The ceremonies for 15th Annual Stellar Awards were recorded on Saturday, January 8th, 2000 at the Atlanta Civic Center. With a packed house of saints dressed to the nines, anticipation was high and the tension was thick. Executive Producer Don Jackson, pulled together his veteran crew from Central City Productions to pull off the celebration in royal fashion.
In attendance were hoards of industry faces and fans all excited to be dressed up and in the place to be. Being a live-to-tape production, the rules were tight, and were thoroughly explained to the congregation by energetic director, Chuck Vinson. Court jester, Broderick Rice was brought in to lighten the mood and did so in his usual hilarious fashion.
The curtains lifted around 7:00 PM, and the crowd responded with enthusiasm as a soft, ethereal set was revealed, with Yolanda Adams poised for song. With a live string orchestra at the ready, and with Richard Smallwood at piano, Yolanda powerfully opened the evening with "That Name". Clad in an angel's gown and walking on "clouds" she set the stage for an evening of worship.
As the song finished, hosts Dr. Bobby Jones, Donnie McClurkin and Vickie Winans emerged from behind stage to welcome the prestigious production once again to Atlanta. It was the first time in the history of the Stellars that the event would be hosted by exclusively Gospel personalities. The effervescent Dr. Jones, the comedic wit of Vickie Winans, and the purposeful grace of Donnie McClurkin were a great combination of presences to guide the evening.
As the night progressed, and as the awards were handed out, it became very evident, very soon, that as much as last year belonged to Fred Hammond, this year would belong to Kirk Franklin for his Nu Nation Project.
In all, the ceremony expertly showcased the diversity that is Gospel music. The contemporary and the traditional, the old and the new, the young and the older, all tied together by the common thread of the Good News. Evening highlights began with the ultra high-energy appearance of Chicago's New Direction. Taking on the banner of the millennial choir and clad in blue jerseys and sweats that cried 'urban', they presented a non-stop, choreographed set of "Lighthouse". It was clearly the example of what direction youth choirs are going in the next century.
If New Direction was the representation of the youth, Lamar Campbell and Spirit of Praise had the 20/30-somethings on lock-down. With fewer steps than the kids, but equal in energy and ministry, Spirit of Praise kicked "I Need Your Spirit".
Iyanla Vanzant came out to introduce the reflective presentation of past James Cleveland Award winners. Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Willa Ward, Dr. Bobby Jones, Al Hobbs, Shirley Caesar and Dottie Peoples joined together to render a soul-stirring version of "Jesus is the Best Thing". Everybody held their own, but as usual, Mother Shirley shone the brightest!
The distinguished gentlemen of The Mighty Clouds of Joy, the lovely Nancey Jackson, the energetic Anointed and the ever-maturing Five Young Men were among the many that shared their ministry on the stage.
The Gospel Gangstaz made their entrance in true hip-hop fashion, complete with 'helicopter' entrance. The mixed traditional and contemporary audience quickly got with them as it they made it clear that they bring the noise for the Most High.
Richard Smallwood and Vision ushered the Holy Spirit in with them as they shared "Healing", which proved to be the greatest challenge for producer Vinson. It was not a technical challenge, but rather one of trying to restore the Civic Center aisles back from the church aisles that Smallwood's set had caused them to suddenly become.
Diva Kim Burrell did her thing, her way. Giving up "I'll Keep Holding On" she commanded attention, and she got it.
Toward's the end of the evening, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and his jazz ensemble that featured his brother Kevin on vocals as well as Paul Jackson, Jr. on guitar, took the stage. With a smoking rendition of "Wade in the Water" they scatted and shimmied to lace the praise in a jazz way.
The evening closed in glorious style in a set in keeping with the generational display of choirs. The Civic Center congregation rose to their feet as the esteemed Mississippi Mass Choir moved the house, grown-up style with their heavy favorite, "They Got the Word".
And everyone did. Not just then, but all night long.