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It was always those two minutes that kept me transfixed. That was the length of the commercials that would come on in the middle of the afternoon, promoting a form of music that I wasn't familiar with, but knew right away that I loved.
I was 8 years old and that initial sound —a sprawling voice that pierced your soul and made it seem like it was pouring out of you — froze me. It made me stop and pay attention because it wasn't something I'd heard on the radio. No, that voice was different. More raw than the standard R&B fare. It was deeper. Clearer. Stronger.
And it made me want to hear more.
The voice belonged to the one and only Mahalia Jackson and that commercial, which highlighted her legendary catalog, introduced me to gospel music. It also introduced me to the concept of giving praise through song. And from that point on, after hearing her belt out those notes in the key of life, I was hooked.
Jackson, a three-time GRAMMY winner and recipient of The Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972, was my gospel blueprint. Her success helped build the foundation for the next generation of artists looking to lift their voices from the church choir all the way to the mainstream stage.
The success of Jackson helped establish artists such as BeBe and CeCe Winans, Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin, the latter of whom rose to prominence on R&B radio stations, no less, and is now one of the biggest stars in contemporary gospel music.
Newer artists such as Forever Jones, Ty Herndon and Karen Peck & New River have their own style, and give gospel a diverse feel and reach, proving that it really doesn't matter how you give praise, just as long as it's sincere.
That sincerity, whether it's Jackson's soul-piercing contralto or Amy Grant's calming tenor, will keep gospel relevant and fresh for a large audience, while staying true to itself.
What I've loved most about gospel since being introduced to it all those years ago is the same thing I'll always love about it — the quality, richness and flavor.
Indeed, how sweet the sound.