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Friday, January 28, 2011


By Mona Austin

Recorded in Los Angeles on December 11, the eleventh installment of BET's Celebration of Gospel felt like a  welcome home concert for legendary R&B acts, as once wayward singers  found sanctuary on the Orpheum Theatre stage.

Hosted by actor/comedian Steve Harvey, the show unites gospel and R&B talent for an all-out celebration of the music that has shaped Black Music as a whole--the music of the church. By the end of the evening, however  R&B  stole show.

Representing the R&B side there were performances by El Debarge, Chaka Khan, Howard Hewitt, Chante Moore, Kelly Price and a surprise performance by Whitney Houston.

Without a doubt, Debarge, Chaka and Houston were the stand out acts of the night.

Joining in with Chaka, many swaying and waving their hands with their eyes closed,  feeling it, attendees sang: "You touch me and something in me knows. . .Right down to the wire. Even through the fire. . ."  And even though the the classic ballad "Through the Fire" was not "gospelized" everyone in ear shot of Chaka's voice knew this version was about her relationship with God.

When the band broke it down the multi-Grammy- award-winning diva reflected on her  past scorched by drug addiction which she said was defined by hard partying until she finally heeded her mother's advice to get on her knees and pray.

Punctuating what has been a remarkable comeback year, gentle-toned crooner El Debarge, sang beautifully his hit song "Second Chance."  Howard Hewitt  joined him on stage completing the appearance with  his "Say Amen," again transforming the audience into a big choir. Bowing his head, as Hewitt hugged him, Debarge who spent two years in prison for drug possession, appeared to be humbled and overwhelmed by the torrent of acceptance.

But then came the most jaw-dropping must see performance of them all.

As if being mesmerized by Kim Burrell's sanctified synchopation wasn't enough, Whitney Houston emerged to join her friend in a duet of Houston's song "I Look to You."  In sheer amazement, the crowd erupted with praise at the site of Houston.  Earlier last year, Houston reportedly canceled several tour dates due to alleged drug use relapse and vocal troubles.  Houston, who in 1996 recorded the "Preachers Wife" soundtrack and starred in the movie was vocally vibrant, holding the long notes the way she did in her prime.

These artists' "to-hell-and-back testimonies"  are no secret.  Their stories are all woven together in the urban entertainment lexicon by the thread of drug abuse and redemption.  Transparency truly worked to their advantage as fans readily embraced their passion-filled lyrical testimonies cloaked in the inspiring R&B songs they sang.

That night I witnessed the maturation of a show.  Celebration  wasn't so much about gospel music, but The Gospel and its ability to transform lives.

Celebration of Gospel airs on BET on January 30 at 8:00 p.m., ET.
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2011 Celebration of Gospel in Pictures

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Celebration of Gospel Airs January 30


Legendary Vocalist Whitney Houston Joins Friend Kim Burrell for an Awe-Inspiring Performance
of 'I Look to You

Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Chaka Khan, El DeBarge, Howard Hewett, Angela Bassett, Israel Houghton, The Rance Allen Group and More Unite to 'Keep the Faith'

NEW YORK—January 25, 2011—The night was filled with inspired performances as audience members rejoiced at the 11th Annual CELEBRATION OF GOSPELThe two-hour special, premiering Sunday, January 30 at 8:00 p.m.*, pays tribute to the rich history of gospel music in a unique format that combines today’s leading gospel and secular artists. Year after year, BET creates the perfect platform for superstar secular artists to return to their gospel roots and reveal through music their personal journeys while showcasing compelling performances from some of gospel music chart toppers and emerging new artists. 

Taped from the historic Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, California, the annual praise fest touted stellar performances by talent new to the CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL stage alongside current favorites of gospel. Highlights include: Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary both debuted world premieres of new songs; Chaka Khan delivered a soul stirring and revealing performance of her timeless classic, “Through the Fire”; Oscar-nominated® actress Angela Bassett, actor Hill Harper, and Bishop TD Jakes each gave a touching spoken word reading; a surprise appearance by Whitney Houston who joined Kim Burrell in performance of her song “I Look to You” and brought the entire house to its feet; and, Byron Cage, Smokie Norful and Kathy Taylor who came together for a moving tribute honoring the late “Queen of Gospel,” Albertina Walker and beloved gospel pioneer Walter Hawkins.

The audience was also treated to performances by SUNDAY BEST alums LeAndria Johnson, Y’Anna Crawley and Jessica Reedy alongside R&B songstresses Chanté Moore and Kelly Price. El DeBarge teamed up with Howard Hewett for crowd favorites “Second Chance” and “Amen,” plus Israel Houghton, The Rance Allen Group, Earnest Pugh, Myron Butler, Jonathan Nelson and Purpose, James Fortune and FIYA, VaShawn Mitchell and Beverly Crawford with Dr. Bobby Jones and the Spirit of David Choir also contributed memorable performances.
Hosted by popular comedian, author, game show host and syndicated radio personality Steve Harvey, the inspirational and uplifting presentation packed a powerful punch by some of the industry’s top performers.
CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL is a BET Networks Production. Stephen Hill, BET's president of music programming, along with Lynne Harris-Taylor, BET's vice president of specials, and Geovanni Brewer executive produced the telecast.
For more information, please visit www.bet.com.

*All times are ET/PT.
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