Gospel music has had few stronger advocates than Don Jackson, founder of the Stellar Awards and chairman of Central City Productions. He has led the program from its boisterous start in 1970 to become one of the industry's top awards shows, an annual event considered "the Grammys of gospel music." The biggest challenge Jackson faced in establishing the telecast? To convince broadcast stations, especially in major markets, to air the show.
"Many of the stations had very little knowledge of gospel's entertainment value, so we purposely aired the show as a tribute to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, which the stations thought was very appropriate," Jackson tells Billboard. "Because of the rating success, station clearances grew and the event became an annual special for broadcast stations all over the country. This year, we are purposely airing [the awards] over Easter weekend -- the biggest faith-based holiday in the country -- to attract an even larger audience."
Jackson expects more than 15,000 fans to participate during Stellar Awards weekend (March 24-25). "The state of gospel is on the upswing because of the attraction of younger contemporary, urban and hip-hop artists who have dedicated themselves to this genre," says Jackson. "I am especially excited about the announcement we will be making at this year's show of our Stellar TV cable network." The channel, expected to launch later this year, will broadcast gospel music entertainment and faith-based programming.
The artists who are driving the genre's popularity appreciate Jackson's efforts on their behalf. "His love for gospel music has helped us expand in the industry like no one else has," says Tamela Mann of Jackson. "We are able to come and celebrate each other's accomplishments as well as give God the glory. The Stellar Awards have grown, and it gives us something to look forward to every year. It's like an adult prom!"
This article originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Billboard.