Gospel Music, Mainstream Awards

I am still quite livid over the Greenleaf Soundtrack: Volume 2’s win for Outstanding Gospel Album at this past 2018 NAACP Image Awards. My shock stems from the idea that an award show that is specifically meant to celebrate the success of African-American entertainment should recognize genuine artists to the specific genres. A category like Gospel Music should epitomize the purpose of these particular awards because Gospel music is synonymous with African-American culture.

Unfortunately, more often than not, mainstream awards tend to allow voters to vote in categories of which they may be fans but are not particularly knowledgeable about the genre. This was the inevitable case with the Image Awards as this was the first year voting was open to the public and not only NAACP members.

That’s very inclusive… but also a problem.

Case in Point…Below is the Final Voting procedure for the Grammy’s as stated on the official Grammy Awards site.

Final-round ballots are sent to voting members in good dues standing. The finalists determined by the special nominating committees are also included in this ballot. In this last round, Recording Academy members may vote in up to 15 categories in the genre fields plus the four categories of the General Field (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist.) Ballots again are tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Deloitte.

This means for example, I enjoy classical music. I will attend a symphony or chamber music concert when invited. I am not a fan of classical music from the Baroque period but I will listen to anything in and past the late 18th century. My knowledge of this genre is minimal. I cannot identify a composer by listening to the piece. I am not familiar with any of the current trends within the genre. I do not know any composers or orchestras who are most popular on classical radio stations, among classical fans or on the Billboard charts. To me, these facts would automatically disqualify me from voting for an award in this genre. If I did, I would simply select a name or piece I remotely recognize. This would more than likely result in a display of my ignorance of the genre.

And so it goes…

In mainstream music awards that attempt to celebrate all genres, the winners tend to be names that reflect pop culture’s lack of knowledge about genres with smaller fan bases like gospel, classical and jazz music. For instance Gladys Knight’s 2006 win for Best Gospel Choir over Gospel Choir giants like John P. Kee, Hezekiah Walker, Donald Lawrence and Kurt Carr; all of which (except Hezekiah Walker) have never received a Grammy. It is also reflected in the six Grammy awards the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has won in this same category over those same Gospel giants.

This is not to take away from the talent of those who win. Their win contributes to the genre’s crossover legitimacy and appeal. However, this lack of knowledge does take away from the deserving artist’s chance of being a part of that crossover.

Anthony Brown and The 2016 Grammy Awards

I will start by stating that I am not an avid fan of Anthony Brown. I will listen to his songs on the radio or streaming but I do not follow his music. What happened to him in 2016 must be noted as it is an excellent and clear example of what happens to Gospel music at mainstream awards.

In 2015, Anthony Brown and Group TherAPy catapulted to Gospel music stardom with their sophomore album Everyday Jesus. The single Worth was in constant rotation on Gospel music stations. It was a favorite in church services nationwide. Worth spent 142 weeks on Billboard Gospel charts, during which, many of those weeks were at #1. Anthony Brown began collecting awards for this album in 2016. He won two Dove Awards and broke records at the Stellar Awards where he swept all 10 categories for which he was nominated. The accolades were racking up…until the Grammy’s.

I can’t even begin to address the absolute dumbfounded fact that Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy’s Everyday Jesus was not even nominated in the category for Best Gospel Album. So, commenting on the winner of that category is almost irrelevant to this assessment except for the fact that Israel & New Breed, that year’s winner, is another somewhat recognized Gospel music name in pop culture.

The calendar was not kind as Kirk Franklin (the name above all names in pop culture when it comes to Gospel music) dropped his single Wanna Be Happy the same year Anthony Brown released Worth. It is a virtual certainty that if Kirk Franklin’s name is in a Gospel category at the Grammy Awards, the trophy goes to him. 2016 was no different. Wanna Be Happy won the award for Best Gospel Performance/Song in a field filled with very deserving singles, most notably, Worth. Again, this is not to take away from the success of Kirk Franklin’s single. However, considering the other nominees particularly Anthony Brown after all of his success that year, the results beg the question: Was Worth and the other singles victims of the Recording Academy’s ignorance of Gospel Music?

Kirk Franklin himself seems to have had a theory:

I wish I could fully express, as a Gospel music fan, how impressed and proud I was of Kirk Franklin in that moment. I enjoy Franklin’s music but I am a much bigger fan of his humility in crossover arenas. He recognized the very real possibility that he had won an award because of the Recording Academy’s lack of knowledge pertaining to the current trends in Gospel music. In so doing, he was able to introduce mainstream music to Gospel music artists who are making major waves in the genre.

2018 Gospel Music Awards Season

This year, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy is again nominated for 10 Stellar Awards. He did not, however, receive a nomination for a Grammy.

His name was also absent from the NAACP Image Award nominee list for the Outstanding Gospel Album category. Even more baffling is the fact that the eventual Image Award winner in this category didn’t even chart on Billboard.

It is unfortunately expected that the Grammy voters would display their ignorance of the current trends and artists in Gospel music (Expected but NOT accepted). They have done it all too often. But when the NAACP fails to recognize one of the biggest and most decorated names currently in Gospel and instead nominate an album that doesn’t get nearly as much rotation…it is an insult to the artists of that genre.

As for the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan 28, I was very interested to see who would walk away with the trophy. Thankfully, after the 2015 restructuring of the Gospel/Contemporary Christian field, the categories better reflect the artists nominated. According to a Grammy poll, fans were rooting for Travis Greene to take home Best Gospel Album. I knew it would be tough as the most familiar name in the category to Grammy voters is CeCe Winans with her Gospel family pedigree. Predictably, she won.

I can’t say the polls were wrong because the polls are voted by the fans. It is the fans who know the genre. It’s the fans who know the artists. It’s the fans who know the trends. I believe it is the poll who proved the Recording Academy wrong. The Grammy voters’ knowledge of what is current in Gospel music is minimal.

What is it going to take for the Recording Academy to acknowledge current talent in Gospel music? Maybe Kirk Franklin has to win yet another Grammy to bring the current Gospel artists on stage, again, so the Recording Academy can get a clue.

P.S. Respect still goes to CeCe Winans and her ministry.

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