ATLANTA — Christian rapper Lecrae first came to Atlanta as a teenager for a youth conference in 1999, but what ultimately convinced him to lay down roots here was its thriving gospel music scene.
"Atlanta is just a musical hub," said the 32-year-old, who moved from Houston three years ago. "There are a slew of producers, engineers, artists and writers. There's a wealth of outlets here, and it's a community of artists who are here as well. That's a major reason why I came here."
Atlanta has become a key place of business for many of the heavyweights in gospel and Christian music, like Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Jason Crabb. They flock to the city known to some as "gospel's Hollywood" because of its flourishing R&B and hip-hop scene, an evolving television market, a variety of Christian and gospel record labels, and a plethora of mega churches. Some of the industry's best, such as Francesca Battistelli, the group Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin and Dottie Peoples, reside in the city or in the suburbs.
"Atlanta is becoming like the new Los Angeles," said Sapp, the chart-topping gospel singer.
"Everybody and their momma are shooting all types of films here," he added. "It's becoming a regular hotbed for the entertainment field. And because of that, gospel is coming here as well. People are connecting. It's becoming a very viable place for gospel artists to excel and be successful musically."
Recently, the 43rd annual Dove Awards took place at the popular Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the second straight year. The show, which celebrates Christian and gospel music, had all the glitz and glamour of a high-profile awards show, with more than 250 media outlets on the red carpet.
The rising support of the genre in Atlanta is what convinced Gospel Music Association organizers to move the Doves to the city in 2011. The ceremony started in Memphis and was held in Nashville, Tennessee, for more than four decades.
GMA board chairman Mitchell Solarek said organizers felt Atlanta has a larger media reach with more radio and television outlets to support the show. With GMC — formerly the Gospel Music Channel — based in Atlanta, Solarek called the move a "no brainer." The network aired the awards in April.
"Even though Nashville is touted as the music capital of the world, the media is not as broad there as it is in Atlanta," he said. "We wanted to take this (awards show) to a market that was broader than it was in Nashville, while still achieving our goal of musical diversity and still reach the bulk of our members. And Atlanta is just a drive away."
That sounds good to the ears of Georgia officials, who have worked hard to promote the state as an entertainment destination. They offer one of the highest tax credits in the United States — up to 30 percent to those looking to produce shows, music videos and commercials in the state.
"We are developing strategies to aggressively promote Georgia's strengths in the music industry including its wealth of talent, expanding digital media infrastructure, production facilities, live music scene and music education opportunities" said Lisa Love, the director of music marketing and development for the Georgia film, music and digital entertainment office.
"The gospel and contemporary Christian-oriented assets in all of those areas will continue to be invaluable in the positioning of Georgia as an entertainment industry destination," she continued.
Lecrae has made it his destination. Since he has lived in city, the rapper has become one of the most popular in Christian hip-hop. He also co-founded his own record label with Ben Washer, Reach Records, which is based in Atlanta. Other labels launched by artists based in Atlanta or in the state of Georgia include Christian rock group Third Day's Essential Records; singer/rapper Canton Jones' Cajo International; Dottie Peoples' DP Muzik Group; and televangelist Creflo Dollar's Arrow Records. Warner Music Group's Taseis Distribution is located in Atlanta as well.
"It's easy to come here because of all the industry people are already here," said Henry Panion III, whose record label, Audiostate 55 Entertainment is based out of Birmingham, Ala., and is distributed through Taseis. "Atlanta has become an entertainment draw, and gospel is following suit."
Atlanta is also host to BET television's "Sunday Best," a gospel talent competition that awards the winner with a recording contract. It's hosted by Franklin along with judges Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin.
Tyler Perry's sprawling TV and film studio has also become a player in Christian music. Perry's inspirational-based stage plays and movies have provided an avenue for gospel singers to gain exposure. Tamela Mann, known as Cora in Perry's plays, movies and TV show "Meet the Browns," is also a gospel singer and won a Dove Award last year.
"If you look at the underlying story of his movies, there's always something that talks about the goodness of the Lord," said Crabb, who won artist of the year at the Doves in April. "When you have a state like Georgia that's spiritually deep-rooted, more are going to want to be a part of what he's doing."
Georgia has the most mega churches in the country behind California, Texas and Florida, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research's recent database. The number of mega churches in Georgia gives artists a chance to perform in front of congregations ranging from 2,000 to 20,000. Several high-profile pastors such as Andy Stanley, Creflo Dollar and Paul Morton normally offer live music without a traditional setting of a choir before a preacher's sermon.
Lecrae feels he's in Atlanta at the perfect time.
"It's been really good here," he said. "Just seeing people within the music industry from mainstream and even what others call secular music come together to use their talents for the Lord, it's great." -- (AP)
Vashawn Mitchell, one of gospel music’s most popular and in-demand young stars, will be in Philadelphia on Aug. 28 to perform and promote the release of his new CD “Created 4 This” at 7 p.m. at Baptist Worship Center, 4790 James St., where Bishop Millicent Hunter is the senior pastor.
In 2011, Mitchell owned the gospel charts and arguably had the most played gospel song in America, “Nobody Greater” from his CD “Triumphant.”
The Tribune caught up with Vashawn to discuss his success and his upcoming promotional visit. Commenting on his 2011 meteoric rise to stardom in the music industry, Mitchell said, “Definitely an amazing year, I was totally shocked by what God did with, not only ‘Nobody Greater’ but ‘Triumphant’ the CD, as a whole.”
The year 2011 should have been called the Year of Vashawn Mitchell as his mega-hit single “Nobody Greater” made him a certified star in the gospel music industry. In 2011, Mitchell won six Stellar awards. He was nominated for a Grammy award and Billboard Magazine cited “Nobody Greater” as the most played gospel song in the nation. He was Billboard’s top-ranked gospel radio artist of the year and his single held the number 1 position for nine consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart. It also became a smash, cross-over hit on the Urban Contemporary Adult charts.
Mitchell, 35, is certainly making an impression in the gospel community nationally and internationally. He has toured with gospel legends Bebe and Cece Winans, Mary Mary and other A-list artists. Mitchell has traveled to Germany, England, Italy, Switzerland and other foreign countries lands performing and promoting his music ministry.
“Spreading this big song and this big sound around the world, and to see different cultures and different backgrounds, different denominations, people in church and out of church, singing [my song] is amazing,” said Mitchell. He describes his music’s public appeal and style as a, “Gospel-praise and worship sound with a contemporary flare. It’s important for me to stay true to who I am.”
Having “Nobody Greater” cross-over into mainstream urban radio was huge for Mitchell as his music resonated with music lovers young and old.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “My little brother, who don’t really go to church, him and his boys would be listening to “Nobody Greater” out in the streets. It’s just good to know that the music that we do is reaching beyond the four walls of church.”
Raised in the Chicago area, home to many legendary gospel artists, Mitchell is humbly building his own legacy, but he gives great reverence to his predecessors.
“It is great to come from what is known as the gospel capitol of the world, the home of Thomas Dorsey, Albertina Walker and so many other great artists, Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers, Ricky Dillard … the Clark Sisters, Fred Hammond, it was just great to grow up around great gospel music,” said Mitchell. “You could just go down the street and see the Thompson Community Singers, or even Fred Hammond … so I was always around this music that I love, it was just inspiring to see someone you looked up to It’s what I always wanted to do, to sing gospel.”
For Mitchell, being from a city that gave birth to so many gospel legends, “That was my inspiration to be around so many inspiring artists who paved the way for what I do now,” said Mitchell.
A song writer, producer and singer, Mitchell has a great business acumen. His music company is in partnership with EMI Gospel Records, Mitchell owns the masters to his songs while EMI Records distributes his music.
“I made a lot of mistakes in the past, this is not my first record deal,” he said. “I recorded quite a few independent projects and then two earlier projects on another label. So, when it was time to sign with EMI Gospel, I wanted to negotiate the best deal I could. I wanted to do what I know how to do, and partner with them to do what they know how to do. What I know how to do is to produce music. I own the masters … I produce the projects — they market and distribute for me. It’s been a great partnership.”
Mitchell has a deep love for Philly. One of his early career mentors is local radio celeb Lonnie Hunter of WPPZ/Praise Philly 103.9FM. Mitchell decided that Philly would be his first tour stop to perform and sign copies of his new CD.
“I love Philly,” he said. “I fell in love with Philly my first time [visiting].”
He recalled a funny incident when he toured Philly with Bebe & Cece Winans and Mary Mary.
“The tour was set up where I [wouldn’t] sing “Nobody Greater” until the middle [of the show]. I walked off the stage, Philly almost tore that place up because I didn’t sing “Nobody Greater” … I was laughing, ’cause I knew I was going to come back to sing it. When I went back on stage [to sing it], the place went crazy. I was like, wow … it was amazing love!”
Mitchell is humble and grateful for the fame and financial favor that God has given him.
“To get 6 Stellar Awards is cool, but I was telling somebody the other day how, that nobody remembers less than 10 years ago, I was a seat-filler,” he said referring to the job of occupying the seats of stars during awards shows so that when the TV cameras pan the audience, viewers won’t see empty seats.
“I sat in Richard Smallwood’s seat all night,” he said. “That opportunity to go from a seat filler to an award winner, it’s just the most amazing experience in the world. To know your own journey, your own path … when God says, ‘It’s your turn’ — it’s an amazing feeling — but the greatest feeling is to know the journey.”