always say ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’ Jesus had a team. In 1 Corinthians, it talks about there being many gifts in the body. From my perspective, it’s important for our people to know that I’m not the star. Jesus is the star. I’m just another member of his band. I might be the band leader, but He’s the star. And all of us are on his team.”
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