The gospel music community made a joyful noise at the 2021 Stellar Gospel Music Awards, which aired Sunday on BET.
The show was taped at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville last month. It marked the first time the show, which is in its 36th year, has been held in a symphony hall. The show was co-hosted by Tye Tribbett and Jekalyn Carr.
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“Are you ready to have some church tonight?” Carr asked at the top of the show. Those in attendance certainly were. Here are seven highlights from the broadcast.
A “Crazy” Interpolation
Pastor Mike Jr., who was named artist of the year, performed two songs: “Big” and “Amazing.” In “Amazing,” he interpolated Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” a No. 2 smash on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016. Pastor Mike Jr. won artist of the year on the strength of his album Big: Freedom Sessions, which also won rap hip hop gospel album of the year. He also won urban/inspirational single or performance of the year for “I Got It.”
The Clark Sisters Sing The Clark Sisters
The Clark Sisters received the James Cleveland lifetime achievement award. Artists receiving such accolades often watch as other performers sing their greatest hits. But here, the stated message was “There’s only one group that can pay fitting tribute to The Clark Sisters – The Clark Sisters.” The quartet sang parts of four songs: “Is My Living in Vain,” “Blessed & Highly,” “You Brought the Sunshine” and “His Love.” The Clark Sisters were joined by cast members from the biopic The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, which aired on Lifetime in April 2020. One of The Clark Sisters accepted the award by saying “We claim this as our gospel Grammy.” Actually, The Clark Sisters are two-time Grammy winners, though they have yet to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy.
Pastor Shirley Says “Get Vaccinated”
Pastor Shirley Caesar urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as she received the ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones legends award. “I’ve had both of my shots,” she said, and recalled a recent photo shoot where she asked the photographer if he’d been vaccinated. In recounting the story, she pulled way back when the answer came back no. This was a helpful message that may reach some people who have been hard to reach through more traditional means: Get your shot for Pastor Shirley! (Caesar, an 11-time Grammy winner, received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2017.)
The Queen of Soul & Gospel
Lady Tramaine Hawkins, who hosted or co-hosted three of the first four Stellar Awards shows in the ’80s, received the Aretha Franklin icon award. Avery Sunshine, Tamela Mann and Yolanda Adams performed Hawkins songs in tribute. Franklin, who died in 2018, was referenced a second time in the show: The new Franklin biopic Respect was the subject of a commercial during the two-hour broadcast.
It’s Just His Year
Jonathan McReynolds performed two songs: “Grace” and, with Mali Music, “Movin’ On.” McReynolds won three awards on the night: male vocalist of the year, contemporary male vocalist of the year and producer of the year, all for his album People. McReynolds and Mali Music won a Grammy in March for “Movin’ On,” which was voted best gospel performance/song.
And That’s Why They’re the New Artist of the Year
Maverick City Music’s “Jireh” was one of the night’s standout performances and helped explain why the group won the awards for new artist of the year and album of the year, both for their album Maverick City Music Vol 3 Part 1.
Big Impact in Small Doses
The show spotlighted three emerging artists in 90-second performances in which they stood in an aisle and sang a song fragment. These were among the night’s most impactful performances, perhaps because they were so low-key. There’s a temptation in gospel performances for performers to dial it up to 10 in terms of intensity. That can come across as overwrought, especially on television. That wasn’t a problem with Nia Allen’s “Wait,” Terrian’s “Stayed on Him” or Jokia’s “Yahweh.” Let’s hope that if and when they are granted full performance slots, they remember that quite often, less is more.