AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STELLAR AWARDS: IS THIS THE BEST YOU CAN DO??
Dear Stellar Awards,
Your annual award show is heralded as “the biggest night in Gospel!” The Stellar Awards are to the Black Gospel community what the CMA’s are to Country Music; what the MTV Awards are to Pop Music. It’s the night where the entire world gets to see what we do; how we do it; and recognize who is doing it the best… well, according to your voting system of course.
But the award show that was once the go to for all things Gospel for many fans and the must-attend annual gathering for the who’s who of the business, feels more like that 1993 cult-classic film “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. In that movie, Murray’s character Phil Connors found himself caught in a time loop and kept repeating the same day again and again. The redundancy of the Stellar Awards mirrors just that.
Let me explain. As a kid, I grew up in church and was a huge fan of Gospel Music. I would be eager to see the annual airing of The Stellar Awards and would sneak and stay up until 2am sometimes to catch the show in syndication. Other than “Bobby Jones Gospel” on BET, it was one of the few times you could see all of your favorite Gospel artists perform and be recognized for their gifts. As I got older, your TV syndication got better and you started partnering with cable channels like TV One, so finding the show was a lot easier.
Then I became a professional in the Gospel industry and finally got to attend the shows. Whether in Nashville or Las Vegas, what started as a bucket list experience for me, soon became something less exciting. I would attend the award show and be more engaged by the social media commentary about the show than the actual show itself. I’d enjoy my time chatting with colleagues in the media room or seeing artists backstage, than I was about actually sitting in my seat and enjoying the telecast. Why? Because aside from the surprise Destiny’s Child performance a couple of years ago, The Stellar Awards became like that favorite meal that you once salivated over, but now something about it doesn’t taste the same because you’ve had it too much.
I’m no ageist, but the truth is your show feels old. It’s dated. We’ve seen it before. Been there, done that! The baby boomers have such a crushing grip on this Gospel show that it’s void of anything contemporary, innovative or remotely interesting to millennials or even Generations X, Y, or Z. The fact that artists are subjected to performing “Soul Train” style to prerecorded tracks on a national award show, speaks to the fact those in charge probably haven’t purchased a CD since BeBe & CeCe released “Different Lifestyles” in 1991. This is Gospel music, where is the organ? We need a live band!
On mainstream award shows like the BET Awards, the revamped Soul Train Awards and especially on The Grammys, viewers typically leave asking, “who’s that?” after some new, fresh talent has a career-defining performance. When was the last time the Stellar Awards participated in thrusting a new artist’s career? It’s tough enough getting a younger act signed to a major label to perform on the show because all the slots are filled with the same recycled veteran singers performing for the 21st time that independent talent doesn’t even stand a chance! And let’s not even start talking about Christian Hip Hop. We see you Da’ T.R.U.T.H. and Canton Jones and we appreciate what you do; but there are more out there than just those two and you need to embrace them as well Stellar Awards.
Can we honor some Gospel pioneers that are still living? Being a trailblazer doesn’t mean you are now dead. The legacy of Gospel music shouldn’t die on the backs of Rev. James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Andrae Crouch, Mahalia Jackson, Walter Hawkins, and others. But there are some living legends—many still not receiving social security checks yet—that have changed the face of Gospel in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Can we give them their flowers while they are still alive to receive them?
Gospel singers are some of the best in the world! That’s a fact! Why don’t we see unique pairings and never-seen-before collaborations that showcase our music in a special way? There was a moment in 2010 where Richard Smallwood and Smokie Norful faced each other at the piano, both dressed in tuxedos, and they started off playing each other’s song. I recall it because it was like lightening in a bottle! Time nearly stopped for almost six-and-half minutes. A precious moment. Can we get more lasting impressions like that?
And have you heard of social media? It’s this online and digital device phenomenon that practically rules the world. Your social media presence is shoddy and uninteresting. But then again, its a mirror of the award show I guess. They both need overhauling!
Gospel Music sales are down. Record companies are being consolidated. The business is changing and technology is playing a major part in it. But while this business is evolving and those in it are as well, your show remains the same and that’s not a good thing. In an interview last year, Kirk Franklin said: “My fear is, I don’t want gospel music to die like disco and rock ‘n’ roll.” But honestly Stellars, your approach to producing your award show has it feeling like its a few funerals away from extinction.
So I write this open letter not because I hate you or because I’m attempting to embarrass you. I’m writing this letter hoping to get a breakthrough because this is a genre I love and want to see thrive. To deliver you from your insulated view of the product that you’re servicing. I’m being bold enough to say to you the things most recording artists, talent managers, music executives, industry publicists, and other movers and shakers in this business may not tell you because they feel their bottom line could be affected by being truthful. Well, John 8:32 says: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I pray the genuine intent of this letter is felt and I hope to see some changes and advances made to your show…very soon!
On behalf of the Gospel Music Industry, I am Gerald Jones of DaGospelTruth.com.