Gospel music has been touching the lives of people across the country for centuries. It is the music that opens our hearts to accept the unconditional love of God. During times of certainty or uncertainty, gospel music gives us an opportunity to experience God. We praise Him for our blessings and reach out to Him when we don't know which way to turn. Gospel music allows us to become closer to God and closer to each other.
I have been singing gospel music since I was four years old. My first major experience was with Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins family back in the early 70's. They introduced me to a whole new style of gospel music. Not only the Hawkins family; but Andrae Crouch and Rance Allen, just to name a few, shaped the sound that I produce today. This is the sound and testimony that has touched the lives of millions throughout the world.
Gospel music is a thread that ties today's musical stylings to our history. Whether looking at pop music, hip-hop or R&B, it's rare to find an artist who hasn't been touched or affected by the power and soul of gospel music. In fact, many of today's popular artists such as Whitney Houston, John Legend, and Katy Perry started their careers in the church choir.
Meanwhile, gospel artists are more popular than ever. The industry is growing. I was blessed to have my song "Here I Am" reach a new record for a gospel single when it hit number two on the Billboard Top 200 last year. Artists like Israel Houghton and Mary Mary are creating their own spin on the genre and, as a result, are attracting an entirely new audience. Mainstays like the legendary CeCe Winans continue to inspire us with their God-given talent and commitment to the music.
While the industry grows, the gospel church choir continues to have a large presence in our society. That's why it has been such a pleasure to be a part of Verizon's How Sweet the Sound, the most prestigious gospel music event in the country. How Sweet the Sound is designed to celebrate the phenomenal church choirs that I consider to be our unsung heroes. How Sweet the Sound sells out huge arenas as it travels from city to city searching for the country's best church choirs. Participating choirs have the opportunity to sing joyfully in praise, share their passion and talent with a broader community, and win up to $50,000 as well as other prizes. I'm proud to be part of Verizon's family. They are a great example of a company that takes the time to give back to the communities they serve.
We live in a world full of people who are ready to be uplifted. As I look at the progress I've seen in the gospel industry, such as the creation of award shows like the Stellar Awards that recognize the talent and passion of gospel artists, the development of TV programs and even a network dedicated to the subject matter, I feel a sense of joy for how far we've come. The power of gospel music continues to unite communities and offer an outlet for people to express their love and devotion to the Lord in song. Without question, know that Gospel music is definitely here to stay.