19th Annual Stellar Award Ceremony (2004)

Houston is in the "Lone Star State", but you could say that the metropolis threw that slogan out the door this past weekend, as it threw open its arms in welcome to not one, but dozens upon dozens of Gospel stars for the 19th Annual Stellar Awards.

Byron CageThe yearly celebration of Gospel took to Houston for the first time ever, to honor some of the genre’s finest, with the highlight being the live-to-tape recording at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Gospel fans and just plain curious folk converged to partake in what proved to be the best in gospel music of last year.

No-one at the ceremony will forget the sight of Vickie Winans, who seemed to continually be climbing those steps to accept awards (she won four in total). No-one will forget the sounds and sights of Tonex singing “Los Todos”. And no-one will forget the heart-filled performances from Deitrick Haddon, Darius Brooks and SDM or the tender and moving speech from Kirk Franklin as he accepted the Hall of Fame honors.

The evening started with a bang, as Byron Cage entered the stage from the floor singing “The Presence Of The Lord Is Here” —his hit song that later in the evening went on to snag the Song of The Year Award. With choir and dancers in the aisle and on stage, the rhythmic applause from the crowd seemed to only spur them on even more.

Hosts Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin guided the show, providing gentle banter both on and off camera. Comedian Jonathan Slocumb ably warmed the crowd with his hilarious antics.

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Next on stage was CeCe Winans, backed by three singers and eight dancers, all dressed in white. Winans sang the uptempo “Hallelujah Is The Highest Praise”. Then presenters Michelle Williams and Musiq SoulChild announced the New Artist of the Year —RiZen. In their acceptance speech, they gave credit to the late Michael Robinson. The traditional female group later delivered their churchy hit, “View The Holy City”.

Kirk Franklin returned to the stage to introduce The O’Jays, who brought Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC's up to sing “Right On Time”. The veteran quartet went on to garner a total of 5 Stellar Awards that night, the most of any artist this year.

Donnie McClurkin was center stage for “I’m Walking In Authority”, his reggae inflected number that had him surrounded by fifty exuberant children waving white hankies by song’s end. Mary Mary also made their mark singing “Dance, Dance, Dance”. Three backup singers and Warryn Campbell on turntables made the energy at fever pitch before the song suddenly swung into an acappella, traditional chant that saw Campbell dancing along with the rest.

One of the largest audience receptions was afforded to Ruben Studdart, who entered the auditorium during one of the off-camera breaks to get in position to present the Artist of the Year award (along with Young & The Restless star Victoria Rowell) to Vickie Winans. Studdard received in such rousing fashion, one might have thought he was the mayor.

In one of two special presentations, R&B legend Smokey Robinson introduced the Stellar’s new Hall of Fame honoree, Kirk Franklin, to the crowd. Natalie Wilson and SOP entered to sing “Free” in tribute, before a select group of six singers stepped out to sing “The Reason Why We Sing”, with lead from Myron Butler. Franklin’s acceptance speech was brief, but very moving, as he thanked those who have supported him through his career. He also testified how God uses trials and difficult times to strengthen and heal us.

Shirley Caesar also received a special honor, being presented with the James Cleveland Award, for her untiring work in Gospel music over the decades. Patti Labelle presented the award, as Yolanda Adams (decked out in yellow) offered up a medley of hymns in tribute.

Another of the evening’s high points was the Tonex show. Framed by Hispanic choir, Latin dancers and surrounded by an assembly of hip hop and freestyle vocalists, he was out front and side by side with Sheila E and her drum set. Stepping it up a notch with vocal and physical acrobatics par excellence, Tonex performed “Todos Juntos”, a praise in both English and Spanish, from his upcoming album Out The Box.

Recap: The Pre-Show
Click for recap Many Stellar Awards were handed out off-camera. Check out the recap of this year's Pre-Show.

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Deitrick Haddon appeared on the Stellars for the first time, not only taking home two awards, but also performing with the memorable “A Sinner’s Prayer”, complete with actors and elaborate props.

Fellow Detroiter Karen Clark Sheard sang the urban “We Acknowledge You” and Vickie Winans fired up the crowed (literally) with a blazing rendition of “Shake Yourself Loose”.

Longtime Tommies collaborator Darius Brooks took to the stage with his SDM choir to sing “Your Will”, and nearly brought down the house. The choir continued on stage with their anointed praise long after the cameras and microphones were turned off.

The Houston spectacular ended with a stirring performance from Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir with perhaps the "most added" song in church repetoire's this year, "I Need You To Survive". By song's end, not only were singers and artists swaying and holding hands on stage to the strains of the song about brotherly fellowship in Christ, but so were the throngs in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

[At the end of the evening, awards presenters were surprised with a generous gift from Tiffany's (courtesy of Michael McClure of the luxury merchandiser's Houston branch), as well as product from both Whittanuer and Godiva.]

A generally low key broadcast brings to mind the hope for peace and unity in the year ahead. Survival is becoming critical in a season where technology is changing music and the way we listen to it. The Stellar Awards are a time to reflect on what has been good and gird up to press forward.

recap by Gospelflava.com

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