On Being Bold
Gospel music, throughout the ages, has always been a progressive genre. In being so, there has always been someone, be it an artist, producer, or writer, who was always willing to push the proverbial envelope to advance this genre to the next level. Dating back to the days of Thomas Dorsey's infusion of jazz composition into the early church songs, gospel has always had a visionary willing to invoke change. Yet that change has never come without its share of publicity and controversy.
Most recently, two other visionaries have answered the call to introduce something new to the genre. This new vision or outlook, though simple and basic in concept, seemed so new, complex, and at times controversial that it has really raised the ire of many in the gospel industry. What is this paradoxical concept? Simply put the ability to be brutally honest. Categorized in one word, BOLD.
Angie & Debbie Winans have embarked on an unpopular, seemingly thankless, and at times, life-threatening journey. Desiring to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world, this sisterly duo has chosen to take an in-your-face, direct approach, citing tough love as their drawing tool.
"I can't possibly tell someone that I love them and allow them to go down the wrong path without trying to warn them," says Debbie, the younger of the two siblings. "For instance, Angie loves her son. Yet when she tells her son not to run in her house, it's not because she doesn't love him. It's because she knows that if he runs, he can slip and fall and hurt himself. That's a pain that she doesn't want him to experience. The same holds true for God. He sees the bigger picture and doesn't want His children to be hurt. Therefore, He sets out rules and laws that we must follow so that we don't travel down the wrong path."
The Bold project is certainly a unique effort in that it speaks to issues that no other gospel project to date has addressed. Confronting topics ranging from abortion and premarital sex to seduction and homicide, the Winans' sisters deal with issues that affect life in 1998. However, this direct and candid approach to life hasn't always been the Angie & Debbie the industry has come to know.
In 1993, the sisterly duo released their debut project, which featured a kinder, gentler Angie & Debbie. The self-titled project, on Capitol Records, received rave reviews within the industry and garnered tremendous mainstream success for the sisters, including numerous award nominations. Though they saw needs, they also understood the business and performed accordingly. "With our first project, we didn't have as much creative input. The record company basically decided on the concept for that project," states Debbie. "However, we were where we were supposed to be at that time."
In the four-year period that passed between the first two projects, they noticed a tremendous change in the media environment. "We began to see how the world grew bold in its actions. Suddenly, the media became more blatant in its explicit presentations and the world was turning into a mess. We had to grow wiser in our attack and get bolder with our message," cites Angie. "It was time to be straight up with the Word. We couldn't sugar coat it any longer."
As they began writing songs for the album, they soon understood that the potency of the album would cause for its message to be diluted, if it was given to another label. Based on this, they began their own label, aptly titled Against the Flow Records. The design of the label is encompassed in their name. "Everything that we do is against the flow of logic and with the flow of the Spirit," states Angie. "This company is different. We're doing songs that God says do. We're not going through A&R and the traditional channels of the industry. God is in control and we're going with His program."
Looking at my screen TV
There were people celebrating and congratulating
The new edition to the gay community
I was vexed in my spirit
And I began to write this song
It may be cold but let the truth be told
I'm here to let you know
It's not natural…"
"Not Natural" - from the album Bold by Angie & Debbie
And with these lines, Angie & Debbie became the talk of not just the Gospel music industry, but the entertainment world at large. Media from everywhere imaginable now turned their focus on these two visionaries. They literally went from obscurity to notoriety in one fell swoop and arguably replaced Kirk Franklin as Gospel's most controversial act.
Suddenly, folks who never paid any attention to Angie & Debbie, Gospel music, or any other related topic became listeners and, at times, scoffers. Cheers turned to jeers, affection became rejection, and love letters turned to death threats as this dynamic duo turned the music world on its ears. The primary opposition to this latest effort came from several gay activist groups. Though that was not unexpected, the surprise opposition came from many within the gospel community.
Surprised? Don't be. Many within the industry, ranging from program directors at radio stations to popular media outlets to several gospel artists fought hard against this project reaching the masses. Several radio stations refused to play the song or anything from the project because of candid nature of the project. In addition to their single facing rejection in some gospel markets, there was an accompanying video to "Not Natural" that was rejected from a number of media outlets including MTV, VH1, The Box, and even Bobby Jones Gospel. Yet undaunted, the duo continued travelling down this unpopular yet God-ordained road.
"For a gospel station not to play the truth is scary," says Angie. "We were anointed by God to do this project. We've learned that people have to see God for themselves. We can't be mad at radio personnel for not playing the project. Perhaps they were in a situation where they just 'couldn't play it'."
Unlike most artists, Angie & Debbie didn't grow angry with the obstacles that they faced from gospel personnel. Yet, they didn't depend on the radio stations to promote them. "We believe that with or without anyone, if you remain faithful to God, [the people] will hear about you," states Debbie. "Promotion comes from the Lord and we know this. We don't get worried when circulation isn't as good. When that happens, we begin to look at our lives and take inventory. We have to have our lives in order and be in alignment with Christ. If we remain in His Will, there is nothing that He can't do."
Indeed, the road that this duo has traveled has been nothing short of phenomenal. One of the most controversial stops on this road was an opportunity to speak to Congress at Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. They made this trip to speak out against a bill that Congress tried to pass which attempted to seek affirmative action for homosexuals. One of the effects of this bill would state that every church would have to employ at least one member of the gay community in their local assembly.
What started as an awesome opportunity to minister and witness turned into a publicity fiasco as the sisters were accused of fighting against gays receiving employment. "The devil is slick. He really will try to get into anything he can. We never said that we didn't want gays to work. We did feel that it was wrong to have them work in a setting that God didn't ordain," comments Angie.
This lesson did work to teach the duo the importance of political awareness. "Many of us are totally oblivious to laws. We need to be more aware of laws. [Congress] is trying to make laws making it illegal to practice Biblical principles. We need to get to the position where we can make laws of our own," adds Debbie. "We need to learn how to pray for our government and our leaders."
Though they have received heavy opposition, they've also received a great deal of support from a variety of sources. Gospel consumers supported the project, propelling it to top 10 status on the Billboard Gospel charts for quite some time. In addition, the sisters received tremendous support from one of gospel's most recognizable families, their siblings, the Winans' clan. "They love [the project], point-blank," states Angie. "They know the Word and they feel it's about time that someone did a project like this."
It's been a tumultuous year for this duo, yet they are encouraged to forge ahead. They plan to continue along the "Bold" path that this album created. "We look at what we do as hard-core Gospel', "says Debbie. "We will continue to aggravate the enemy until he lets God's people go."
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