Beltway BuzzFeature Story

2018 in retrospect: Top gospel stories in the DMV this year

Photo by Alicia Butler-Adams

Major milestones, chart toppers and more

2018 is drawing to a close and its time to take a look back at the gospel industry stories and events in the DMV that caught our attention. This list is far from exhaustive since it would be difficult to recap all of the wonderful things that took place this year in a region saturated with talent.

Here’s a look at some  significant moments in the DMV gospel community this year. We also remember a few who have transitioned to glory and shine a spotlight on ones to watch in 2019.

JJ Hairston signs with powerhouse entertainment agency William Morris Endeavor The chart topping singer, songwriter, and producer made some major moves in 2108. The Grammy nominated, Billboard Music Award and multiple Stellar Award-winning recording artist officially signed with William Morris Endeavor (WME).  Hairston’s decision to sign with the powerhouse entertainment agency on all future bookings is a huge move for a gospel artist and speaks to his burgeoning star power that includes part 1 one of his live recording in Africa and the second part completed  December 30. It appears that 2019 is positioned to be another banner year for JJ Hairston.

JJ Hairston signs with William Morris

Inspirational Jazz Vocalist Robert E. Person debuts at #12 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums Chart. After diligently performing his craft for years, Robert E. Person made a major impact with his fifth indie project, Classic Covers. The album includes a stirring remake of Stevie Wonder’s hit, “Love’s In Need Of Love Today”.

Robert E. Person covers classic song

Restine Jackson makes huge debut on charts.  Jackson is  another artist who has been on the scene for a while, also saw his music get some much-deserved exposure when his EP, No Fear debuted at No.4 after a well-attended release concert.  The energetic singer continues to book engagements around the country.

Restine Jackson No Fear releases March 2

Andrea René Williams moves into her musical gifting. The publicist is known for her industry prowess providing publicity for many independent and established artists. This year, she has spread her wings across the musical landscape. She’s  been using her voice instead of only her pen and has  ministered in song at several events, and performed the national anthem at a sporting event. The singer, songwriter, and pianist is set to release her EP, The Believe Album in 2019 and has launched a new website.  

Andrea Renee Williams gospel artist

Gospel legend Richard Smallwood turns 70! The celebrated maestro and prolific songwriter reached a major milestone this year as he hit the 7-decade mark. His timeless music, including “Total Praise,” “Center of My Joy” and a host of other songs, continue to be heard around the world. 2018 found the gospel great continuing to perform across the country, most recently at the famed Carnegie Hall.  The maestro strongly advocates for education and understanding of mental illness and shared his own story of battling depression in an attempt to help others.  Richard Smallwood’s advocacy led to an invitation to share his story and provide insight at the esteemed Harvard University.

Richard Smallwood celebrates 70

Independent Gospel Artists Alliance, Inc. (IGAA) creates 1st Annual IGAA Awards.  Long known as one of the premier conferences for independent artists, it was only a matter of time before the organization, founded in 2010 by Phillip Carter and Earl Bynum,  expanded it’s reach.  The  awards will take place during the IGAA conference and will celebrate independent Gospel, Christian, and Inspirational artists and is certainly a welcome addition to the awards landscape.

ndependent Gospel Artists Alliance

Bridging the Gap-Generations” live recording features many of the DMV’s finest. Rev. Dr. Jerome Bell has been convening the successful Bridging the Gap conference for many years. This year the gospel music industry insider concluded the conference with the  “Bridging the Gap-Generations” live recording. It proved to be a tour de force for many of the talented artists who reside in the DMV.

Jerome Bell singing

Joe Lee Sanders, host of the popular Praise Fest Show, passes away.  Sanders helped many gospel artists who may have never gotten a chance to heard if not for his show which aired on Radio One (WYCB). Sanders passed away Tuesday, December 11, 2018. He will be remembered as a man who was dedicated to the success of indie artists and not squeamish about spending his own money to air his show that did just that. He will be missed!

Joe Lee Sanders passes away

In Memoriam

In addition to Joe Lee Sanders right here in the DMV, the gospel industry experienced  the following losses.

Edwin Hawkins passes away at 74Edwin HawkinsFather of Contemporary Gospel Music Passes Away.   The four-time Grammy® Award-winning leader of The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1969 million-seller, “Oh Happy Day,” died January 15, 2018. “O Happy Day” broke ground, but it didn’t just stop there.  Hawkins, wrote and recorded many songs including, Worship The Lord,” “God Will Take Care of You,” and  “To My Father’s House.” His loss was felt throughout the gospel community and beyond as he ushered in a new wave of gospel and was known as the Father of Contemporary Gospel Music.

Aretha Franklin Queen of SoulQueen of Soul Aretha Franklin passes away. The iconic singer passed away August 16, 2018. During her six-decade career Aretha earned 44 GRAMMY® nominations, 18 GRAMMY Awards. She started out in gospel singing in her father’s church and never forgot her gospel roots. Her music impacted the world and her death left a voice in the music world but her extensive catalogue lives on and will continue to influence artists around the world.

Deborah Culp, God's Writer GirlDeborah Culp passes away. A music and entertainment writer affectionately known as “God’s Writer Girl,” Deborah Culp may have been lesser known on the world stage, but she was well known in gospel industry circles for her tenacity and quick wit on the gospel awards show circuit. Deborah was a writer, photographer and social media strategist and contributed to many publications, including Divine Magazine. Her sudden death on October 25, 2018 left many in disbelief.

Ones to watch in 2016

Tammy Padilla: The singer can take any song and make it her own.  No doubt her new music, anticipated in 2019 will be worth exploring.

Christian Davis:  A dynamic songwriter, Davis’ pen seems to  never stop churning out music. Her recently released album  4Ever Victorious Live is filled with gems, including “No Weapon.”

christian davis album


© 2018, PositivelyGospel. All rights reserved.


Sarah Hearn
the authorSarah Hearn
Sarah Hearn is Editor-in-Chief of, founded in 2011. The site was recently named among Feedspot's Top Gospel and Christian Music Websites.  Sarah is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Gospel Music Association.
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