My (real) reaction to the 32nd Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards

I watched the 32nd Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards on TV One last Sunday and I have to admit that I’m impressed. What I saw on tv gave me a deep sense of pride and appreciation not only for gospel music, but for what exists as the current gospel music industry. I’ll share my full reaction to not only the show, but the weekend and its reflection on the gospel music industry, below.

The Stellars is our largest award show and is the only comparable award to the likes of a Grammy or Dove Award exclusive to the gospel music industry. There are other gospel music award shows and some have been doing a ‘stellar’ job honoring mainstream artists as well as lesser known and independent artists for years. This is worth noting and should be added to the celebration of  gospel music as a whole.

In case you missed it on TV One, you can catch it on a local network near you. 

Read our Stellar Awards recap

Take for instance Choir Boi Cam who was a nominee this year, I came to know him first as a Prayzefactor People’s Choice  Award nominee and winner. Cam’s progression is the natural progression of a career and worthy of note. The same however goes with life: you shouldn’t always be in the starting blocks, nor should you remain a spectator forever.

Because the Stellars is ‘ours’ in gospel music, I too believe that it must make adjustments to better suit the growth of our industry. It’s rather implausible to make show suggestions because with a pre-show and main show, you may not impact each nuance of the ever evolving gospel music industry.

A few favorite moments of mine included: the rap collab, Pastor Shirley Caesar and Jekalyn Carr and the guys with guitars segment. The Chicago Mass Choir is always A-1 in my book but I wish there were more with Pastor Donnie McClurkin and Evangelist Lemmie Battles. We would still be shouting, seriously! This was yet another shortcoming of not having a live band this year, the track simply started over instead of having a place to pick up in the song to close the show.

I was backstage in the press area during the show and  we were all anxious to see the finished product. Again, I’m very pleased with what aired last Sunday. I too am a gospel consumer and though I’m privy to privileged information and spaces, I really just want gospel music to be great-again and all the time! Our gospel industry is doing its level best to survive, it MUST thrive again! Sadly, our industry is at the mercy of the music and entertainment industry at large.

We have intrinsic opportunities for career advancement, though. Church concerts, nursing home ‘tours’ and street ministry are all viable means of increase, but our industry suffers when 85% are stalled and standing in line at the narrow entrance into the industry at large.  These unique opportunities are often overlooked and undervalued because it thrusts the brunt of the work on the aspiring artists.

No convention, gathering or conference call will ever replace hard work. And for those of you aspiring artists, you’ve got much hard work ahead of you! For the industry’s part, the industry has to also re-create a launch pad for new blood in gospel music.

While celebrating established radio hits and albums, we’ve seen the Stellars be a launch pad for radio hits like: “Amazing” and “Better” as of late. Still, there is seldom a singular moment or place where artists can learn or be on a next-level platform that is wholly endorsed by the gospel music industry.

Our aspiring artists will flock to the Immerse conference in Nashville for opportunities like those. Opportunities to have their songs heard and critiqued and even performed…? ASCAP hosts its “I Create Music” expo this week and there seems to be very little involvement or interest from leaders within the industry. For artist and industry advancement, that launch pad is apparently off-site!

What about Chance the Rapper?

We do have many great events and conferences within the gospel music industry but we seem to struggle with being an active part of the industry. Yes, gospel music is a part of the industry and we must act like it. Our music and engagement must be comparable, even if our budgets are not.

While the element of worship sets us apart from the remainder of the industry, incompetence and lack of focus in the marketplace is  the gulf hindering our deliverance of worship to the world! One word of advice I’d like to give aspiring artists and executives: Go where the industry is! 

Whether the industry is in Vegas for the Stellars, Atlanta for GMWA, Nashville for the Dove Awards, LA for the Grammys/Image Awards of Dallas for Megafest…get there and be involved. Meet people, introduce yourself, network. Watch and see how it’s done and apply the lessons to your career or artist. We won’t advance gospel music by remaining outliers in an industry that increases in size and influence, daily!

Here’s what’s got my ear

Perhaps the greatest post-Stellar moment for the industry was JJ Hairston’s Facebook live video where he basically spelled out the current industry/ministry formula for everyone to explore. After the Stellars I left asking many of the questions JJ Hairston answered. Not because I didn’t know, but because I didn’t see anyone volunteering “inside” information like that.

Watch JJ Hairston’s Facebook live video, here

I’m privileged with access and see and hear so much. I’ve seen the wheels turning, have heard conversations about who can get put on, who’s getting pulled and even who has heard, seen and read what on and offline. Still, with the initial airing of the 32nd Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful that the scope of gospel music has been widened on the executive and production levels. I’m also hopeful that consumers and supporters understand that you can’t feature or even appreciate the immensity of our beloved genre in a mere two hours or less once a year.

I’m also hopeful that we have new nominees and winners next year, and not only because it’s an album year for artists and they have new music available. I’m hopeful for more Choir Boi Cam‘s and Lil’ Jay and the Spiritual Boys and even Keith Wonderboy Johnson who was told he would have difficulty returning after nearly 10 years.

I’m hopeful that some of the amazing artists like Corey Kennedy, Kadesh or Eric Waddell and the Abundant Life Singers who I only saw and heard at showcases around the city catch the eyes and ears of SAGMA members and the industry at large. I’m hopeful that we have room to truly celebrate artists like Jekalyn Carr and JJ Hairston and Youthful Praise whose music has ruled the airwaves over the year and not leave them empty handed at the close of Stellar week.

Interested in joining the Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy?

Still, I’m hopeful because we haven’t heard the best gospel music has to offer. I’m hopeful that our creatives will retain their creative drive and keep giving us the best they have to offer!

I’m hopeful that the artists that stayed home this year because they didn’t feel it necessary to attend make the decision to show up next year. Why? Because whether we like it or not, the Stellars IS in fact all we have on this level in gospel music-the title sponsors alone help prove that point.

Next year will be 33 years for Central City Productions’ Stellar Gospel Music Awards and I can almost guarantee you they have no plans of dying on a hill or disappearing. The Stellars are primed (yet again) to get bigger and encroach the influence and weight of some of the bigger award shows like the Billboard, American Music and Grammy awards.

Remember, this was the 2017 version of gospel music acknowledgment. Next year should look much different, it’s only natural. Some of the perennial nominees may be settling into senior roles within the industry by next year, let them.

It’s ok if they’re only presenters and mentioned in thank you speeches.  It’s totally fine and as the old adage says: “‘thank you’ makes room for more”!

Days before the biggest night in gospel music, Gerald Jones of Da Gospel Truth penned an open letter to The Stellar Awards. At large the letter was constructive criticism though it was widely perceived as a rebuke or even “shade”. He presented many valid points that I’m sure are being and have already been taken into consideration. Now that the show is over, time will only tell how influential Jones’ open letter was.

It’s quite the juxtaposition to openly criticize something you’re a part of, but Jones certainly made some hard conversations palatable and even possible with the letter. One thing Jones hit on that makes for perfect conversation is the arcane and arcaic approach to SAGMA and other facets of the Stellar awards.

What has rubbed many the wrong way is involvement at large within the organization. It somehow seems that singular individuals and their attitudes are in charge of corporate action which is holding us behind. It remains to be seen what will come of Jones’ honesty in honesty in the letter.

With that being said, thank you to Mr. Don Jackson and Central City Productions. Thanks for keeping The Stellars around for yet another award season. Thanks for giving those of us in inspirational media one of our biggest events to work each year. Thanks for allowing our platform to be apart of yours. We will see you all again, next year!

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