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Christina Bell On "Going" & Playing Twinkie Clark In The 'The Clark Sisters' Biopic

Christina Bell

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Christina Bell On "Going" & Playing Twinkie Clark In The 'The Clark Sisters' Biopic

"A couple of years ago I went out to Essence Fest and did a tribute for The Clark Sisters, and then three years later I'm like, 'What the heck. I'm in their movie?'" the gospel performer tells the Recording Academy

GRAMMYs/Aug 5, 2019 - 10:44 pm

Gospel singer Christina Bell is having a heavenly year. Not only has the Shreveport, Louisiana native recently released a chart-topping single called "Going," which is co-written by Isaiah Templeton and Shamarr Blake, and produced by D. Jamel Kimbrough, but Bell just wrapped filming the Lifetime biopic The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies Of Gospel, where she portrays Twinkie Clark. 

Executive produced by Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott, The Clark Sisters will premiere early next year. As she talks about it, Bell, who spent nearly two decades singing in the gospel group Zie'l with Crystal Kay Bell and Keyondra Shane Lockett, lets out a little yelp of excitement. First of all, AHHH!" she exclaims over the phone. "It's definitely a very thrilling and exciting adventure to be on right now. My first day, of course, I was super-duper nervous. But then it calmed down once I got the hang of it. It's been amazing ever since."

Now that she's wrapped shooting, Bell is working on her second solo album, which is due to arrive later this year via Malaco Records. The Recording Academy sat down with Bell to talk about everything she's been working on lately, including what we can expect on her upcoming solo work and what it was like to hang out with the real Twinkie Clark when preparing for her role.

How long have you been professionally singing gospel, and what inspired you to pursue a career in it?

I actually started singing since I was a small little baby. I was in a singing group for about 20 years. The group was called Zie'l, and we got the opportunity to just travel so many different places all around the country, and then a little bit outside of the country, hitting Jamaica and doing different things like that. And it started when we were in church. We grew up together and sang in a small choir. It was five of us. They were the only people that came to the first rehearsal, and that's how we started the group. Shreveport, Louisiana was our hometown, and like I said, we grew up together in the same church just really, really excited about just singing. At one point we actually wanted to do R&B, but my mom was like, "Yeah, no. You're not going to do that."

I continued on with the gospel thing. But for the most part it's really, really been exciting to sing gospel music. Of course gospel is the good news, so I'm really excited to keep doing gospel music and getting his word out, so that's where it started for me.

You've been performing solo for about the last four years. What has your journey been like in deciding to pursue a solo career?

I definitely will say the experience is quite different from doing group music than solo music. It's a little bit strange when you first start out doing the solo career because you don't get the opportunity to look to your right and your left. I always say this: you look to your right and your left. These are your sisters that you've grown up with, and you just have so much chemistry with, and you know exactly where to go musically, and you don't really have to say anything. But you know how you give that look to somebody and you're like, "Okay, yeah. Let's go there." I didn't have that anymore. I had to carry my own weight. In the beginning it's very nerveracking because you don't know if people will accept you like they did with the group. It's almost like you're starting over. People don't really know you as much. You have some people that remember you from where you came from, but then you have a lot of people that are being introduced to you.

The downside [of performing solo] is more nerves. You tend to be a little bit more nervous when you have to go from being in a group to being a solo artist. But the upside to it is, you get used to it. And though my nerves almost get the best of me, I've learned how to put that in check. So, it feels very exciting to sing and to perform, and just do what I enjoy doing. I wouldn't trade it. 

I know a lot of people ask me if the group will get back together, and I tell them I can't see it right now because it's freeing. You don't have to necessarily do what everybody else wants to do. You can actually get your brand out there. 

I'd love to talk a little bit about the latest song, "Going." What was the genesis of that one?

This is one of those songs that you want to have written, but I didn't pen this song. This song was actually penned by Isaiah Templeton and Shamar Blake. They are really, really great friends. Shamar was actually in Walmart and God just placed that song in his heart about God's mercy. I think he even saw something going on in Walmart, or something like that, but God placed those words in his heart about his mercy constantly going and just keeping us. And though we don't have to continue doing the same things that we were doing, you get the opportunity to experience God's mercy in a really, really real way when you're going through life, when you've made a mistake or when something has happened and you just don't feel right about certain things.

I think it's really, really special that they got the opportunity to get together and collaborate on the song. When you're working on gospel music you very seldom have people that can come together and do something so tremendous like that: make a song really simple so that other people outside of the writing department can understand what it is that you're saying. A lot of times I think that music has started to get to a place where we don't really necessarily understand what's going on in the lyrics, and this is one of those very simple songs where you don't have to worry about not understanding. I think that this song is actually for everybody.

In the Bible it says in Lamentations, chapter 3, verses 22 and 23, "The faithful love of the Lord never ends and his mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness. His mercies are new each morning." That's so beneficial for all of us, when you get to experience the love of God, and his mercy and his grace constantly just wrapping you up. I always say you got two best friends following you, grace and mercy. Because if you get in trouble, if you find yourself wondering what's next, you still have grace and mercy that follows you all of the days of your life, and you don't necessarily have to really struggle with wondering if God is there. 

In the song it talks about God talking you off of the ledge. Not necessarily off of a physical edge, but a spiritual edge. If you find yourself looking over the edge and you're like, "Okay. I just can't do it no more." God, he will in the nick of time literally send you something, or remind you of a word something in your spirit and you can just come off of that and you'll be like, "You know what? I'm not worrying about this anymore. I am not about to worry about it. I'm not going to be afraid anymore. I'm just going to take that leap of faith and I'm going to jump." And that's God's mercy just constantly saying, "You know what? I got you."

You just wrapped up filming The Clark Sisters, your first movie role. How did you get involved with this project?

First of all, [Screams] AHHH! It's definitely a very thrilling and exciting adventure to be on right now, okay?

We got connected with this project through a very well-known producer, and writer. He posted about it on his Instagram page, and I don't think that he was supposed to, but my managers got wind of it and reached out. And we got the opportunity to do an audition. They told me to get it in by a certain time, and I had to learn my sides in less than a day. And that's something that I have never done before, so I got the sides done and really, really studied hard for it. I had to study for three different role. They wanted me to try out for three different characters, and then Twinkie was the one that they were like, "No, you are definitely Twinkie." So I got the role, and a month later everything was history. We got to Canada. And my first day, of course, I was super duper nervous. But then it calmed down once I got the hang of it. It's been amazing ever since.

Did you actually re-record The Clark Sisters' songs? 

The first thing that we did was, we went to studios to record the vocals and everything. And this is something I didn't know, of course, but we did see live vocals as well while we were on set. A lot of what you see is us singing live, but they of course had to mix the two so that they could make sure that it was great for TV. You don't want to really have mess-ups and all that stuff or whatever. So we did do the recording of the vocals first, before we even did any television, the scenes or anything like that. Before we did any of that. So, that was nerveracking because I actually had never done lip syncing or anything like that. 

Right, and it's actually really hard to lip sync, or so I've been told.

Yes! I had to ask them. I was like, "Can I sing live?" So I sang live quite a bit, and the other girls did as well. It was something that not all of us, actually, have ever experienced actually doing live. I mean, lip syncing for videos and stuff. So, it came out really, really good. 

Did you have the opportunity to connect with Twinkie herself?

Oh, definitely. Mm-hmm. The group that I sang with, we covered quite a few of [The Clark Sisters'] songs when we were growing up. And once we got recognition for their song called "Is My Living In Vain," we got the opportunity to meet them. From that point on we did some meet and greets with them, and we also got the opportunity to sing with them on stage once before, or it may have been twice before. Over the years we got the opportunity to do tributes to them. And quite funny thing is, a couple of years ago I went out to Essence Fest in New Orleans and did a tribute with a couple of women gospel artists, and we did a tribute for The Clark sisters, and then three years later I'm like, "What the heck. I'm in their movie?"

I've [also] gotten the opportunity to sing at their church and just have fellowship with them, and actually speak with them, and with Twinkie. The Clark sisters saw the movie already, and when Twinkie watched it then she says, "You know, I like everybody, but the Twinkie character, I really like her."

That's great. So what can you tell us about your new LP?

I'm actually about to release my second project, which is going to be this year. And I'm super-duper excited about that because I've actually been done with it for about a year and a half, maybe two years now, and we just wanted to make sure that everything was absolutely fantastic for the listeners. It's just really important to me that people are not necessarily bombarded with gospel, even when it comes to gospel music. I wanted people to walk away with the feeling of relief and feeling renewed, because of course that's what the Bible talks about: be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I want people to walk away feeling renewed and feeling refreshed. 

Go Behind The Scenes Of ESSENCE Fest's 25th Anniversary: Party With A Purpose

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards