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We’re back for a 6th joyous and inspiring year! This season we will continue the mission of celebrating the very best in gospel music, and you can be a part of it. If your choir is interested, you can register now for a chance to win over $50,000 in cash and prizes. And to sweeten the deal, this year’s top choir will win an opportunity to record with How Sweet the Sound/eOne Music, so you can spread the joy and share your glorious talents with the world.
Hosts
Donald Lawrence
Grammy-winning producer, composer and recording artist Donald Lawrence is one of the most influential figures in modern gospel music. After a stint as music director for soul legend Stephanie Mills, Lawrence made his mark in the gospel world by reshaping the regional Tri-City Singers in the 1990s and transforming them into an internationally acclaimed choir. Lawrence put himself through the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and was staging plays such as “Sing Hallelujah” (which opened at New York’s storied Village Gate) when R&B star Stephanie Mills tapped him as her music director around 1989. Aside from his duties with Mills, he was also a member of an inspirational R&B group, The Company. Their single “Angel” was an R&B hit in 1993, the same year that Lawrence produced the first Tri-City Singers album, From A Songwriter’s Point of View. Over the next fifteen years, Lawrence guided the Tri-City Singers into superstar status in the gospel world with hits such as “The Best is Yet to Come,” “Encourage Yourself” and “The Blessing of Abraham,” which was number 1 on the Radio & Records Chart for a then record breaking eighteen weeks in 2005. After a very successful Finale CD/DVD release and farewell concert tour with the Tri-City Singers, Lawrence retired from the group in 2007 to focus on personal and solo pursuits. As a producer, Lawrence has collaborated with artists as diverse as Mary J. Blige and jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, Hezekiah Walker and the legendary Clark Sisters. Lawrence produced himself again (along with Daniel Weatherspoon) on his sophomore solo CD The Law of Confession Part 1 which found much success including the number 1 song “Back II Eden.” In August of 2011 Donald released his most recent album, YRM (Your Righteous Mind.) YRM debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s Gospel charts and features the top 3 hit, “Spiritual.” “I think my music is therapeutic,” Lawrence once said. “It’s aimed at helping people feel better; to help them get through life, to help them understand that what hurts them is not meant to kill them. As I’ve grown up, I try to write music that helps people understand who they are, how they are and who they are called to be. I’ve received e-mails from people saying ‘I’m changing everything. I’m going back to what I dreamed of doing.’ It’s really just having a revelation of what scripture means today and being able to apply it to the 21st century. Lawrence has served as host of Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound™ since 2008.
Yolanda Adams
Ever since her late-’80s debut Just As I Am, Yolanda Adams has triumphantly carried the torch for contemporary gospel and inspirational music via 12 glorious albums. Stunningly beautiful, exceptionally educated, filled with the spirit and blessed with one of the most powerful voices in any genre of music, this Houston-native and one-time school teacher has been a stately beacon of God’s light. She has earned numerous accolades for her shining efforts, including the first American Music Award for Contemporary Gospel Artist and four Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. One of the greatest highlights of her career was winning five National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy® Awards which includes 1999′s Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for Mountain High…Valley Low featuring her crossover breakthrough hit “Open My Heart,” and 2005′s Best Gospel Song, co-written by Ms. Adams herself, “Be Blessed.” Yolanda Adams is truly the ‘first lady of modern gospel’. Her pioneering blend of modern gospel with R&B and infused with a touch of jazz continues to inspire her fans and transform the musical landscape. “The Yolanda Adams Morning Show,” a program of her creation and ownership, (in conjunction with Radio One) can currently be heard on 42 radio stations across the country. Most of Yolanda’s fans know she was once a school teacher; less known is the fact that she earned her college degree in Radio/Television Broadcasting. Joined by her distinguished co-host Larry Jones and hilarious comedian/character Marcus Wiley, Yolanda’s show is all about waking up in the sandbox every morning and having F-U-N! “We have a great morning show,” Yolanda says beaming. “It’s not a gospel show or an inspirational show, but a versatile overall morning show. I wanted to create a clean alternative morning show for people of faith.” Faith, Love, Forgiveness, Protection and PRAISE. These are just five of the ten gifts explored in Yolanda Adams new power-filled inaugural book, Points of Power. Inspired by the Points of Power segment from The Morning Show, Adams reveals her own personal experiences to show how the Bible will enlighten readers and provide them with insight and understanding to respond positively to life’s challenges. “Points of Power” provides the tools, the wisdom and spiritual guidance for living a praise-filled, prayerful, and joyful life.
Judges
Tamela Mann
An acclaimed actress, two-time 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and Grammy Award nominee and Dove Award-winning vocalist as well as wife and mother, Mann’s talent has helped anchor one of the industry’s most successful film, TV and theatrical franchises, while her amazing vocal gift is at the top of her impressive resume. She and her husband David Mann will star in a new reality show, two new films and, co-host their lifestyle and cooking show, “Hanging With The Manns.” Tamela also continues to ride a wave of success with her number one-selling album, “Best Days” and single, “Take Me To The King.” The single has been #1 on the Billboard Gospel radio chart for 23 weeks and counting and at #19 and climbing on Billboard’s Urban AC chart. Tamela clearly has a gift for encouraging people through music. Her previous album “The Master Plan,” won the 2011 Dove Award for Traditional Gospel Album of the Year. Faith has always been the foundation of Tamela’s life. “It was all about faith and all about God in my mom’s house,” She recalls of growing up in Fort Worth, as the youngest of 14 kids. “We listened to a lot of gospel music—The Clark Sisters, Andrae’ Crouch, Walter Hawkins, The Williams Brothers and Inez Andrews.” By the time she was 12, she was in the singing choir at the Holy Tabernacle church, and shortly after high school she met three young men that would change her life forever: David Mann became her husband, Darrell Blair is now her pastor, and longtime pal Kirk Franklin. Franklin helped launch Tamela’s singing career when he recruited her to be part of his groundbreaking group, The Family. After her stint with The Family, she landed a role in the play “He Say. . .She Say. . .But What Does God Say?” Her stage skills were noticed by actor/writer/producer Tyler Perry who chose her to appear in his play, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.” From there her acting career escalated as she developed the role of Cora Simmons in Perry’s plays and such films as “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea Goes to Jail” and 2011′s “Madea’s Big Happy Family.” The Madea films have become one of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises and Mann’s portrayal of Cora Simmons has become a cornerstone of those properties. Tamela has also taken Cora to film and America’s living rooms via the television screen co-starring with her husband David in one of Perry’s other tremendously popular properties, the “Meet The Browns” film and #1 TV franchise on TBS. The Mann’s home base remains in Texas and they are active in their church, but as much as she loves being home, she also loves touring and ministering to people all over the world through her music. “That’s where I find my joy, when I can sing and minister to people,” she says, “because I see the hope and encouragement that it gives people. It’s something that I will do until I die. I will do this until the Lord calls me home because this is one sure way that I know I can tell people about Him so He can be glorified. I’ll never stop because I love it so much.”
VaShawn Mitchell
Six-time Stellar Award-winner and GRAMMY© Award-nominated recording artist VaShawn Mitchell s0ared to the top of the charts last year with his mega-hit single “Nobody Greater,” from his top-selling, award-winning album Triumphant. In 2011, Mitchell received 11 Stellar Award nominations, the most nominations received by an artist that year. Billboard magazine declared “Nobody Greater” the #1 Most Played Gospel Song of 2011. Mitchell was named Billboard’s #1 Gospel Radio Artist of 2011 and Triumphant was among the Top 5 Gospel Albums of 2011. The single held the #1 position for nine consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart and crossed-over to the Urban Contemporary Adult charts. Mitchell also received two GRAMMY® and two GMA Dove Award nominations for both the album and single. Now the acclaimed singer-songwriter is back with a new project, Created 4 This, which will be available in stores and online everywhere on August 28. Created 4 This picks up where Triumphant left off. This project is a body of music that features Mitchell’s signature style: contemporary themes with a traditional Gospel vibe. The praise and worship music on the CD is encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting. “I wanted to build on ‘Nobody Greater’ and Triumphant to create a new compilation of music to empower and equip people in this economy to understand why we are here and what we are created for,” says Mitchell. “The whole message of the album is that we still have hope, that we shall overcome and be victorious, and that God will be there to sustain us in this next phase of our lives.” Created 4 This is produced through a partnership between EMI Gospel and Mitchell’s production company, V-MAN Entertainment. The album was recorded live at the Thornton High School Auditorium in Mitchell’s home town of Harvey, IL, a suburb of Chicago. Produced by VaShawn Mitchell, Calvin Rogers, and Phillip Feaster, it features 11 songs that range from high octane praise to contemplative worship, and showcases Mitchell’s acclaimed songwriting—he wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on the album—and compelling vocal style. A deluxe edition of the project, which will be released at the same time, contains two bonus songs on the CD and a DVD that features videos of live performances and behind-the-scenes footage of Mitchell gearing up for the live recording session and reflecting on growing up in the Chicago area. A compelling performer with cross-over appeal, Mitchell has performed around the country and in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England, as well as many of the Caribbean Islands. He was featured in gar Mommas, a movie based on the popular gospel play of the same name, which premiered on the Gospel Music Channel in January, 2012. The stellar cast was led by Vanessa Williams and Terri J. Vaughn, and also featured Rachel True, Lamman Rucker, and Tommy Ford. Before taking center stage as a performer with Triumphant, Mitchell, a worship leader and celebrated songwriter, penned hits for a number of Gospel’s most well-known voices, including Smokie Norful, Vanessa Bell Arms He recently started the Norman Youth and Arts Foundation, named in memory of his grandfather. As their first projects, they sponsored summer youth camps for the arts in the Chicago area because arts programs have been eliminated from so many schools and school districts there. Mitchell was recently honored by his hometown when they named the street where he grew up “VaShawn Mitchell Street.” It was an experience that he describes as “humbling and encouraging,” and one that offered him another opportunity to inspire young people to work hard and achieve their goals. He believes that he is a role model for young people, and that it is part of his calling. It’s a role that is both proud and happy to take on.
Hezekiah Walker
In the often-egomaniacal world of music it’s rare to find an iconic artist who is as altruistic as he is talented, but Grammy Award winning choir director and church pastor Hezekiah Walker is such an exception. Over an almost three decades long career, Walker has collaborated with Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy and Whitney Houston; recorded more than a dozen chart-topping albums and become the face of the black Gospel choir with his classic hits “Souled Out,” “Grateful” and “I Need You To Survive.” In speaking of his forthcoming 14th CD, “Azusa The Next Generation,” Walker is philosophically pondering the past generations of believers who infl Aside from mentoring songwriters, Walker is also mentoring singers. On the soul-stirring “Amazing,” he features Moss Point, MS native C. Ashley Brown. “I’ve been instrumental in getting artists out there,” Walker admits. “She’s someone who I often put on my CDs so that she can eventually become a major artist with great respect in the Gospel industry.” Another artist that he’s been pushing is Timiney Figueroa Caton who has sung with the Love Fellowship Choir for years and is Walker’s favorite singer. Her commanding alto inhabits the triumphant ballad “Conqueror.” The album is rounded out with songs like “Lead Me To That Rock” that takes you to church and forces you to clap your hands and tap your feet. Walker knows firsthand of the church’s power to transform lives. He was born on Christmas Eve night in Brooklyn, NY where his parents raised him and his three siblings in the notorious crime-ridden Fort Greene projects. In spite of their surroundings, the kids were immersed in church in part to shield them from their environment. From the age of eight, Walker had begun to sing in the church choir. “Going to church and listening to the music was a sense of relief,” he recalls. “It kept my faith up and kept me with a lot of hope believing that one day I really would get away from the neighborhood and not just to get away but to get away in order to go back and to help.” The church helped him through some rough times like when his father died when Walker was fourteen years old or when his mother died suddenly seven years later, on her way to church. After she passed, a despondent Walker quit his job at Xerox. Two months later he was out of money and facing eviction when he began to pray. When he finished, he started writing his first song. He took the hook of D.J. Rogers’ 1975 R&B song “(It’s Alright Now) I Think I’ll Make It Anyhow,” wrote new verses around his current trials and tribulations and changed the melody a bit to transform it into the Gospel hit “I’ll Make It.” Walker formed the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir with a dozen members circa 1985 and taught them the song. They recorded the “I’ll Make It” LP live and it rose to #12 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart when Sweet Rain Records released it in 1988. The song was a huge hit that established the choir and led to a recording contract with Benson Records (later folded into The Verity Music Group now known as RCA Inspiration) where they enjoyed early hits “Clean Inside;” “Jesus is My Help;” “Second Chance” and “99 ½.” Walker’s emphasis on simple, catchy songs has helped him and the choir remain consistent hit makers ever since. The fan favorites have continued to flow, and they include “Lift Him Up;” “God Favored Me;” “Power Belongs To God;” “Jesus is My Help,” and “Let’s Dance” among others. Walker sees no reason for the trend to end now and sees the Azusa stage as an opportunity to expand his musical ministry.
“Verizon’s How Sweet The Sound is a truly amazing celebration of gospel music! It’s not only touched my life, but the lives of each and every choir that graces the stage.” -Donald Lawrence