The gospel music industry’s preeminent awards show celebrated not only the accomplishments of its best and brightest but illustrated another way in which Black Lives Matter.
From the outside looking in the Stellar Awards seems like any other awards show. Beautiful men and women dressed to the hilt, flashbulbs popping as talent stands statuesque and smiling, and anxious reporters fielding questions of both the mundane and profound nature. This is all par for the course during award show season. But where the Stellar Awards sets itself apart is when you are in the midst of it all and you feel the spirit hovering over the place where some of today’s most influential gospel singers come to celebrate God and be celebrated by their peers in the gospel music industry. Thanking Jesus is not just something these artists do when they step to the mic to accept their award; it is a way of life that they express through their artistry. This artistry, known as gospel music, has been celebrated by the Stellar Awards for 30 years.
Produced by Chicago-based Central City Productions, the first Stellar Awards show was taped at the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago. Through the years, Central City Productions CEO Don Jackson and his team have taken the Stellars throughout the country from Los Angeles and Houston to Nashville and Atlanta, and this year marked their first time in Las Vegas. Las Vegas location aside, this year’s Stellars is special because it marks the 30th anniversary of the show that is a premiere platform for gospel artists.
“I think we open the door for black gospel artists,” says Erma Davis, President and COO of Central City Productions. “In the past, gospel artists were not really known that well because, in the secular world, you just see all of the stars and glamour. I think one of the things we did was to highlight [gospel artists] and really give them a platform so that they could show their ministry.”
Davis hits on something poignant regarding the way gospel music and artistry is acknowledged in the mainstream. Gospel artists are nominated and win at shows such as the Grammys, but they receive their awards off-camera and rarely are they given performance space at the same rate as their peers in mainstream popular music. Instead, how to mainstream acknowledges the Gospel and gospel influences is by giving viewers excerpts of the preceding culture through the broadcast of popular artists thanking God on stage and the sometimes testifyin’, sometimes signifiyin’ appearance of gospel choirs in popular artists’s Grammy Award performances. Other than that, gospel artists and their work are relegated to the peripheries of the mainstream. This is problematic because gospel music has more to do with their success than it doesn’t. Many artists, particularly popular African-American artists, started singing in the church or were influenced by gospel artists. Some artists receive vocal training from gospel music veterans. Some artists employ church musicians to play in their bands. Suffice to say, gospel music’s roots run deep but the mainstream won’t always tell that story. Furthermore, it stands to be said that R&B and Rap music are often exalted as the representative genres of black music in the mainstream, but we know that is only part of the story. The roots of many genres of black music can be traced back to gospel music. Gospel music matters.
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