It's been another active twelve months in the planet's fastest-growing music genre. Once again (see last year), we've gathered our thoughts and dusted off the press releases, trying to see if there were any notable trends, major milestones or interesting points evident in the industry over the year.
The GospelFlava.com staff, ended up with the following notes, presented in no particular order:
This was the year for major releases. Anybody who is anybody dropped a new one on us: Fred, John, Donnie, Yolanda, Tonex, Donald, Hez, Kirk, BeBe....
Giving the term ‘jeep track’ a whole new meaning, the year saw artists such as J.Moss, Fred Hammond and Yolanda Adams line up with Chrysler to provide visual and audio support of their products. You could hear J. Moss singing the PT Cruiser jingo, you could see Fred playing a bit part in the commercial, and you could see Yolanda as the face behind the Sebring. And that’s only some of the advertising and sponsorship activity that was attracted to Gospel artists.
Mary Mary Here To Stay
The duo burst onto the scene in a very big way in spring of 2000. Would it be a case of ‘flash in the pan’ for Mary Mary? Quite contrary! It looks likes these Warryn Campbell connected sisters have considerable staying power, as December still sees Thankful hovering in the top 3 of the Gospel charts. They re-appeared with a cameo in the Michael Speaks project (see review) in November, and look set to vye for several awards in the coming year. What about new music from them? No word on that yet...
Every artist has their season, and 2000 belonged to Yolanda Adams. Three solo projects making the top rankings on Billboard at the same time, including a one-two punch at the end of the year is incredible. The smash single “Open My Heart” stunned even mainstream urban radio chartlists, and she garnered a tremendous publicity whallop via television appearances, award show hostings and her own television show. All this while pregnant, and preparing for her next album with Elektra, a live project ready to drop in Spring 2001. Naysayers chalk this all up to her going to "the other side", but she stands stronger (see interview) dignifying those comments with no more appropriate response than platinum. Never once a compromise and saying "Jesus!" all the way. Pride is something we've felt a few times as we've watched her and Mary Mary separately represent one of the many faces of Gospel. One that is currently clad and beautiful and not ashamed of the Gospel.
Passing of the Saints
Like all years, several saints passed to Glory, including the very much loved Rev. James Moore (see tribute), Staple Singers patriarch Roebuck "Pop" Staples, former Andrae Crouch Disciple and solo artist Danniebelle Hall, Regis Irving of God's Original Gangstaz and James Hill, founding member of The Fairfield Four.
Fluctuating Chart Positions
Puzzlement continues in some quarters, as projects apparently see-saw in sales from one week to the next. At least, according to swinging Gospel chart positions. In 2000 it wasn’t unusual to see an album hit the 25 spot, only to disappear off the chart completely the next week, and then re-emerge at 18 the week after that. We still haven’t figured this one out!
Charles Woolfork, Myrna Summers, The Tommies and William Becton (who got the short end of the promotion stick, his B2K release almost dovetailing in timing with the demise of CGI Records) all made comebacks in 2000.
Powerful Independent CDs
There were many: David P. Stevens, Leon Lacey’s LIV (see review), Youthful Praise, Mountain Movers of Middle Georgia, John Tillery and many more. Proof again that you shouldn’t let the fact that you don’t recognize the name of the label dissuade you from buying the album.
Make Up Concerts
Two former cosmeticians turned artists came to national prominence. First, there was Adrian Anderson, who debuted as Terri Brown’s replacement in Trin-i-tee 5:7 at the start of the year, with the release of Spiritual Love. Anderson had several makeup credits in Gospo Centric albums before taking the major career switch. Then October saw the release of Natalie Wilson and SOP Chorale’s first project for the same label, Girl Director (see review). Wilson had planned on a career in cosmetology before finding herself in front of SOP Chorale.
Small Labels Continue to Confound, and Succeed
Conventional wisdom says that you need a big budget, fancy marketing plan, and some good imaging to crack the top 20 in the music charts. Small labels in Gospel continued to buck those big budget assumptions, demonstrating again that promotion does not come from the east or the west, nor from the south, but from God. Witness the chart success of projects from Norman Hutchins, Chester Baldwin (JDI Records), Saints With A Vision, Tony Tidwell (Meek), God Squad (Amen Records), Andre Woods (Sound of Gospel) and Keith Johnson (World Wide Gospel). See Psalm 75:6-7.
We try not to report these. Sadly, there were several this year within the Gospel music industry. One is too many.
CGI Records closed shop this year and all appearances till year end was that Harmony Records did too. (The status of Harmony is still unclear, as several release previously scheduled have suddenly been released under the Harmony / Sony banner. In any case, the status of several of artists remains question. Some have already found news homes (The Christiannaires on Marxan, Vickie Winans on Tommy Boy Gospel, Chicago Mass on New Haven, Lisa Page-Brooks on Madison Avenue) But where will Dawkins and Dawkins, Nancey Jackson, William Becton, Angela and Veronica, James Hall, LA Mass and others ultimately land? Well, there’s been some fascinating rumblings and some informed guesses made about that concerning all of those artists. But nothing firm yet.
Praise and Worship Climbs Even Higher
Integrity Music continues to lead the way with praise and worship music, with their Urban Praise series solidifying this year with strong projects from Gary Oliver (see review), Bishop Clarence McClendon and Bishop Andrew Merritt. Several other labels have seen the market grow, and have plans to develop their own roster of praise-driven projects.
Choir Albums on the Comeback Trail
Any Gospel trendwatcher or statistician of note will tell you that preferences in Gospel go in cycles. In the 90s, it was the urban choir, the small ensemble, the diva. Late 2000 is showing some signs of a re-surgence of the big churchy choir sound. New Life Community Choir, Music Ministry Mass, Miami Mass and more...
Gospel got married this year, including one of the Marys, DeLeon Richards, B. Chase Williams and Calvin Napper.
Is That a Gospel Label?
It’s a fact that previously ‘mainstream-only’ labels such as Motown, Elektra, Columbia and Interscope can legitimately claim 2000 as the year where their respective Gospel rosters made good. Very good! Don’t expect that to go unnoticed by their peers. In fact, look for Priority Records, so far known for a roster that includes Master P, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, to release their first Gospel project in early 2001. Formerly with The Kurt Carr Singers, vocalist Nysa Shenay will deliver her My Everything project with the label.
This was the year that the Christian Music Division of Atlantic Records opened shop, with Damita and Bishop Carlton Pearson being the first to move through their doors with projects. TD Jakes’ Dexterity Records also announced it’s arrival, with product expected to be on the shelves by mid 2001. Elsewhere, it seemed that rosters were streamlining, and if you weren't an A or B artist, you kind of got lost in the shuffle. The bigger labels keep getting bigger, whether it be in sales or by acquiring or distributing for smaller labels (Verity and EMI) and smaller labels keep pushing on. And independents continued to sprout everywhere.
Hip Hop Frontiers
Gospel hip hop took several giant steps. Credit BBJay and his Jive support for taking it into uncharted high profile waters. Give a nod to The Cross Movement for unwavering commitment and an unswerving solidity in their craft with the release of Human Emergency (see review). And give props to Grapetree Records for a double whammy year end blowout with a new project from Prime Minister featuring MC Hammer, and a debut from impressive newcomers FTF. All three of these events resulted in an awareness within and without the Gospel community that Gospel in rap format is here to stay. Now if we could just get the award show nominations to fall in line with the reality...
So that's it. No doubt, lots to talk about around the water cooler. And as always, the industry doesn't sit still. Word is, there's more on the horizon...