January 22, 2015
Here we go again! The Top 20 Power Players of the year. The esteemed list of people and entities that helped keep this engine we call Gospel music, moving. Every year, “The Committee,” works tirelessly to pick the individuals who will land these 20 highly coveted spots. Naturally the stakes were high as we discussed, argued and ultimately decided who made the biggest impact in 2014. Simple and plain, who was necessary to Gospel music in 2014? We were very passionate while compiling this list, as are all who are featured in Root Magazine’s 2014 Top 20 Power Players list. Shout out to all of those who made it. For those who didn’t, continue to hustle hard to make the list next year.
Devanté Arbet- The Gospel Guru
Torrence Glenn- The Gospel According to Torrence
Gerald Jones- Da Gospel Truth
- Sheila Jackson Lee
Congresswoman, 18th District of Texas/Gospel Music Enthusiast
Her mission: To educate and celebrate the art form and rich heritage of all genres of Gospel music through word and song. The visionary: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Jackson Lee introduced the historic resolution (HJ Res 64) and played a significant role in its passage in both the United States House and Senate with bi-partisan support.
Last year for the second year in a row, the entire nation celebrated the national observance of “Gospel Heritage Month” during the month of September. The observance honors “Gospel music” for its value and longstanding contributions to the culture of the United States, and featured a bevy of nationally renowned and local gospel artists in a special concert at The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. The Congresswoman was also honored with the Thomas A. Dorsey Most Notable Achievement Award at the 29th Annual Stellar Awards as a result of her efforts.
- Rick Robinson
2014 was a great year for producer, Rick Robinson. He produced the critically acclaimed sophomore album for Anita Wilson with “Vintage Worship,” a collection of songs that marries uplifting Sunday morning gospel with elements of lush 1970s-era soul, mid-tempo 80’s R&B, funk, jazz and Go-Go. However, one of his biggest production hits came courtesy of fellow Chicago native, Ricky Dillard, who garnered his first #1 Billboard album and single with the song “Amazing.” At Root press time, “Amazing” was still the #1 gospel song in the United States and shows no signs of slowing down. This year, Robinson’s production credits will include two Clark Sisters, Karen and Dorinda.
- Earnest Pugh
Artist/Label President, EPM Music Group
Since he burst onto the scene with his smash hit “Rain On Us,” Earnest Pugh has not been able to sit still. He signed major distribution deals for himself and his artist on his EPM Music Group label, and has also taken the time to cultivate upcoming artists, helping in showcasing the next generation of talent. That said, he released three projects that all debuted in the Top 20 (two in the top 10). Pugh’s own “Just Worship,” “Top Praise Breaks 2014” and “Gospel’s Rising Stars, the latter were specialty compilation projects, a feat that had never been done before. in gospel music. Pugh also co-starred in two critically acclaimed stage plays: “Danger at my Door,” alongside Vivica A. Fox and “Ain’t To Proud To Beg.”
- Jawn Murray
Jawn Murray is a multi-media Journalist, Pop Culture Expert and Editor-In-Chief of AlwaysAList.com – a thriving entertainment and lifestyle website he launched in 2012. He is a respected media personality who offers national and international coverage of Gospel music and artists. Jawn has been recognized by Ebony magazine as one of the “30 on the Rise” to watch in the industry, and by the NAACP as one of “40 Power Players Under 40.” As an entertainment and pop culture commentator, Jawn regularly appears on both CNN and its sister channel HLN and has appeared on “The View,” “Wendy Williams Show,” “Access Hollywood,” and NBC’s “Today Show.” Jawn has also worked as a casting judge for the last five seasons of BET’s music competition series “Sunday Best.”
- E.J. Gaines
Editor-In-Chief, Gospel Pundit/Attorney/Artist Manager
Many people may know E.J. Gaines as the founder of Gospelpundit.com, one of gospel music’s most popular websites for all things gospel, but Eric Gaines is more than meets the eye. Gaines is a Renaissance man in every sense of the word, and as an Attorney, Artist Manager and Editor-In-Chief, he keeps himself very busy. Not only does he manage the careers of Jonathan McReynolds and William McDowell; one of his biggest power moves was getting his wife, Janice Gaines, signed to Motown Gospel, where she is working on her debut album and landed a duet with R&B crooner Kem on Motown’s first Christmas album in over two decades.
- Monica Bacon
President, Sovereign Agency
Monica Bacon is the founder and President of the L.A.-based Sovereign Agency, a full-service marketing, promotions, record label, management and consulting firm. Bacon launched the Sovereign Agency in 2009 bringing with her a wealth of knowledge and over 20 years experience in the music industry. Having worked in all aspects of music, Bacon is a visionary leader and creative force who has been an integral part in the growth and rise of the gospel genre.
Always the pioneer, Bacon continued to take her company to new levels in 2014. She has gone on to work with corporate clients including Chrysler’s Financial Initiative Rising Stars Tour and Live Nation’s The King’s Men Tour. Bacon recently expanded Sovereign Agency into the film and television world. She provided national marketing and tour management for RGM New Breed (a multi-media film and music company headed by Israel Houghton and Galley Molina). Their first theatrical release “I’m In Love With A Church Girl,” was released in October 2013. She also currently provides national marketing and consultation to the Game Show Network (GSN) and WE tv for their emerging line of faith-based TV programs.
- Gina Miller
VP, National Promotions, eOne Nashville
As VP of National Promotions of Light/eOne, Gina Miller has worked in Radio & Retail promotions, Sales & Label Relations, Label Product Management and Marketing. Miller is not a novice, as she is the liaison between the artists, their music and the radio stations (programmer/music director). Her duties primarily encompass planning promotions and garnering airplay for their artists and their music, but you will also see her working in the trenches planning special events in the marketplace, creating promotional tours, and making sure that all eOne artists are properly promoted in the marketplace. She even keeps gospel music enthusiasts aware of what’s going on in the industry on all of her social media outlets, proving that she is committed to the industry outside of the four walls of an office. Gina Miller is truly “Every Woman.”
- April Washington- Chandler
President, Habakkuk Music, Inc.
In an era where music is sales have plummeted, Gospel music is always at the bottom of the totem pole as it relates to record sales. April Washington Chandler figured out a way to distribute gospel music in an unconventional way with her partnership with Cracker Barrel Old Country stores nationwide with the Gospel Legacy series. The year 2014 was a huge year for Washington- Chandler, as she married longtime partner and astute businessman, Mike Chandler. In the latter part of last year, the second installment of the Gospel Legacy series was distributed at select Cracker Barrel locations in 42 states and online. The compilation includes a plethora of Gospel and R&B stars such as Patti Labelle, Charlie Wilson, James Fortune, Monica, VaShawn Michell, Yolanda Adams, Smokie Norful and many more.
In addition to her deal with Cracker Barrel, she sits at the helm of her label, Habakkuk Music, an independent label distributed by Universal Music Group and his home to Lisa Page Brooks, Papa San, and Stellar Award winners, Cheneta Jones and Earl Bynum and The Mount Unity Choir. Habakkuk Music, Inc. (d/b/a HBK Media) has also successfully formed marketing relationships with organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, Chick-fil-A and Rejoice Radio Network, among others.
- Dorinda Clark- Cole
Artist/Talk Show Host/Clothing Designer
Called “the Rose of Gospel,” Dr. Dorinda Clark-Cole is a three time Grammy award winner and a great example of maximizing the power of influence for greater impact. Clark- Cole is positioned as a lead cast member of the Oxygen’s Preachers of Detroit scheduled for 2015 on the Oxygen Network. She is host of the TCT Network’s The Dorinda Show, The Gospel According to Dorinda on the Word Network and Serving Up Soul, a music and lifestyle syndicated Gospel radio show. Cole, a recent spokesperson for Tim Horton’s US, is also a former spokes-model for Donna Vinci Clothing. She now has a “Rose Collection” line that is distributed by TerraMina Fashions and has partnered in creating The Bloom Collection, a couture collection of hat adorning accessories. She is also the Founder and CEO of Lifeline Productions Inc., which present an annual Singers & Musicians Conference along with chapter events held throughout the country. A licensed evangelist, Cole is the Assistant Elect Lady of the Evangelism Department of the Church of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. – the largest Pentecostal organization in the United States. She previously served as Vice President in the International Music Department of the same organization – a department her famed mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, is credited with propelling.
- Clyde Duffie
President, D3 Entertainment Group
Clyde Duffie, has an extensive background in Radio, Retail and Television Promotions. A 15- year veteran as Director of Promotions for Verity/Jive Records (Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, R. Kelly, Britney Spears, etc.), he went on to found D3 Entertainment, a full service Gospel promotions, marketing and PR consultation firm, with his twin brother Kendall and sister Michelle. Clyde has created and directed promotional plans, tours, directed time buying, radio and television interviews, book store signings and in-store displays, road management and artist development are his areas of expertise and is known has having the most Number 1 singles in Gospel Music.
In 2014 Clyde led the Motown Gospel radio promotions team on the successful campaigns with Smokie Norful and Tasha Cobbs. He also achieved a top 10 single with VaShawn Mitchell’s current hit, “God My God.”
- Catherine Brewton
VP, Writer/Publisher Relations, BMI
Catherine Brewton is one of the most powerful women in music, period! As Vice-President of Writer/Publisher Relations, Brewton manages and cultivates relationships with a myriad of songwriters and composers throughout the Atlanta region and beyond, creating and participating in educational, networking and showcase events specifically designed to inform and elevate up-and-coming and established songwriters alike. The start of 2014 presented the 15th installment of the BMI Trailblazers Luncheon and honored legendary acts, Richard Smallwood and Daryl Coley. Ever the innovator, Brewton decided to bring BMI’s “How I Wrote That Song” panel to a gospel platform in Philadelphia at the Praise 103.9 Inspiration and Music Conference; which was one of the most attended panels of the entire conference. In addition, Anayasha Figueroa- Cooper’s “Holy One,’ from BMII Trailblazers of Gospel Music LIVE CD, was nominated for a GMA Dove Award.
- Warryn Campbell & Erica Campbell
Producer/Artist/Reality TV Star, My Block
Grammy Award Winning, Super Producer Warryn Campbell, proved in 2014 exactly why he is a giant in the music industry. He successfully produced his wife Erica Campbell’s solo project, “Help”, which spawned two Top Ten hits, “Help” and “A Little More Jesus,” of which the latter scored a Grammy Award nomination for Best Gospel Song. The album Help” went on to debut at #1 on the Billboard Gospel chart and #6 on the Billboard 200 chart. As if he wasn’t busy enough, he and Mrs. Campbell became church leaders and formed The California Worship Center, an unorthodox church of sorts not bound by tradition. Campbell was also featured on the hit TV One reality series “R&B Divas: LA,” where he produced a track for the Puerto Rico project that featured Chante Moore, Lil Mo, Chrisette Michelle, Leela James and Claudette Ortiz.
In addition to headlining a massive promo tour in support of her album, Erica also won a GMA Dove award for Traditional Gospel Song of the Year for “A Little More Jesus.” She did all of this while taping Season 3 of her hit WE tv reality show, “Mary Mary.” Erica also continues to raise the bar and expand her brand with the recent launch of ECxCC (EC by Color Club), her new nail polish line. But it was the simple white dress that Campbell innocently posted on her Instagram page that sent shock waves through the blogosphere, proving that the world was close paying attention to the brand that is Erica Campbell.
- Kirk Franklin
Artist/Label President/Executive Producer, Fo Yo Soul Entertainment
For well over 20 years, Kirk Franklin has been at the top of the charts with his music. Songs like “Why We Sing,” “Melodies from Heaven,” and “Stomp,” helped changed the way we hear gospel music. In 2014, Franklin made major moves, lending his name to the House of Blues for a very successful tour featuring Tye Tribbett, Tasha Page Lockhart and The Walls Group. The 12-city tour SOLD OUT in major cities across the country such as: New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and an added a date in Chicago. If that wasn’t enough, Franklin became the co-host of The American Bible Challenge, which is Game Show Network highest rated show.
- Geo Bivins/Joseph Burney
General Manager/VP of A&R, RCA Inspiration
Geo Bivins, General Manager and Joseph Burney, Vice President of A&R, lead the sound of direction of one of the most respected labels housing Gospel artists, RCA Inspiration (formerly Verity Records). RCA Inspiration boasts a label roster which includes a “Who’s Who” of gospel music like: Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Fred Hammond, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp and Le’Andria Johnson (to name a few, as well as new comers Travis Greene and the Grammy –nominated Walls Group. RCA Inspiration is an industry sales leader that produces chart-topping music.
Geo Bivins has had a successful career in music that has helped to propel the hits of the late Notorious B.I.G., Alicia Keys and R. Kelly to name a few. Burney, who reports to Bivins, previously served as Senior Director of A&R and has acted as Executive A&R on many CD and DVD releases receiving R.I.A.A. Platinum and Gold certifications.
6. Ken Pennell and Aaron Lindsey
Label President/ VP of A&R, Motown Gospel
As President of Motown Gospel, Ken Pennell is responsible for overseeing some of gospel music’s most elite artists. CeCe Winans, Myron Butler, Micah Stampley, Kierra Sheard, Anita Wilson, Smokie Norful, Tasha Cobbs, Tye Tribbett and many others call Motown home. At the top of 2014, Motown was already on the wining side as both Tye Tribbett and Tasha Cobbs won Grammy Awards for music that Pennell executive produced. By the end of 2014, Motown Gospel was still winning, as Anita Wilson and Smokie Norful were both nominated for Grammy awards.
Aaron Lindsey, the multi-talented writer, producer and musician, has already made a mark at the iconic label, by signing one of the greatest male voices in gospel music- Brian Courtney Wilson. One of the Lindsey’s biggest moves came when he orchestrated one of the most amazingly diverse Christmas albums ever. A Motown Christmas compilation album had not been delivered in over 40 years, so it must have been difficult to produce a follow-up to a classic Christmas record that featured the likes of The Jackson 5, The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. But with songs and collaborations that featured Grammy winning/nominated Gospel and R&B artists like Chrisette Michelle, Kem, Tasha Cobbs, Joe, India Arie, Anita Wilson Ne-Yo, Smokey Robinson, Toni Braxton and Tye Trbbett, the set is indeed a future classic and at Root press time was the #1 Gospel album in the country.
- Jerry Smith
Inspirational Content Director, Radio One
For 28 years, television and radio veteran Jerry Smith has proven to be a leader in his field. Throughout his illustrious radio career, Jerry has worked in a number of music formats, such as: Top 40, Classic Rock, AC, Gospel, Urban Contemporary, Hip Hop, Urban AC and Old School. At the height of his career, Smith was awarded The Drummer Award for Program Director of the Year by BRE Magazine. He was the first Gospel Program Director to ever win the award in the awards 25-year history.
In April of 2014, the Danbury, CT native was promoted to Inspirational Content Director, a position that was previously held by Elroy Smith for five years. Before getting promoted, Jerry Smith was program Director for The Light 103.9 in North Carolina, where he resides, and is still an On-Air personality. In 2010, he was even nominated for a Stellar Award for Radio Personality of the Year. In his current position, Smith has diversified programming by managing format and program decisions on a national level. Smith made it his mission to add more independent artists, quartet and choir music to all Praise stations that he oversees.
- Deitrick Haddon
Artist/Reality TV Star/Producer
This outspoken “Son of a Preacher Man” had his share of controversy and drama over the last few years, but the man we affectionately call D. Haddy has turned that drama into dollars and cents, when it comes to his business model. Aside from the release of League of Xtraordinary Worshippers on Tyscot Records, and the group appearing on every show from “The Wendy Williams Show” to “The Real,” Haddon also witnessed Season 2 of Preachers of L.A. soar in the ratings. 2014 also saw the debut of another show, “Fix My Choir,” hosted by Haddon and one-third of the platinum selling group Destiny’s Child, Michelle Williams. Haddon is Executive Producer of both shows airing on the Oxygen network.
- Holly Davis- Carter
President, Relevé Entertainment
Hate it or love it, Holly Davis Carter has figured out a way to infuse faith and reality television and make it bankable. As President and CEO of Relevé Entertainment, Holly Davis- Carter’s company is one of the premiere management and production companies for family and faith inspired content. Relevé Entertainment television credits include “Preachers of L.A.” (Oxygen),“The Sheards” (BET Networks) and “L.A. Hair” (second season WE tv). Relevé also created and executive produced BET’s “106 & Gospel.”
Season 2 of “Preachers of L.A.” continued to soar in the numbers, further expanding the brand to Detroit and Atlanta in 2015. In addition to her management duties for artists like Kierra Sheard, Michelle Williams and Mali Music (who is nominated for two Grammy Awards), Dr. Carter is also Founder of The Merge Summit, an annual event that helps creative men and women of faith get into the entertainment industry. In 2014, The Merge Summit featured heavy hitters from the worlds of television and film. The likes of Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Terrence Jenkins, Common, Erica Campbell, Deitrick Haddon, Tracee Ellis Ross, Pastor Paula White and many others ascended upon Hollywood to partner faith with media.
- Phil Thornton
VP and General Manager, eOne Nashville
2014 was a huge year for Phil Thornton. Not only did he get promoted to Vice President and General Manager of Urban Inspirational at eOne, he watched another season of R&B Divas LA (which he is Executive Producer), skyrocket in the ratings. Another show he is Executive Producer of “It’s a Mann’s World” -starring David and Tamela Mann, will premiere on BET this month. One thing is for sure; Thornton has his finger on the pulse of both the television and music industry and brings a valued amount of creative influence to everything that he touches. On the Gospel side, Erica Campbell’s “Help,” Ricky Dillard’s “Amazing,” Michelle Williams “Journey To Freedom,” and JJ Hairston’s “I See Victory,” all debuted at the top of the Billboard Gospel Charts. Ricky Dillard’s “Amazing” from the album of the same name was the #1 played gospel song in America for an astounding 44 weeks at Root press time. Michelle Williams’ single “Say Yes” was one of the hottest songs of the summer and featured former band members Kelly Rowland and the biggest star in the world, Beyonce, both on the song and in the music video. Couple that with a plethora of Grammy nominations from Erica Campbell, Ricky Dillard, William McDowell and Karen Clark- Sheard and I’d say that Thornton continues to lead eOne in one direction- up!
Artist/Co-owner, Reach Records
Where do we even begin? Lecrae had one of the best years of any artist in 2014. He witnessed his seventh studio album Anomaly top both the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Gospel Album chart, marking the first time that any artist has ever topped both charts simultaneously; selling 88,000 units in its first week. In March of 2014, Lecrae and his imprint Reach Records, parted ways with Central South Distribution, bringing their label to SONY Red/New Day Records. Lecrae also appeared on both Power 105.1’s Breakfast Club with controversial hosts Charlamagne “The God,” DJ Envy and Angela Yee, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a first for any Christian artist. However, it was his Anomaly Tour that shocked the nation, selling out venues all across America complete with top- notch production and an audience from all walks of life. Finally, Lecrae finished an already incredible year by being added to the highly anticipated “Christmas in Brooklyn” concert at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, featuring Run DMC and LL Cool J.