Root Magazine caught up with Marvin Sapp just in time for the holidays. He discusses his critically acclaimed holiday album, “Christmas Card, his children and what life has been like without his wife, Malinda Sapp.
As told to Jeanelle Drysdale
Ok let’s talk about the album “Christmas Card.”
Marvin Sapp: I think it’s a wonderful collage of music, of traditional Christmas standards to my own pick on urban style music. So I’m really excited about “Christmas Card” because it’s kinda different from the music that I usually do. I have stuff on here that’s more laid back.
This album is not what people would expect from a Christmas album and frankly from a pastor and gospel artist. It has a feel of R&B, Pop, and Dance. What inspired the approach to the album? Which song is your favorite?
Marvin Sapp: My favorite song on the album is Joseph’s Song.
Marvin Sapp: It’s kind of an urban look of Joseph’s conversation with Mary and the angel as it pertains to what he was going to have to endure. We always talk about Mary but we never talk about Joseph. The reason why I decided to do the record is because it’s a specialty record, and I always said if I was to do a Christmas record, I didn’t want to do it from a traditional standpoint or a churchy style because that’s what I’m known for. So because that’s what I’m known for, I wanted to add a little bit of edge to it, so of course I thought back to those CDs like Boyz II Men Christmas CDs and the Brian McKnight Christmas style. I even went back to Luther Vandross and decided to kind of model it by those styles but still keep the lyrical content of it very Christ centered. So I think I accomplished it, kept it urban but still kept it Christ centered.
There is a song on the album entitled “Thank You” that you did with your children. Is it their desire to get into the music business? If so, do they want to stay in gospel or move to other genres?
Marvin Sapp: Well my son is in college and he’s majoring in music with an interest in recording technology. Initially I was trying to push him away from the whole business aspect because that’s been my life for over two decades and I know the ups and downs. Also, the music business has changed a great deal since I first started. But he wants to be in the music business and it’s his life so I don’t want to get in the way of that. I wanted them to be a part of something that I was doing, so I asked them if they wanted to be on the record and they agreed. My daughter Makayla is not a real singer but she wanted to do her own shout out. I just think that Christmas is about family and coming together and I thought it would be a great asset to add my children to something that I’ve been doing for years. I’m so proud of them, so this is a great moment for us all.
The song ‘Thank You’ is to thank people for all their support of your family over these past few years since your wife passed away. It’s been over three years. What advice do you have that share to someone who may have endured the same hardship and are possibly looking to start over?
Marvin Sapp: In the three years since my wife’s passing, so many different individuals come to me and ask me the same question and I tell them that the key and most important thing is to get counseling. You can’t move forward until you start the process of healing. Even though in the church we talk about the whole concept of praying but people just need someone to talk to that can help your process and help you find a course to help you to move forward and be better. So in order to move forward you have to start some place and I think the best place to start is to make sure that you understand the process and how to move on. Clinical counseling is absolutely essential and important.
That’s awesome to hear because a lot of time in the Christian faith or specifically in the black community, we don’t take on counseling very well.
Marvin Sapp: No we don’t and reason being is that we have a very dark view of what it’s all about. It doesn’t make you crazy just because you talk to a counselor; you might go crazy if you don’t. My wife was a clinician by profession and she had a dual Bachelors and Masters degree in psychology and sociology and she had her Doctorate degrees in clinical counseling so it was natural for us. I mean she passed away and my kids and I were in counseling the same week or maybe the week after we buried her. One of my children still goes three years later.
Recently you did an interview on TD Jakes talk show, “Mind, Body and Soul”, and you stated that you want to start dating again. Did you feel some type of guilt when you made that decision? How did your children react to this decision?
Marvin Sapp: Well, I didn’t feel any guilt and the reason why I didn’t feel any guilt is because I was a great husband. I had great conversations with my wife before she passed, I was there for her and I was a great husband to my wife. I loved my wife and treated her like a queen in life and in death; therefore I have no regrets. My children have struggled with it in the past and honestly, when I felt like they were struggling with it, I just didn’t do it. To be honest with you, I didn’t go out, just laid back in the cut and remained extremely busy because busy keeps you out of trouble. Now it’s three years later they’re older and they’re at a place now, they’re like dad it’s all right go ahead and find somebody. I think one of the challenges that I’m trying to resolve is the whole concept with dating. I was married my whole adult life from the age of 25 to the age of 43, so I come from a 20th century model and this 21st century model is definitely different than anything that I’ve been accustomed to, and sometimes I find myself wondering why everyone is in a hurry and I think that’s one of the challenges for me. I date and its cool and I think that people just need to understand that if it’s dinner then its just dinner, not anything else. Let’s just slow down and enjoy the meal, I’m new to this so I’m learning.
You mentioned that you realize some people are crazy, so you’re just taking your time.
Marvin Sapp: Absolutely, because I’ve already had one come to my home and move to my city, thinking that God said that I’m supposed to be their husband. Being a preacher and a celebrity makes it difficult and I had to alter my life and my children’s life. So again, my whole thing in this season of my life is to just enjoy dinner and adult conversation, that’s where I am.
How is it being a new single dad? What advice do you have for other single dads? Single fathers don’t get enough credit but they are out there.
Marvin Sapp: Yeah because it’s not common. I think the best advice I can give to a single dad who is raising teenagers is to remain a dad. I let my children know that we can be friends, but they must understand that I am their father first. My kids can come to me and be open and honest with me and quite honestly I may be upset about some of the stuff that you do but that doesn’t mean that you’re not supposed to come to me any way. I want to be your first option, I don’t want to be your second or you’re third. So those are the types of conversations I have with my children on a consistent basis, especially because I have girls who are in high school and on their way to college.
So I understand that you had a reality show “Single Dad” on the table but it did not get picked up. What are your thoughts on that?
Marvin Sapp: How can I say this..I’ll say it! I had some challenges with “Single Dad.” I’m a strong believer that some things should be private and that every aspect of my life should not be displayed as it pertains to personal things. There’s a lot about Marvin Sapp from the stand point of a business man, travel all the things that he’s doing, interacting with his children and then on top of the that I believe that there are already enough of those types of shows from a African American stand point on television. I think we are now at a place where we need television that’s a little cleaner as it pertains to positive male role models. Every reality show doesn’t have to be about fighting and poppin bottles. There’s a large portion of African Americans who want to see something more polished but the negative shows outweigh the wholesome shows, so I think that’s one of the challenges with “Single Dad” being picked up. If I does get picked up by a network, great! But if it doesn’t, I’m doing so many other things. I write books, I have a public charter school that I started a few years ago with 500 students, a Fine Arts and Technology school called “The Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology” (GREAAT). My hands are absolutely full, doing records. I have teenagers that are on the cheerleading squads, basketball and volleyball. I have a full life.
How do you feel about how believers are being portrayed in reality shows right now?
Marvin Sapp: Honestly, I’m a strong believer that discretion is key and I think that if we’re going to do things, we should make sure that we use discretion. People do what they do for whatever reason and they have their reason for doing it and some of it I understand and some of it I don’t. I guess I can close that statement by saying to each is own. I have to be responsible for the Marvin Sapp brand and that’s absolutely important to me. I’m going to protect it with all my ability and I think everybody should have that same mentality.
I see you reunited with Commissioned on the song “Honor the King.” How was it working with them again? Could this be a come back for Commissioned?
Marvin Sapp: Since I was the baby of the group, I pulled the baby card and called the fellas. Myself, Fred Hammond, Carl, we haven’t recorded an original track since 1994. So I picked up the phone and asked them to do this song and they all consented and then I added a couple of the other guys, Marcus Cole and Mark Stewart, who has always been a part of the team for years. We all went in the studio and did “Honor the King” and concluded that we may be able to come back and do something together again. Fred has things going on with the United Tenors and I’m at home trying to make this thing happen with the school. I’m preparing work on a brand new CD probably at the end of the year, starting to write music and putting things together for my next album, which I will probably start recording in Fall 2014. I’m open to recording with Commissioned again; it’s just all about time and what the guys got on their plate.
The last song on the album is “Don’t Get It Twisted ”, that has such a Motown feel to it. Many people make a huge deal out of Christmas and focus on shopping and gifts but not about the real reason of Christmas. How important is it that we remind the world that Christmas is really about Jesus?
Marvin Sapp: Because we try to X Him out! We call it X-Mas, we try to put Jesus out of the whole concept. We make it more about gifts but the true meaning of Christ, that’s what it’s about. The first aspect of the word is Christ, so as a preacher of course, its one of my responsibilities to make sure that people understand that its more than just a gift underneath the tree, its more than just eggnog and holiday parties. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ and recognizing the sacrifice of God in His wisdom and knowledge made so that we can walk in the footsteps of Christ. This is literally the birth of our salvation. I want us to get back to that focus, because we got it twisted.
That is so true. I’m glad you made that song in a way where it had a message but was also fun to listen to. How do you balance fatherhood, being a pastor and a singer?
Marvin Sapp: Everything is about priority. It’s literally about putting things in its proper perspective. I’m a father first; I’m big on family so I’m a committed father to my kids. In fact, tomorrow I’m going to fly to France to preach and do a concert over there and I’m taking my children with me. We are going to go hang out in France over the weekend. After being a father, I’m a pastor. We have over one thousand members at our church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m a author and an entrepreneur among many other things that I am. I think that if you keep all those things in proper order you will be able to accomplish all that you need to accomplish. We currently employ 100 employees at our school and I’m working on a senior housing project right now, I’m just trying to be all that I can possibly be. I’m more than just a singer and songwriter, there are other gifts and aspects to my life that I really want to tap into so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’m 46 years old and I have so many more things to accomplish before I leave this earth.
I always say that, I heard that from Dr. Myles Monroe
Marvin Sapp Yea that’s my man!
One last thing, we ask all of our interviewees, what do you know for sure?
Marvin Sapp: I know for sure that the rest of my days are going to be the best of my days.
Simple as that!
Marvin Sapp: I have experienced some major challenges over the last seven years of my life, but I also experienced some major mountain top experiences. Even though I’ve been able to experience those mountain top experiences as it pertains to my career, I haven’t really been able to enjoy them because I’ve dealt with back- to- back deaths; from the passing of my father to the passing of my mentor to my passing of my wife. One thing I can say is that God definitely keeps His promise. He said what you sow in tears you will reap in joy, so I’m going to hold on to that knowing that things are going to get better.