For more than 30 years the Stellar gospel Music Awards have built a reputation as the premier gospel event of the year. By spotlighting both the traditional artists who laid the genre's foundation and the newcomers who have shepherded its growth, the program, helmed by founder Don Jackson, has bolstered the careers of gospel's most talented acts. The 32nd annual awards, set for March 25 at the Las Vegas Orleans Arena (and airing April 9 at 6 p.m. ET on TV One) will continue to serve that legacy, with the following 10 artists earning the most nominations this year.
BRIANA "Bri" BABINEAUX
Keys to My Heart
Three nominations, including female vocalist and new artist of the year.
Born in Honolulu, Babineaux has become one of gospel's fastest-rising stars. Using YouTube as a platform, she inked a deal with manager Marquis Boone and Tyscot Records and made her debut with the live LP Keys to My Heart in March 2016. The project peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums chart. "She will reach way beyond gospel," says Glinda Perkins, program director at WXVI-AM Montgomery, Ala. "The energy that she gives is so pure."
Fill This House
Four nominations, including traditional female vocalist and traditional CD of the year.
Recognized in February at the Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Caesar, 78, who also serves as a pastor in Raleigh, N.C., has few rivals in the genre. "I admired her long before I ever knew her," says gospel legend Rance Allen. "She was making hits 50 years ago and she's still making hits today." Caesar's accolades include 11 Grammys, 14 Stellar Awards, 18 Dove Awards, a NAACP Image Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Life Project
Five nominations, including artist, praise and worship CD of the year.
Teenage prodigy Carr launched her career at just 14 years old in 2011 with the indie album Promise. But it was last year's live release, The Life Project, that catapulted the West Memphis, Ark., singer to stardom when it became her first No. 1 on Top Gospel Albums. The set's hit single, "You're Bigger," earned a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Performance/Song.
A Worshipper's Heart
Five nominations, including male vocalist, CD, and praise and worship CD of the year.
The Illinois native began his career in baseball and was drafted by the New York Mets in 2002. After a stint in the minor leagues, he answered gospel's call and made his recording debut in 2011, followed by a gig singing backup for Smokie Norful. Dulaney's breakthrough came after signing a deal with eOne Music and releasing 2016's A Worshipper's Heart, which crowned Top Gospel Albums. Says eOne senior vp/GM Phil Thornton: "His passion for ministry is apparent in every lyric and melody."
Losing My Religion
Eight nominations, including artist, song and producer of the year.
Since debuting in 1993 with Kirk Franklin & The Family, the artist from Fort Worth, Texas, has become one of the genre's most consistent hitmakers. Whether helming his own projects or writing and producing for others, he continues to shape the course of the gospel landscape. "It's so wonderful to see his visions come to life," says longtime friend Tamela Mann, who performed with Franklin alongside Chance the Rapper in February at the Grammys.
Nine nominations, including contemporary male vocalist and song of the year.
Franklin lauds Greene as "the future of gospel music," and the young artist has cemented that sentiment with such hits as "Intentional" and "Made a Way." Raised in Warner Robins, Ga., Greene also serves as a pastor in Columbia, S.C., alongside his wife, Dr. Jackie Greene. The singer debuted in 2007 with The More and steadily has built one of gospel's most acclaimed careers, becoming Billboard's No. 1 Gospel Airplay Artist of 2016.
Jericho: Tribe of Joshua
Three nominations, including new artist and group/duo of the year.
Hailing from the Bronx, Livre has quickly become one of contemporary gospel's most celebrated young acts. Comprising of Ajanee Hambrick, Ariel Malloy, Malik Spence, Kenneth Williams and Richard Tolbert Jr., the quintet's credits include singing on Alicia Keys' "How It Feels to Fly." But it wasn't until the group's debut single "I Will Be Alright," which was featured on VH1's Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, that the act stepped into the spotlight. The track reached the top 20 of Billboard's Gospel Singles chart, while debut LP Jericho: Tribe of Joshua topped Top Gospel Albums.
Nine nominations, including CD, song, traditional female vocalist and artist of the year.
An actress, singer, songwriter and businesswoman, Mann ties Travis Greene for the most Stellar nominations this year (nine). The artist began her career performing with Franklin before veering into acting. She has starred in numerous Tyler Perry projects, as well as TBS' Meet the Browns with husband David Mann. Her fourth solo album, One Way, earned the Texas native a Grammy in February, for Best Gospel Performance/Song for "God Provides."
Dr. Alyn E. Waller Presents Enon Tabernacle - The Experience
Three nominations, including new artist and choir of the year.
Under the tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, Enon Tabernacle has become one of the genre's leading choirs. Waller, the senior pastor at Philadelphia's Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, is the driving force behind the group as songwriter and vocalist. The choir has released several albums during its tenure, but on the strength of its most recent LP The Experience, the act was named the 2017 national choir of the year by the Texas Gospel Excellence Music Awards.
Azusa: The Next Generation 2 - Better
Seven nominations, including male vocalist and producer of the year.
The Grammy winner's Love Fellowship Tabernacle, founded in 1993 with just eight singers, has become one of the largest multicultural congregations in the United States and one of gospel's most acclaimed choirs. Music and ministry have always been intertwined for Bishop Walker, who credits the group's success to the three P's: prayer, preaching and praise. The Brooklyn native's most recent project, Azusa: The Next Generation, named for the origin of the Pentecostal Movement, has solidified his place among the country's most innovative musical leaders.
This article originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Billboard.