There is a myth that black gospel artists spread their inspirational messages strictly from behind the podium or as musicians. The performers, however, believe community outreach efforts are where they can really empower and bless others.
Gospel artists are brands, ambassadors and social change agents. “All they want us to do is come sing. We’re more than that. Just because you see us onstage glittering and glamming, that doesn’t mean that we have forsaken anything that the gospel tells us to do. You just see a portion of it,” said Grammy award-winning gospel artist Yolanda Adams during Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound (HSTS) Celebration in Atlanta.
During the sixth installment of the highly celebrated showcase, gospel artists discussed the importance of doing more with their lives than just singing. Adams’ HSTS co-host, Donald Lawrence, went on a teaching hiatus from Chicago’s Columbia College to tour with the series. He has been mentoring young people in the music business and will continue to do that in addition to studying musical psychotherapy. “I call it being a ‘musical psychologist.’ It’s gonna be a marriage between song and psychology,” he says.
Lawrence isn’t the only gospel artist trying to make a difference in the community. Along with Michael Baisden and Jamie Foxx, Vashawn Mitchell is the faith-based spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters under its Mentoring Brothers in Action program. During intermissions, Mitchell also has his nose in the books. The singer/songwriter and student is enrolled in music business courses online. “My goal is to continue to raise our African American males to mentor others with or without fathers or father figures in their lives,” says Mitchell.
Adams offers, “You cannot live without mentoring. You mentor on every level. We work really, really hard with our families and our cities. We’re at the grassroots level. Once you get people like all of us at the table, we’re always doing something other than just what you see on TV,” she says.
Recently, Dorinda Clark-Cole performed for over 250 Delta Airlines workers affected by breast cancer. When she’s not participating in prayer walks or attending music conferences, she’s concentrating on organizing a wheelchair choir.
Bishop Hezekiah Walker takes special pride in his Brooklyn food pantry ministry that feeds close to 600 families per week. Tamela Mann and her husband, David Mann, are spokespeople for the American Diabetes Association. In addition to serving as spokespersons, gospel artists are also building businesses and making products for conscious consumers.
Mann, like Clark-Cole, is venturing into apparel. “It’s for the big girls ‘cause I don’t want us to just have on a bunch of flowers. It’s various things we can be kind of edgy and still cute. I want to get more into talking to ladies about gearing up so we will look perfect in our clothes,” says Mann.
Adams who is also a radio personality, recently started a line of bath and body products named Simply Yolanda. Disappointed by high percentages of alcohol, Adams researched and discovered that many products on the market contain various substances not good for the skin. “It’s really crazy. Some of the stuff that you would put on a human you wouldn’t put on a dog. It enraged me. I live by making people’s lives better,” says Adams. The singer plans to open a retail store exclusively for Simply Yolanda at The Galleria in Houston.
Gospel tours are also raising money for various causes. McDonalds Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour — a free series featuring Smokie Norful, Vickie Winans, Lecrae, Mann and John P. Kee — raised $83,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). The funds raised are the most the tour has ever grossed. Giving back is essential to gospel artists who learn to do so from scripture and also performing.
“Church and the choir are the best places to learn how to do this. It really trains you to know how to own the gift that God has put in place inside you. That’s the best training ground,” says Lawrence. Gospel artists are sharing these gifts in more ways than one.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, 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.