It's Ain't Easy Being Number One
(Editor's note: this editorial was written for the debut issue of GospelFlava.com, back in mid 1998....)
Welcome to the debut of GospelFlava.com. Here at GF, we seek to create and invoke a dialogue between the fans and insiders of this industry. With that in mind, I'd like to address an intriguing issue. Simply put, it ain't easy being #1. What do I mean, you ask? If you ask any entity at the top of their field, they will tell you that it's not easy being at the top. However, it is almost taboo within the gospel industry to discuss or proclaim who is in fact #1 in this industry.
For the most part, we, as any other faction of the music industry, turn our attention to the ever-revered pages of Billboard magazine to determine the answer to this question. In the gospel arena, over the past few years, there is usually one project that dominates the charts for an extended period of time. Dating back some 3 to 4 years ago, every year has seen usually one project rule the charts. For over 2 years, Kirk Franklin & the Family's self-titled project held this distinction. Following that, William Becton & Friends' Broken spent 12 weeks at number one only to be replaced again by Franklin & the Family. Then came The Preacher's Wife soundtrack, which also spent an extended period of time at the head of the Billboard Gospel table. Then, this time last year, God's Property held onto the #1 spot for dear life. And almost a calendar year passed before they relinquished that spot.
Enter the final quarter of 1997. Here we saw an influx of projects, all of which were poised to become gospel's new Billboard champ, if at least for a week. These projects included works from John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir, Karen Clark-Sheard, BeBe Winans, William Becton and Friends, and Donald Lawrence. Though several of them came close, none of them could unseat God's Property.
Then comes 1998. In March of this year, CeCe Winans does the seemingly impossible and unseats God's Property as Billboard's new gospel frontrunner. The significance of this is indeed special for it marks the first time since June 3, 1997 that God's Property does not sit atop the Billboard charts. But CeCe's reign would not last long, as Fred Hammond and Radical For Christ's Pages Of Life now sit atop the charts and have done so for the last month.
Some may ask, "What is the significance of this?", or "Who really cares?". Well, truth be told, though this industry thrives on the public image of it being a ministry, it is still a business. And as the Fortune 500 tends to be the measuring stick for public businesses, Billboard is such for the music industry. To reach the top of those charts signifies, if for at least a week, you are the best at what you do. And to think that 1998 has already seen 3 different projects sitting at #1 says an awful lot. For one, it says that people are actually buying products (which has been the trend for quite some time). Second, it says that there is actually room for someone else at the top. I know that there were some strong projects that hit the market within the last six to nine months. And it was a bit difficult to see that these projects couldn't quite hit that pinnacle yet. However, CeCe and Fred have indeed renewed the hope of all parties involved that indeed there is not a dynasty at the top.
For both CeCe and Fred, this is the first time that their projects have hit #1 on the Gospel charts. It's certainly refreshing, considering that both of these projects have award status written all over them, as anyone who has experienced them can attest. Both projects and artists certainly deserve this #1 status. Still, some prefer to concentrate on the "ministry" aspect of this business. That is what makes gospel so unique is its ministry element. However, this is still the music business and numbers are everything. NO label puts out a project without having expectations for that project. A recent press release for a new project predicted it reaching that coveted #1 status upon its release. Let's fact it, everyone involved with a project benefits when it achieves that top billing on Billboard.
Times are definitely changing within gospel music. With gospel being at an unparalleled level, certainly the sky is the limit for where this industry can go and Billboard is fully aware of that. While the eyes of the entire music world focuses on gospel's direction, one must wonder how regularly the front-runner's position will change. With gospel being in arguably its most prolific and progressive stage, are the days of dominance for an artist over? After all, on the secular side of things, it is rare to see a project stay on top of any chart for several weeks, let alone months on end. Could this same pattern hit the gospel circuit? We'll just have to wait and see….
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