Interview With Mary Mary
Being Who They Are
There are not words explosive enough to describe the way Mary Mary has
burst on the scene. Touring the nation, taking the name of Jesus into
urban radio programming and mainstream media, these ladies are making us
proud. Their story starts out with
the same ol', same ol'.
You know it well.
They grew up in the church, singing in the choir, but the typicality of it
ó interview by Melanie Clark ó
Tina and Erica Atkins' voices took them different places to sing background
for some of the hottest
R&B acts out there, and taking the Gospel play scene by storm, "God has
given us so much favor. It's like stuff has just come to us."
She adds, "We were traveling with R&B artists and singing background
vocals. And of course we were very selective about the people we
would travel with, because we have certain standards that we had
to uphold. [However] sometimes you don't know what goes into the
whole production or show and all of that stuff, and some things
were making me uncomfortable. I was like, 'God you have to make
a way for me to sing what's in my heart. I want it where everything
is God-driven, so I don't have to be worried about certain
things making me uncomfortable, or feeling like I shouldn't be in a
certain scene, or one word in a song making me cringe.' He knows
my heart. Shortly after that it really started coming together."
"What I learned by being in that arena is that itís a very thin
line, and it is not something that I would prefer to do on a
regular basis. [As] a Christian and loving God, I couldn't
be an R&B artist." Erica remarks.
Having worked with many of those in that camp though, Tina
and Erica obviously demonstrate that they don't shun everything that is not Gospel.
Tina explains it this way, "My opinion is there is a whole
lot that has to do with the world, and secular music specifically,
that has to do with us just all being human. There's a whole
lot I can relate to. I can relate to love songs. I can relate
to situations talking about the kind of upbringing that I had,
or the violence in the world. I'm not against music that isn't
Gospel. I listen to all kinds of music. All of it is a part of my
life, but there are some things that are inappropriate. If you
consider yourself to be a Christian, there are some areas that
you should limit. There are types of music that we shouldn't be
singing because it might affect our witness, so for that reason,
you have nothing to worry about it. [Now, as Mary Mary] we
are singing about Jesus. But [when working with other people]
you may be singing with someone who, you like the artist and you
like the music, but they have one song that's super
sexual [that makes you uncomfortable]. You're like 'What am I
doing singing this? I'm not married. It doesn't even apply to
me.' For that reason we have had to be selective of the kind
of music we involved ourselves with, but I'm not against all
"Yes. It's like, let's balance this out." clarifies Erica.
"You can't do everything, but everything that is not
inside these church walls is not wrong. And the people
that will not come in the church, how will you ever talk
to them? How will you let them know about God? Not just
who He is inside the church building, but let them know
about who God is His greatness and all that He can do
for you if you never go where they are?"
Though we would all like to pretend to be super-sanctified,
Tina sheds some light. "We're first natural, then spiritual.
So there's a lot of natural things that people have that
don't have anything to do with promoting the message of
God that we can all relate to, and we have to address that
part of our lives."
Erica reflects, "From a child we heard that anything that's
not talking about Jesus is a sin. If it's not going to church,
and all that good stuff, then you're going to hell. But as you
get older you learn that there's no way to get the message to
the people if you don't take it there. I think that my purpose
for singing with secular artists was not only to work, learn
the business and make money, but to also let them see that
there are normal people who live for God and serve him with
their whole heart. You can do this and stay true to your
relationship and morals. Everything is not a sin. There
are a lot of love songs that are very beautiful that people
sing in weddings all of the time. But outside of the [context
of the marriage], it's a sin."
She continues carefully, "One thing [though] that we all
must remember; whatever you sing, wherever you go, whatever
you do. God has guidelines and He has rules, and He does
not make exceptions. His law is His law, and in the end,
I would hate to be one of the ones to find out that I was
wrong because I decided to do my own thing. I don't want
to find out the hard way. I'll keep my nose in my bible and
go according to His guidelines and His rules. Because
nowadays everybody's making their own rules. (mocking
tone) 'Well there's nothing wrong, with that? Well
think about it, it's really nothing wrong.' Hey! What
does God say? That's the bottom line."
Tina and Erica grew up in a large churchgoing family
with parents that kept them mindful of that bottom line.
Like many of us, they seem to share a loving and respectful
relationship with their parents that experienced a
challenge when the time came for them to embark
upon and answer the call of God for themselves. When their
talented daughters first began to spread their musical
wings, Tina and Erica's parents chose to trust and adjust.
"At first my parents were strongly against it. The first
artist I sang with three years ago was Brandy, and she was
still young with the bubble gum image. But still my mom was
like "Lord Jesus! Those people they be drinkin' and cussin'
and sleeping with everybody!" I was like 'Mom, Brandy is
sixteen. Her mom and dad and her little brother [are there.]'
She still wasn't comfortable with it. But after awhile she
started to pay attention to me. And I [asked] my parents one
day if they believed they raised me well and taught me what I
need to know. And they both said yes. So I said to them,
'Then trust me to make the right
decisions. Just know that I'm not going to go and make you
look bad and for one, I don't want to go to hell or do anything
displeasing to God. Trust that I'm doing the right thing.' After
that they started to look at things a little differently"
Producer Warryn Campbell
Credit Warryn Campbell with the musical ingenuity, creativity and producer talent that makes
Mary Mary's music hit so hard. He's the voice you sometimes hear speaking on some of Mary Mary's songs, like
in "Shackles (Praise You)".
Warryn Campbell recognizes his God-given gifts this way:
I know God has placed a calling on my life, through my music
to touch people. Right now I'm not a preacher but I realize
there's a message, especially when doing Gospel. There's a
certain standard that He's set. Right now my ministry is
to make hits. That's my ministry! To make as many hits as
So from backup roadwork to the present reality as Columbia's first
Gospel artist since Tramaine Hawkins,
it's been an interesting path for the twosome.
"This [record deal] was a major blessing because we didn't
really go out seeking one. We had been writing for
about a year, and were moving in [the direction of doing
a project]. We had about five or six songs written and
recorded. We weren't really shopping it, but our producer,
Warryn Campbell knows a lot of people in the business and
was able to play the music for different people who were
interested. A lot of companies were like 'We don't really
have a Gospel department, and we don't know what to do with
it. We wish you the best, but we don't know what to do,'
Having already penned tracks for R&B act 702, a song for
Robin S on the Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack and then a couple on Yolanda
recent CD on Elektra (see review), Tina and Erica
were establishing themselves as writers. How did they
know it was time for Mary Mary?
"It just kind of felt right. It wasn't like a big message
from on high saying 'Now's time.' As it evolved into
this, it was like 'Okay Lord, I'm going to follow this.
I'm going to go with this," says Erica.
So now, with their debut project Thankful (see review), the deal is done. The first
released single "Shackles" is blazing its way up the
charts, both Gospel and R&B. With slick packaging
and a masterfully complex sound, their music is hard
to classify. Erica says, "To me it's Gospel. It has
been called a lot of things, but to me it's Gospel
music. It's my Gospel. It's our Gospel. It's what
we have grown up on. The John P. Kees, the Commissioneds,
and The Winans. It's always been current, and I feel
like we're taking it to the next level."
Tina expounds, "It's definitely contemporary. It's
music that everybody in any style of music can relate
to. It's universal, but the lyrics are undeniably
Gospel. You're not confused about who were talking
about. I don't think Gospel or being a follower
of Jesus dictates a certain chord, or a certain
kind of instrumentation. I think your words define
where a song goes."
Not at all uncomfortable with the Columbia's effort to
reach the masses outside of the Gospel community,
Erica says, "Our audience is the world. Anybody
who doesn't know God. Anybody who knows God. Our music
is for everyone. It's universal. It crosses age, gender,
race lines. We try and tell of experiences that just
people in general can relate to. You don't necessarily
have to be a Christian, or older or younger or whatever.
[Even] at our performances we have people of all
backgrounds. The message of God is universal. It's worldwide.
It's for everybody."
Erica remembers a defining moment for her, when she
realized that the advent of Mary Mary was really on divine
order. "We had an R&B showcase for Columbia in New York, at
a club. We were singing and we
got an extremely good response. We were leaving and everybody
said we were good, and I was happy about it. But of course
us being very critical [of ourselves], I was thinking [of all
the things I should have done differently] when this girl
came up to me. She said, "Before I heard you guys, I had given
up on God. But after I heard you sing, I changed mind.' It
brought tears to my eyes. And that right there is the
sole purpose of Mary Mary. That's all we want; to change
lives. I don't want people to listen to [a run], or what
we look like, or whatever. None of that is important. If
we don't change lives. If no one comes to God. If no one
realizes what God can do. It's a waste of time."
And the power that comes from what is arguably the
sisters' greatest gift writing is unmistakable on
Thankful. A power that comes from divine inspiration and
personal experiences makes it difficult to choose a
"All of the songs, we either wrote or co-wrote,
so [the project is] very personal for us because it's
our story, told from our hearts, from our mouths our
words. There's a song called 'I Got It', and it was
so personal because everything we're talking about in
the song we were going through at that time. Even now,
sometimes we have to turn it on to encourage
ourselves [and tell ourselves] 'Look, we wrote
these songs saying God can do it all. Stop tripping!
This little situation you're going through it's going
to be alright. Just like God worked that one out He'll work the
next situation out.' I can listen to this record that should be old
to me, and I should be tired of, and get encouraged. I just pray to
God that happens when other people listen to it" says Tina.
She continues, "We want the platinum sales and all, but we want people
to see that they can live saved. You can be young. You can be cool. But
you can still praise God. We can still pray and give God the glory and honor
for all of His blessings. We can still try and clean some of the things in
our lives that aren't right. This is what we want. You don't have to have a
turtleneck on, a long dress, clear nail polish and no makeup on with a
bob, carrying your bible around to be saved. You may not be able to go to
church every Sunday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, but that does
not mean you can't have a relationship with God."
Dawkins and Dawkins
Mary Mary...Dawkins & Dawkins. See the similarities? So does Anson Dawkins:
"Some of our good friends tout them as our counterparts, they're two sisters, we're
We've known them for a long time. Their producer, Warryn Campbell,
he produced 'Rhythm and Praise' and 'I'll Always Be Around' on our latest
"Warryn was introduced to Erica and Tina by Eric [Dawkins],
because they were all in that Gospel play together ('Mama, I'm Sorry'), so
that's how that connection kinda got started."
"We're listening to their new ['Thankful'] record a lot!"
"But if you have relationship, if you do love God, you will want to be
around other Christians and involve yourself with things that are glorifying
God. We may say you don't have to, but if you love God, you'll want to"
Tina quickly co-signs, "Right! Donít get me wrong, on the flip side if
you consider yourself a follower of Christ, certain situations should
make you uncomfortable. It may not necessarily be a sin to wear a
miniskirt, but you're realizing every time you come to church
people can't focus on God because their looking at your body hanging
out, you won't want to do this. It's all about relationship and
being in tune with God."
It seems both the honor and the burden are great when it comes
to the gift of writing music, possibly because of the vastness
of the audience that the medium supports. With Gospel music in
particular, there is an added consciousness of putting God into
words, a gift that arguably none of us is humanly worthy of.
Erica concurs, "You're forever questioning yourself. Am I good
enough? Do I know enough? Will it touch people? And then when
you write something and it's like 'Wow! I'm in awe'. Most of the
time, scared and nervous and surprised at all of this, cause
God is so awesome. Because it did not have to be us. Somebody
else could be writing this music. I am so grateful that He chose
Tina confides, (laughing) "Honestly, [Sometimes I think] 'Dang
God, You think I'm sweet like that?' You think I'm dope enough to
just put your message into my own words and bring it out?! But
we know it really has nothing to do with talent or who you know
or whatever. It has to do with God's favor."
Though they can really both sing and write with remarkable impact,
it seems as if Mary Mary's greater charter might be to remind us of
the virtue and power of just being who we are in Christ, and not
some contrived projection of a "Christian".
They offer hope to prove
that some Gospel crossover success is not a fluke nor a sin and
that God's promise that our gifts will make room for us, is true.
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