18th Annual Stellar Awards (2003)
The Stellar Awards often bring to the fore some artists that the Gospel mainstream may not be altogether familiar with.— interview by Stan North and Dwayne Lacy —
Take Smokie Norful, Prince Yelder and DFC, Shekinah Glory Ministry and Ted & Sheri for example.
All came away with honors, some with multiple Stellar Award trophies, and all with memories that are burned into the minds of all who saw and heard them. Some may say this was a little unexpected. What is clear however, is that it was certainly not undeserving.
All of these artists readily acknowledge that their respective ministries are not tied up in the awards scene (see winner recap; see editorial). Nevertheless, their Stellar experiences are valued.
Hear them out:
Smokie Norful took home two Stellar Awards (New Artist, Male Vocalist) in 2003. While it was not his first time attending the event, it was his first time as a nominated artist and as a performer on the televised event. Sitting behind the grand piano, He silenced the crowd with his hit “I Need You Now”.
“Every bit of the weekend was a highlight for me and my family. The biggest moment of the whole weekend for me was my opportunity to allow thousands of people into my personal conversation with God as I ministered on the televised show. Those moments of intimacy with God are very special for me. God truly is!!”
Likewise, it was a weekend of firsts for duo Ted & Sheri. The Churchhowse Music artists took home the “Group Duo” and the “Contemporary Group / Duo” awards, and also sang on the show in the tribute to Andrae Crouch.
Sheri says that “the awards say [to me] that the Gospel music world took a look at the work that we've been called to, recognized it and celebrated it! That’s an honor because nobody has to even care. But the fact that they took time to reflect the past year and see the difference that your work has made, is an honor in itself.”
Ted agrees. “The Stellar is the most prestigious award a Gpspel artist can receive, in my opinion, because it's given by people who really have their hand on the pulse of Gospel. It usually speaks to what's really happening in our genre and it feels good to be celebrated by your peers. However, I understand that it's not what we work for. Our goal is to build the kingdom. The Stellar Awards are merely a fringe benefit.”
Norful expresses a similar point. “The true award is when a soul is saved, a life is changed, a heart is mended. It is then that the scripture is fulfilled. In heaven there is laid up for you a crown of righteousness. Praise be to God in the highest!”
Awards events in the Gospel music arena can sometimes be awkward. As Christians, we all know that those ‘old nature’ feelings of jealousy and competition sometimes all too easily rise up in us in, especially in an environment where there is an element of competition built in, such as awards shows.
Norful comments that “when your relationship with the Father is continually nurtured, not just during award time, but year round, there will be no room for foolish competiion or pride in ministry. Prayer, studying, and relationship will be your weapons of defense against the old sin nature.”
Sheri doesn't regard it as competition. “Winning an award doesn't mean that I'm greater than my peers or those who were in the category with me. We’re all members of one body, jointly fitted together and each of our functions are different but necessary.”
“When you understand who you are and why you were called to minister on this level, then you have a clear perspective”, says Ted. “You understand there is no need to compete, because it's not about you. You have to remember that we are all building the kingdom, and that God is holding us accountable. Whenever the flesh tries to get out of control, I remind myself that God is to get all the glory, and he will not share it with another!
Another artist who shared the limelight over the weekend was Prince Yelder and DFC. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, the choir backed up Angela Spivey and turned our an incredible performance behind the Chicago solo dynamo, who sung the “Dorothy Love-Coates Medley”.
While they were not a headliner, Yelder explains that they were honored and respected as if they were. “It was a very exciting time for me and the choir. We were treated like royalty from the moment we got out of our vehicles. As new artists, we were certain that we would be put on the back burner, so to speak, but the people who were assigned to us were wonderful.”
“As for the rehearsals, my people were thrilled to be around the many artists they look up to. Many of them got a chance to meet and greet them in hallways and backstage. The artists were pleasant as well. No one felt snubbed, it was great. We shouted and cried before and after our performance as this was a first for us as well as for our city and state.”
As for the weekend highlight for Yelder and choir, it was hearing the crowd as they shouted out loud while Spivey blessed them with her ministry. “On the last song of her “Dorothy Love-Coates Medley”, there’s a special highlighting of the choir where we sing "oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh!" The crowd cheered in delight. We knew then that God had done it for us. We almost started shouting on stage!
“We were blessed to record the Determined project with Angela on Aleho Records, but we did understand that she has her own choir in Chicago. So I figured that they would merely announce "Angela Spivey and the Voices." However, when Donnie McClurkin as one of the MCs introduced us, he mentioned our name. That was just another place where we could have gone forth into a shout of praise. As new kids on the Gospel block, we didn't expect to be recognized. But, to God be the glory for the things He is doing.”
Another unforgettable choir experience that weekend was what God allowed to happen through Shekinah Glory Ministry. Led by the solo vocals of William Murphy III, the Chicago-based choir under the direction of Rose Harper not only brought the house down with show-closing “Praise Is What I Do”, they also were used to lead the entire audience and all in attendance into an unprecedented and lengthy session of praise and worship.
Ted & Sheri looked upon that as the highlight of the event. “The most special moment of the awards for me was to see all of the artist come together and worship God as well as rededicate they"re gifts and callings back to Him,” says Sheri.
Ted recalls that “Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin poured into the hearts of all who were in attendance, especially the Gospel artists. As we were all on stage bowing and kneeling in the presence of God, I wept uncontrollably to see the minstrels come together in an unparalleled manner. I really felt a shift in the direction of Gospel music. God is requiring more of us. This next move of God is for those who really have real ministry at heart.”
With Murphy based in Atlanta and Shekinah Glory Ministry in the windy city, it was hardly easy to co-ordinate the rehearsal and preparation of the song. Anthony Harper of Shekinah explains that “this is when God started to open more doors.”
Stellar Awards producer Barbara Wilson (see interview) said that considering the logistical difficulties, “maybe we could have some more time at the top and we would give William Murphy the opportunity to have just one keyboard playing out there. So the Lord opened a window for us to minister live by them putting a keyboard out there with my wife, Rose playing and William singing at the top. Then we would do the rest of the song with the track.”
“So we were prayful and when time came for us to do the song, God came in the place as He said he would. It was like, 'Shekinah Glory, it's no longer about you. Back up off everything after you finish ministering and I'll take it from there.' The Lord did His thang. Everything that happened there was all God. We take no credit for it and we are blessed that we were a part of it.”
Harper gives all the credit to God. “Everything that transpired after that was by God's design, not ours. We were obedient to what the Stellar execs asked us to do, and allowed it to go on for another hour (off camera). So what was four minutes turned into another hour of ministry. What people saw at the Stellars is what we do every Sunday morning.”
Look for lots more music ministry to come from all of these artists in the course of the next little while. Smokie Norful, Ted & Sheri, Shekinah Glory Ministry and Prince Yelder & DFC, artists to remember, for sure.
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