First we had Mary Mary, then I got word of Marvin Sapp, now I’ve seen the trailer for Kim Burrell’s reality show. All are gospel music greats who have experienced major success and stirred up minor controversies. Erica and Tina Cambell have pushed the envelope with their fashion choices which have sometimes been too-tight-for-the-occassion, and with slick, commercial sounding tracks that rival anything pop or R&B could offer. Their appearances as judges on BET’s “Sunday Best” were heavily criticized as brash, even hypocritical in the comments sections of major gospel blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Recently, Marvin Sapp crossed over to the mainstream, not with his music but with a rumored relationship with Imani Showalter of “Basketball Wives LA” infamy. Both Showalter and Sapp went on to deny that they were dating but there were counters from unnamed sources, and even after the smoke cleared, the damage was done. Media outlets ranging from The Examiner newspaper to Bossip and host of other gossip blogs had taken the story and ran with it.
Kim Burrell has always kept her vocal chops on both sides of the plate. Foraying her musical gift into the world of jazz, gospel, and secular music, Burrell has not been shy about her musical resume’. Her vocal prowess was mostly known among the “real singers.” Her projects received critical acclaim but acclaim doesn’t sell units or put you in the forefront. I’ll tell you what will do it: weight loss. And lose weight she did. In the post-weight loss Kim Burrell publicity reboot, a website was launched. I saw it. The site announced that Kim would be releasing “secular” music. You could hear the “What?” ringing from the virtual congregation. Like Sapp, she went on to back track, even get a letter of approval for her future musical endeavors from her boss, Dr. Judith McAllister, president of the Church of God in Christ’s International Music Ministry. Woo. Mouthful there. Then later that year, the night came that increased the value of Kim Burrell’s stock shot up. It was the night she sang “I Believe in You and Me” as a tribute to Whitney Houston at the 2010 BET Honors.
These artists have had their turn with controversy and measures of fame. Are they crossing the line as Christian artists by entering into the sordid world of reality television? You could say that the heritage of gospel music is steeped in crossing the line. Thomas Dorsey, the founder of modern gospel music, came from vaudeville and traveling the road with Ma Rainey to write the hymn Precious Lord. But would he do a reality show? He’d done vaudeville. Been a blues man too. But after the life changing loss of both his first wife and son, Dorsey never went back to playing the blues. No man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God, Luke 9:62 (off the top of my head translation). With that said, the coming months will bring for our viewing pleasure, “Marvin Sapp: Single Dad” (possibly) and Kim Burrell’s “Whatevever it Takes.” Both shows feature the life pursuits of both singers. Burrell’s show focuses on her career pursuits and her relationship with manager Krishnar Lewis; Sapp’s pilot delves into life since the death of his wife as a single dad of four.
Idealizing anyone because of their religious confession is dangerous and I’d like to think that people will not condemn Christianity just because they see pieces of the personal lives or personality of Burrell and Sapp that might not jibe with their calling. I honestly haven’t watched Mary Mary’s show but I hear it’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Will I be watching these two if they are picked up? I don’t know. I’m kind of burned out on reality shows. I’m of the “Real World: New York” generation where reality shows were born and actually were done well. Sapp’s show pilot holds promise in that it might appeal to a diverse audience. The world might watch because they like this socially palatable, Christian man who they’ve come to identify with through his music and now his public mess with lil miss NBA Wives. The church might watch to see exactly where he stands since the NBA Wives mess. Kim Burrell’s show looks like a clunker to me. Too many busy things going on from her interaction with her manager to what comes off as a huge ego for such a lil woman.
Will you watch?