2016: The Year In Review (Top 10 Countdown, part 2)

Hezekiah Walker-Azusa The Next Generation 2-Better-Album Cover6. HEZEKIAH WALKER

For years, Hezekiah Walker has been one of the genre’s most gifted and respected artists. Known for his musical consistency, Brooklyn bump, and overall swagger, Walker has been dubbed as the “hip-hop pastor”. Even with that moniker, over the last few years, he’s managed to expand his audience with the anthem “Every Praise”. Well, he did it again in 2016 with the release of the single “Better”. For this single, he literally traveled around the world for the video shoot, working with choirs in South Africa, Japan, Italy, and France.

The single made its debut with a world premiere TV performance at the 2016 Stellar Awards. He would shortly then announce a stealth move that saw him leaving RCA Inspiration, his longtime label, to launch his independent imprint called Azusa Inc. The new imprint would strike a distribution deal with eOne Music marking a pretty significant shift for Walker and his team.

In May, Walker’s year would get larger as he was inducted into the prestigious GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame joining gospel luminaries such as Mahalia Jackson, Thomas A. Dorsey, James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, and Andrae Crouch.

He would release his latest project titled Azusa The Next Generation 2: Better which debuted atop the Billboard Top Gospel Albums Chart. The lead single from that project titled “Better” made huge waves at Gospel radio spending 18 weeks atop Billboard’s Gospel Airplay Chart, including 15 consecutive weeks in that position. In addition, “Better” was named the #1 song at Gospel radio for 2016 according to Billboard’s Year-End Gospel Airplay Chart.

He reunited the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir for a special reunion concert and recording this summer for a project that we’re expecting to drop in 2017. He continued his radio show in New York City, with it expanding to national syndication with the Rejoice Musical Soulfood Network. He ended the year as part of the Festival of Praise Tour with Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton, Karen Clark-Sheard, Regina Belle, Casey J, and Earthquake.

It’s another incredible year for one of gospel music’s living legends.



Dr. Bobby Jones 2When Quincy Jones first released the single “Everything Must Change” in 1974, perhaps he saw the year 2016 in his prophetic musical eyes. This year embodied that song like no other. From the unique U.S. Presidential Election to unpredictable sports franchises boasting championships, this year was ALL about change and transition. This held true in the world of faith-based music as several institutions and companies underwent massive changes.

After 35 years of becoming the go-to place for television for Gospel Music, Bobby Jones Gospel and Dr. Bobby Jones took a final bow from the BET Network, making room for BET Joyful Noise. The new show features Grammy Award winner Tye Tribbett as its host, syndicated radio personality Willie Moore Jr with the “Word On The Street”, weekly preachers with powerful sermonettes, churches on display, and a wide array of faith-based artists. The curtain call for Dr. Jones was as powerful and emotional of an exit as one can have while the introduction of Joyful Noise creates new opportunities for many.

The world of Gospel radio met sweeping change as The Yolanda Adams Morning Show was cancelled after nine years of national syndication in April of this year. The show would be replaced by a new concept Morning Show featuring Grammy Award winning singer Erica Campbell. Campbell would be joined by North Carolina based comedian Griff to create Get Up, Mornings With Erica Campbell, which debuted nationally in May.

The Yolanda Adams Morning Show would resurface in October as Adams would be joined by longtime radio partner and comedian Marcus D. Wiley to broadcast their show in Houston on Houston’s new station Amazing 102.5.

Phil ThorntonBehind the scenes, the three largest labels in Gospel music would undergo sweeping change as Phil Thornton, former VP at eOne Music would leave that label and become Vice President and General Manager of RCA Inspiration, the label that boasts hit makers such as Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, Travis Greene, Le’Andria Johnson and more. (Read full article here.). RCA Inspiration would leave its New York City based headquarters, move under the Provident Music Group, and relocate to Nashville, TN. Consequently, a new team would be crafted at RCA Inspiration which would include previous personnel from eOne Music and Motown Gospel. (Read full article here.)

At eOne Music, Gina Miller would move into the role of VP/General Manager of Urban Inspirational, a promotion from her previous role as VP National Promotions and Label Relations for eOne Music Nashville.  She now steers the label that houses artists such as Shirley Caesar, Lalah Hathaway,  Jonathan McReynolds,  Tweet, William McDowell, Todd Dulaney, and more.

Motown Gospel also saw its share of changes as it welcomed to industry veterans into senior management positions. Monica Coates moved from her role as General Manager at Kirk Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Recordings to become Vice President of A&R while entertainment attorney and artist manager EJ Gaines stepped into the role of Vice President of Marketing. Gaines may be known to many as the founder of the popular gospel news website GospelPundit.com.

That’s a LOT of change within several of the industry’s biggest entities. How will all of this change impact 2017? Is this the last of the changes impacting the industry? Probably not but we’ll be here to report whatever changes are next.

Kirk Franklin LMR promo4. KIRK FRANKLIN

It’s hard to find another artist who has more influence in faith-based music than Kirk Franklin. The ‘jack of all trades’ is a prolific songwriter, musician, arranger, producer, label head, and radio station owner. Amid all of that, he manages to be the coolest husband and father on the planet. He ended 2015 with the release of his latest project Losing My Religion, which produced the singles “Wanna Be Happy?” and “123 Victory”.

Franklin started the year winning his 10th Grammy Award as “Wanna Be Happy?” won the honor as Best Gospel Performance/Song. He hit the road with the much heralded 20 Years In One Night Tour which criss-crossed the country to sold out audiences and incredible reviews. The tour, for the most part, featured no opening acts. Just three hours of Franklin going down memory lane which proved to create an unforgettable experience. The 24-city tour, sponsored by Live Nation, kicked off on March 15 and was extended for a special summer run based on the incredible demand for the show.

This year would produce more trophies and honors for Franklin as he picked up another Stellar Award, this time for Urban/Inspirational Single of the Year for “Wanna Be Happy?!”. He earned his third BET Award as Best Gospel Artist and two GMA Dove Awards for Contemporary Gospel/Urban Album of the Year and Gospel Artist of the Year taking his lifetime Dove Award count to 19 trophies dating back to his first win in 1994.

His acceptance speech at the Dove Awards became a moment of both activism and controversy as he used the opportunity to speak to the need the faith-based industry’s Caucasian constituency to be vocal about the racial injustice that exists in our country. While the live audience heard the unedited speech, the televised audience never heard the impassioned plea as it was removed by the TBN Network, striking a bone of contention with Franklin.

However, Franklin’s awareness campaign to the social ills and issues of society would be championed on his various social media outlets and varying blog sites.

The album Losing My Religion would be the most dominant project of the year, spending 6 consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums Chart and a total of 12 weeks at the top of the charts, the longest of any project released this year. He topped 6 different year end charts from Billboard this year, including the Gospel Albums Chart, Hot Gospel Songs Chart, and the Top Gospel Artists Chart.

With that honor, it’s no surprise that Franklin’s influence reaches outside of the faith-based community. Dating back to 1997 when Franklin teamed with Bono, R. Kelly, and Mary J. Blige for the single “Lean On Me”, Franklin has often been given an audience with artists from other genres. This year, that influence created both opportunity and controversy for some as Franklin was featured on Kanye West’s latest effort The Life Of Pablo. He was also featured on The Coloring Book mixtape from Chance The Rapper and teamed with Pharrell Williams on the remix to “123 Victory”.

Chock up another significant year for the artist who continues to be the standard bearer for the faith-based community.

Who else made the Countdown? Click HERE to find out!

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