Contemporary gospel music blurs genres and explores socially relevant themes. Critics, particularly black churches, sometimes fear this musical shift causes listeners to lose sight of worshiping God, contributes to denying their faith and to abandon getting involved in the community.
Three generations of artists – Lecrae, Tamela Mann, John P. Kee and Smokie Norful – think otherwise. They’re each part of McDonald’s Seventh Annual, nine-city Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour.
The performers delivered an electrifying set and inspirational message before the multigenerational congregation at Atlanta’s Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church in June. The free shows also raised funds and awareness for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“People are still going through. People are hurting. People are in need. Understand God is not waiting on your pity party. If you have an act of faith, you don’t need much to pursue what’s already predestined,” says Kee.
Mann agrees. The “Take Me to the King” vocalist – married 25 years to her Tyler Perry productions co-star, David Mann – delivers a soulful performance powerful enough to cause her microphone to go out.
“You’ve got to show love and keep passing it on. When you give back, everybody plays a part. It takes the community to stick together and do things together. When you give away, God blesses you,” says Mann.
The tour is part of the fast food chain’s 365 Black platform that pays homage to black culture and pride. “I want people to leave with the essence of not only God but the essence of gospel music. If we go out there, so-called ‘perform’ and can’t maintain and sustain a message that was given, we did a disservice,” says Kee.
The pastor of Charlotte’s New Life Fellowship Church initially formed New Life Community Choir as outreach to eradicate famine. The reformed Christian Music Hall of Famer also founded the Victory in Praise Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir.
Kee has written extensively for numerous R&B and gospel acts. He believes praise and worship is about being authentic.
“My calling is to walk to that stage and remind them of the God that delivered them, saved them and will keep them. I hope the audience takes away meaningful messages of not just survival, but God will sustain them where they are,” says Kee.
Lecrae – the Houston-born hip hopper whose crunk-infused 2012 effort, Gravity, earned the “Best Gospel Album” Grammy Award – was the opening act. The uplifting emcee and co-founder of Reach Records and ReachLife Ministries started out volunteering at juvenile detention centers.
“I’m honored to serve. The intention behind the whole thing is reaching into the community. I represent a picture of that community, and hip hop is one aspect of the community that we seek to inspire,” says Lecrae.
Along with his wife, Lecrae – now calling Atlanta home – is an actively involved group leader at Blueprint Church. “I’m explicit about my faith. We just look to get in where we fit in to serve with our gifts. It’s sacrificing your time, talent and treasure for the benefit and good of others,” he says.
Vickie Winans, hosting in a two-piece glittering black ensemble, knows the quality of each gospel performance. “I’ve been doing this for awhile now, so I always know what situation is about to go on in here,” says a chuckling Winans.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.