When Will Gospel Artists Become Kennedy Center Honorees?

The 2013 honorees for the coveted Kennedy Center Honors was announced today. I was very excited about this year’s list of Kennedy Center honorees: Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine  and Carlos Santana. Love them all, especially the very regal Herbie Hancock!

As I continued to be excited for them, I looked to my right and there it was: “Submit a Kennedy Center Honors Recommendation.” And then it dawned on me that we have not had a true gospel artist, other Marion Williams many years go, receive this high honor.  As we celebrate Gospel Music Heritage Month, I think this bears taking a look at.

We have so many greats living among us; Andraé Crouch, Edwin Hawkins, Richard Smallwood and others. Why haven’t they been called to be part of this great alumni association?  All three have certainly cut a wide path across the musical landscape and not just in the gospel genre. They have definitely had universal impact.

Multiple Grammy winner Crouch was instrumental in sparking the pivotal “Jesus Movement.” The 71-year old singer, songwriter, arranger,  producer, and pastor has an extensive song catalog. He has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Madonna, composed songs for movies, TV shows and so much more. Did I mention that he was the first gospel artist with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

Andrae Crouch legendary gospel artist

Edwin Hawkin’s  brought us “O Happy Day” and revolutionized gospel music as we know it and also ushered in the entire Hawkins family.  His entry onto the scene became the natural progression after Thomas Dorsey pulled back the musical veil. Back then he was cutting-edge. Hard to believe that he is now considered a traditional gospel singer. Go figure.  Hawkins recently celebrated his 70th birthday.

Edwin Hawkins gospel legend

Richard Smallwood was a child prodigy and he has been honored by the Smithsonian as a “gospel innovator”  as he weaves classical music  into his repertoire. His highly influential and creative, “Total Praise,” is known around the world. His song, “I Love the Lord” was sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Christian singer Natalie Grant during the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Richard Smallwood new album

This is just scratching the surface of all that gospel music has to offer that is worthy of a Kennedy Center honor. There are certainly many more artists that my friend, historian Bob Marovich over at the Black Gospel Blog could probably enumerate more extensively. But, you get the point.

What Can We Do About This?

Well, there’s an easy solution to get the spotlight placed on our gospel royalty. Submit your recommendation. I plan to do my part. And just so you know, the Kennedy Center tends not to give honors posthumously, so, we, the gospel community should celebrate those among us NOW.

Here’s the criteria for 2014:

The Kennedy Center Honors provide recognition to living individuals who throughout their lifetimes have made significant contributions to American culture through the performing arts. The primary criterion is excellence, and artistic achievement in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, and television is considered.

Let’s all do our part to increase the chances that a gospel artist will become a Kennedy Center honoree in the future. Will you join me? Here’s the link.

Disclaimer: Although most definitely worthy of honor, the three artists I mentioned are some of my faves. #DontJudgeMe

Sarah Hearn
the authorSarah Hearn
Sarah Hearn is Editor-in-Chief of PositivelyGospel.com, 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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