By Lisa Collins, senior editor, www.watchgmctv.com
As the 26th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards weekend got underway January 12, 2011, Nashville's Opryland resort played host to one of the nation's largest and most prestigious gatherings of gospel industry professionals. The prestigious award ceremony that began in 1985 in Chicago as a black-tie affair, has grown to a five-day networking fest, peppered with showcases, receptions, screenings, celebratory breakfasts, luncheons and meetings. This year marked the introduction of a choir boot camp sponsored by Verizon's How Sweet the Sound.
The number of events tied to the award show is easily estimated to be more than 20, with the weekend generating anywhere from $2–5 million in revenue to the city of Nashville. That's according to founder Don Jackson, president of Central City Productions, which produces the two-hour-long television special.
Jackson is pleased with the acceptance from the industry and the growth that has come as a result of it, welcoming the cottage industry of events and enterprise it has spawned – even those activities that bump up against his scheduled pre- and post-show activities.
"All of the events are sanctioned, even those that compete against our event, because they add excitement to the Stellar Awards," says Jackson. "I understand that when you come, you want to maximize your opportunities. Supporting each other is the way we grow."
Almost as prestigious as the awards themselves is the annual BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music luncheon. Attracting gospel's biggest stars and top industry professionals, the show is now taped for television. This year, BMI celebrated its 12th annual event, honoring the accomplishments and contributions of Shirley Caesar and Commissioned.
BeBe and CeCe Winans opened the show with their chart-topping hit, "Close to You" and after performing it, were presented with an award naming it the Most Performed Song of the Year in gospel.
Co-hosts for the program were Donnie McClurkin and Kim Burrell, with the first segment paying tribute to Shirley Caesar. Spirited renditions of some of Caesar's biggest hits – including "No Charge" and "Sweeping Through the City" featuring Pastor Beverly Crawford, Lucinda Moore, Kim Burrell and Ledisi, brought the crowd to its feet.
Burrell recalled how as a child she listened to Caesar, who moved her like no other artist. "There's no other vocalist like her. She preached every time she opened her mouth."
"You all are not supposed to be singing my songs," said a visbly moved Caesar after being escorted to the stage. "I can't smell your flowers after I'm gone, so thank you so much. Gospel music is the greatest music in the world." Caesar was quick to point out that she's not going anywhere.
"We've got a lot of new singers," Caesar said, "but I don't care if I'm dragging my feet. Look over your shoulder. I'll be there.”
Burrell once again took the stage to host the Commissioned segment, which kicked off with a rousing rendition of “Ordinary Just Won’t Do” by Dawkins and Dawkins and was followed by moving performances from Deitrick Haddon, Parke Stewart, Men of Standard, The Soul Seekers and The Clark Sisters, the latter of whom recalled the days when they were all growing up together in Detroit.
“Our Mom would tell us, ‘You see them boys, how they harmonize and sound like one? That’s how you all should sound,” Karen Clark said, to which Twinkie Clark-Terrell added, “You all were known to be the best ‘riffers’ around.”
“Your writing,” Burrell told former member Fred Hammond from the stage, “has made a difference in the lives of people, some of whom don’t even go to church.”
“This is long overdue honor,” Hammond reflected. "It’s both emotional and happy and good to see everybody. It should have happened a long time ago. This group was formed in 1984."
The finale of the show was a spirited performance from the original members of Commissioned – Hammond, Keith Staten, Mitchell Jones, Karl Reid, Michael Brooks and Michael Williams along with Marvin Sapp – that drew yet another standing ovation and as expected, the question of a possible reunion came up.
“You never know,” said Hammond. “These things spark things. Hopefully, we start out with some dates, do those dates together and make it fun.”
About the Writer
Lisa Collins, a Los Angeles native and resident, is a syndicated columnist, writer, publisher and former Billboard Magazine columnist. Her career in gospel began in 1988 with her creation of "Inside Gospel," a daily/weekly syndicated radio series that provided news, profiles and product updates relative to the gospel music community. For the next eight years, she would also serve as executive producer of the show that was broadcast in more than 100 markets nationwide. Collins has also served as a segment producer for BET and authored well over 300 articles on a variety of issues for a number of national publications from Essence to Upscale. Her background in the field of entertainment reporting is extensive, featuring cover stories and interviews with the likes of Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and Prince.