Good news gospel music: ‘The Kids are Alright’! Breaking Down the 2018 GRAMMY nominations

If last week’s GRAMMY Award nominations are any indication for gospel music, it seems like gospel is gonna be just fine! Though the list featured some very familiar names, their albums and songs are every bit of deserving of the GRAMMY nod. If you’ve stayed up at night wondering about the future of gospel music, worry no more! 

Millennials take the blame for so much these days. But according to the Recording Academy, they’re also due some credit for the success of gospel music, this year! The youngest nominee in the gospel category is 20 and the oldest is 47. Koryn Hawthorne is 20 (her birthday is December 26th, Jekalyn Carr is 21, Tori Kelly is 25, The Walls Group ages range from 21-28 and Jonathan McReynolds is 29. At 47 and 48 respectively, Brian Courtney Wilson and Kirk Franklin are the only non-Millenial/Generation Z artists nominated this year!  

Read our initial report on the 2018 GRAMMY Award gospel nominations

 Jonathan McReynolds, Jekalyn Carr, Tori Kelly, Koryn Hawthorne and Brian Courtney Wilson populate this year’s field for Gospel Song of the Year. On the Album side, the list has one addition, The Walls Group. Millenials, dominate the gospel GRAMMY noms, y’all…!

The sound is reflective of their respective generations, too! Ask any child who Tori Kelly is and they may not know who you’re talking about until you start singing “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing“. Earlier this year, Kelly shocked her fans when she announced her plans to release a gospel album. If you’re coming to gospel music, who better to hold the door open for you than Kirk Franklin? Kelly teamed up with Kirk Franklin who dug deep into his mixed bag of previously unrecorded hits to help finalize Kelly’s album that grew from its initial single: “Help Us to Love” ft. The Hamiltones.  Their collaboration “Never Alone” and Kelly’s Christian/Gospel album “Hiding Place” is up for Best Gospel Song and Album. Kelly features Jonathan McReynolds on “Just As Sure” and  Lecrae on “Masterpiece” but really shines on the soulful “Sunday” and “Psalm 42” a song I wouldn’t be surprised if it made an impact on the Christian (CCM) charts and radio. 

Jonathan McReynolds’ “Cycles” and album “Make Room” are nominated in respective categories. McReynolds’ album is replete with songs for believers in what many consider the “tweener” stages of spiritual maturity. No one can truly put an age on spiritual maturity but, you know the stage in your spiritual life he’s singing about. 

The devil, he learns from your mistakes-even if you don’t! 

The eruption you hear from the crowd when McReynold’s sings that line is the collective revelation of the next line: “that’s how he keeps you in cycles…” A whole sermon in 15 seconds! Teaming with Doe Jones of Forever Jones, the two sermonized a life lesson set to life music as only McReynolds can. Songs like “Better“, “Graduate” and “Make Room” make you want to be a better believer! In fact, they play like a spiritual report card, if nothing else! In Dallas earlier this year, McReynolds intimated that he discovered his need for more grace in the process of writing this album! Whether you need grace or a jaunt toward spiritual maturity, “Make Room” challenges believers to do just that in their spiritual life, earning the album and single “Cycles” a GRAMMY nom this year.

She draws almost an immediate comparison to Pastor Shirley Caesar, but this past year, Evangelist Jekalyn Carr has turned the comparisons into mere recollections. She has come into her own as an artist, author and entrepreneur. She hasn’t even begun to evolve and though she’s been in the conversation for the better part of the last five years, she just recently turned 21. Also making a huge turn with her maturation and evolution is her musical output! 

If you made it through Jekalyn Carr’s “It’s Yours” without at least tapping your foot, snapping your fingers or clapping your hands, you probably need a wellness check. Jekalyn Carr has delivered possibly her best album yet with “One Nation Under God”. Considering the current political climate, some listeners weren’t quite sure what to expect from Carr. Once the album dropped, all speculation went out the window! 

You Will Win” preceded her book release by the same name,  “Stay With Me” and “It’s Yours” were sent to radio and inspired listeners everywhere. Though the radio singles performed well, the complete project is stellar and a step above “The Life Project” which netted a GRAMMY nomination for “You’re Bigger” (Gospel Performance/Song). Because recorded music now exists in a singles driven industry, many listeners are oblivious to the greatness on this album. “In This Atmosphere” features Donald Lawrence, “On the Cross” features Pastor Steve Hare of REACH Radio, “Never Alone” not only features a deep groove, it features Cachet Morganfield and Nariah Smith returns on “Gonna Be Great“. The Life Project featured a combined choir and they return on this album for: “We Are One“. Top to bottom, this album is a winner (see what I did, there?) so it’ll come as no surprise to see Carr win this award season! 

Sometimes I watch too much television. Other times, I don’t even have the television on. My favorite drama on now is “Greenleaf“. A few seasons ago, I watched a performance of a song that I didn’t even remember until I met an artist who recorded the song! In an interview with Koryn Hawthorne, I immediately remembered hearing the song on the show! In an interview with Angela Jollivette, she spoke to us about the decision to insert “Won’t He Do It” and other gospel songs and artists into the season.  The song burst onto the airwaves and has ridden the wave of popularity all the way to a performance on the Soul Train Music Awards and a 2018 GRAMMY nomination! Congratulations to Koryn, and her wonderful team at RCA Inspiration! 

One unforgettable note about Koryn Hawthorne: when asked about her decision to sing gospel music following her time on “The Voice“, she made a decision to honor God with her voice if she was ever able to reach this stage of her music career! A decision worth celebrating! 

You’re probably wondering how The Walls Group ended up in the 2018 GRAMMY Awards Best Gospel Album category, you’re not alone. You also probably haven’t listened to “The Other Side“. Don’t feel bad though, the group has been rather quiet since last November’s release. Rhea got married and had a baby, big bro Darrell is singing and writing all over the industry, the little brother and sister are growing (way) up and wait, there’s more Walls’??? 

The Other Side featured a variety of genres, brought together by the brilliant minds of the Walls’ and super-producer Warryn Campbell. The first single from the album: “My Life” was a straightforward anthem letting everybody know that the kids on the couch in the living were all grown up, now! Their song selection also changed. If you were expecting more fun, innocuous music from the Walls’, you ended up on the ‘other side’ of  their intended audience. It’s fair to surmise that their new content has in a way displaced them from their initial dedication as a “novelty” group. The Walls Group is a group comprised of young adults, now!  Songs like: “And You Don’t Stop” “Word” and “The Other Side“(a song about Heaven) show us just how mature this young group is. Listening to this album is the aural equivalent of growing pains. With growth comes maturity and with their vocal and maturity in life, The Walls Group has earned their latest GRAMMY nomination! 

Alas…what more can be said about Brian Courtney Wilson’s “A Great Work“? His album is so good, that it inspired an entire ongoing series here at SMG: The Gospel Music Series. It changed the way I listen to gospel music and helped me understand that not all gospel music is for Sunday morning nor should it be judged by its Sunday morning-worthiness! The name says it all…it’s a great body of work! From the first track to the last, the album is his best to date! For those of you familiar with Wilson, you remember his last album was also GRAMMY nominated. He’s no stranger to GRAMMY nominations but this should be his year to win! Brian Courtney Wilson is a world class singer! For some reason this is overlooked in gospel music, today. Flat foot singing, he doesn’t have fireworks going off in the background, no dancers on the side of the stage, but he does dress well and sing in pure, sincere excellence! 

Brian Courtney Wilson’s “A Great Work” is ‘Grown Up Gospel’ 

In R&B, we’d call him a crooner! His smooth voice rarely ventures into a squall and his spiritual conviction mirrors his musical approach. “A Great Work” is an album for believers who as the Apostle Paul ‘know whom they have believed’ (2 Timothy 1:12). Wilson hasn’t shied away from addressing social ills, either. “Heal” was the first single from the album and confronts the current condition of our blood that ‘runs in the street‘. The song bemoans the state of our union and hopes that all generations can find a way to not only heal the current ills, but to live together in harmony. 

As a settled soul, a song like “Noise” is the cure for life’s many questions. You may not have experienced it yet, but at a certain point in life, you will! When those questions come, they’ll challenge your conviction to the which you’ll need the confidence that God is doing ‘a great work’ in you. When all else fails, sing the scripture! That’s exactly what Wilson does and it’s phenomenal, as the second single and title track from the album, I’m certain you’ve the GRAMMY nominated song (Best Gospel Performance/Song). Wilson teamed up with Bishop Marvin Winans on “My Witness Is In Heaven“- doesn’t get much smoother in gospel than that…and not one to be behind the times, don’t miss the trap choir on “Increase My Faith“. 

Perhaps my favorite song from Wilson’s album is: “Our Father Is Kind” a song he says was inspired by a conversation with Kirk Franklin. “Our father is kind” was Franklin’s answer to Wilson’s query for the success the artist, producer, composer and de facto face of gospel music. Franklin has remained busy since that conversation.

Last year, Franklin celebrated Wilson, Pastor Travis Greene and Jonathan McReynolds as the future of men gospel music. Franklin will once again face off with Wilson for GRAMMY consideration as producer, co-writer and featured artist with Tori Kelly and label executive (Fo Yo Soul) with The Walls Group. Kirk Franklin is again in the mix at GRAMMY time, but as suggested by the 2018 GRAMMY gospel categories, the kids are alright and the future of gospel music will be just fine! 

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