The Evolution of Gospel 2013 concert held at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts can be summed up in one word: spectacular! The star-studded event took place Monday, September 16 and pulled out all the stops as it celebrated Gospel Music Heritage Month and paid tribute to two gospel industry heavyweights and a political giant.
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Capitol Christian Music Group CEO Bill Hearn and Gospel music genius and Washington, D.C.'s own "maestro" Richard Smallwood were all honored in an event that sold out quickly once ticket availability was announced.
Popular radio personalities Cheryl Jackson and Winston Chaney served as emcees. Recent Dove Award nominees Anthony Brown & group TherAPy opened the show with their hit, "Testimony." The song recently earned the title as the longest running Top 10 Gospel Radio Single.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Carl Davis, Chairman of the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation welcomed attendees. Congresswoman Jackson Lee is responsible for successfully passing resolutions for the last four years designating September as Gospel Music Heritage Month. Davis established the Foundation five years ago and was the concert's executive producer.
There was a performance by the quartet group Endurance followed by a heartfelt presentation of "The History of Gospel Music" by Howard Watson. Tanya Dallas-Lewis took to the stage to sing "Intimate You" before the tributes began.
Bill Hearn was saluted by Charley Humbard, President and CEO of UP TV. Humbard read tributes from Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin and Karen Clark Sheard. Humbard spoke of Hearn's many accomplishments as well as his work with the Gospel Music Trust Fund. He also acknowledged the legacy Hearn picked up from his father, Billy Ray Hearn. The elder Hearn was in attendance and beamed with pride in the balcony.
Bill Hearn was instrumental in the resurrection of modern-day Motown Gospel. Motown artist Tye Tribbett provided the musical tribute. His songs included "Same God (If He Did It Before)," the hit from his album "Greater Than," the No. 1 Gospel album for the past four weeks. Tribbett rocked the house with his high energy performance and passionate ministry fervor.
Jason Nelson took to the stage and sang his latest single, "Nothing Without You" and his chart-topper, "Shifting the Atmosphere."
Congressman John Lewis is the last surviving member of the "Big Six" who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington fifty years ago. He was honored with the Living Legend Award. Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who presented the award, said Lewis is known as the "conscience of the Congress." Former President Bill Clinton sent a letter to the civil rights leaders that extolled his character and told of Clinton's admiration for him. A letter was also presented to the congressman from President Barack Obama.
The Washington Performing Arts Men & Women of the Gospel Choir offered musical tributes. Along with Eric Davis they sang "Perfect Peace." Soloist Samantha McElhaney did a beautiful rendition of "America the Beautiful." In his remarks the congressman said gospel music was an intricate part of the civil rights movement. "Without gospel music, the civil rights movement would be like a bird without wings," Lewis said.
Undoubtedly one of the standout performances of the night was the interpretive dance done by Stacy J. and Unified Praise. The group danced and transformed into a human video as the firebrand speeches of Congressman Lewis played. Gospel music was woven throughout the routine and it reached its riveting crescendo when "Break Every Chain" was played and members with chains symbolically broke them. To say the performance was mesmerizing would certainly be an understatement.
The last hour of the concert paid tribute to composer, lyricist, producer and singer Richard Smallwood. Renowned songwriter V. Michael McKay made a surprise appearance. James "Jazzy" Jordan, a co-producer of the event presented the award and spoke of getting to know the maestro while at Verity Records (now RCA Inspiration) and that the maestro had a "golden pen and golden heart." Jordan recalled how impressed he was with the singer/songwriter and the vastness of his music catalog. He also observed the anointing so obviously attached to the maestro's music.
In a fitting tribute, Anthony Brown & group TherAPy paid tribute to the man he views as a mentor. The group sang "Total Praise." Their rendition brought the legendary singer to his feet, often nodding in affirmation of the vastly talented group's performance of the song he wrote that has touched millions around the world.
Next up was Earnest Pugh who sang Smallwood's "Center of My Joy," the song that captured the attention of the nation when it was released and clearly shined the spotlight on the artist who started his musical career at age 5. Pugh finished his set with his songs "Rain On Us" and "I Need Your Glory," demonstrating his full five-octave range.
Headliner Donnie McClurkin paid tribute to all honorees. As he congratulated each honoree he said he felt one song seemed most appropriate. McClurkin passionately sang, "If I Can Help Somebody." The song seemed to encapsulate the career trajectories of all three who have given so much to the world:
If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they're travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.
McClurkin also sang Richard Smallwood's "Trust Me" and the audience joined in. There was one more surprise for the maestro. Congresswoman Jackson Lee called on Rev. Dexter Nutall who presented him with a plaque and proclamation of "Richard Smallwood Day" from Washington, DC's Mayor Vincent Gray.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee called committee members and performers to the stage and thanked them for their contributions. She also thanked this year's sponsors. Donnie McClurkin closed out the evening with "Stand."
The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation is to be commended for their hard work creating such an outstanding event. DC Host Committee Chairman Ron Magnus and his team of committee members, including Vice Chair Jared Sawyers obviously worked tirelessly to execute an event that exuded excellence from beginning to end. Producer Earnest Walker gets it right each year.
Spotted in the audience were pop culture expert and media personality Jawn Murray, gospel music industry insider Pastor Jerome Bell, Patrick Lundy, Jimmy Russell, former Sunday Best contestant Clifton Ross, Stellar Award Winner Y'Anna Crawley, top promoter Kenny Taylor, Robert E. Person, Kendall King and songwriter Shirley M.K. Berkeley.
Charley Humbard announced earlier in the night that UP TV would like to televise the event next year. Definitely a true testament of the impact that Evolution of Gospel has made thus far and its potential to reach across the globe. Evolution of Gospel is absolutely TV-ready.
© 2013 Sarah Hearn All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.