2017: The Year In Review (Top 10 Countdown, part 3)

4. CeCe Winans

One of the most anticipated releases of 2017 involved the return of Gospel music legend CeCe Winans. It had been over eight years since we had solo music from this 10-time Grammy Winner. Known for legendary singles such as “Alabaster Box”, “Pray”, “Waging War”, and “I Am”. the Nashville native returned with an innovative and unique concept album that caught the industry by complete surprise.

While Winans historically has been known for her urban and contemporary approaches to music, for this project, she enlisted the help of her son Alvin Love III to give us a retro album that was a throwback to the sounds of the 50’s and 60’s. It was a gutsy move for an artist who has been on the cutting edge of urban contemporary Gospel music. Would it work?

On paper, the answer seems like it would be “no”. However, the project was an AMAZING success. It’s authentic. It’s genuine. It’s downright incredible. Pundits within the industry heralded the work as the best of her career and, in February, they were already declaring it the “Album of the Year”. The project featured collaborations with gospel luminaries The Clark Sisters on the album’s second single “Hey Devil” and Hezekiah Walker’s Love Fellowship Choir on “Dancing In The Spirit”, which revived the classic choir sound that dominated the 1980’s. Couple that with powerful songs such as “Lowly”, “Run To Him”, “Marvelous”, and the album’s lead single “Let Them Fall In Love”, and you have as complete of a project as this genre has seen in years.

The project would debut atop Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums Chart and earn Winans two GMA Dove Awards for Contemporary Gospel/Urban Album of the Year and Gospel Artist of the Year, taking her lifetime tally to 12 GMA Dove Awards. In addition, she picked up two Grammy nominations for Best Gospel Performance/Song (“Never Have To Be Alone”) and Best Gospel Album. Let Them Fall In Love was named the #7 album on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums Year-End Chart, while Winans was named #9 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Artists Year-End Chart.

2017 has been a BANNER year for the famed singer, songwriter, worship leader, and pastor who continues to lead faith-based music with her signature poise, grace, and a matchless voice. She’s one of the greatest artists of all time and her return has been necessary and welcomed.

3. Kirk Franklin

There are very few artists that can make a huge impact within a genre without releasing a project in a given year. However, when the name is Kirk Franklin, you can almost guarantee a spot on a yearly countdown. This year, he continued to ride the wave of the successful 2015 release Losing My Religion. The single “My World Needs You” was a huge hit at radio this year, charting at #3 on Billboard’s Year End Gospel Airplay Songs Chart, while Losing My Religion charted as the #4 album on Billboard’s Year End Top Gospel Albums Chart.

However, Franklin’s accomplishments away from the charts kept fans talking and clamoring for more. This year, Franklin hit the road in the first-of-its-kind The Rebel, The Soul, & The Saint Tour. Franklin hit the road with Grammy nominees Ledisi and PJ Morton, with special guest Major. The 20-plus city tour criss-crossed the country providing attendees with a unique musical experience that would merge presentations of Gospel and R&B. While some viewed it as a risky concept, audiences flocked to the tour, proving again that Franklin is both an innovator and visionary.

His label Fo Yo Soul Entertainment continued another successful releases from Tasha Page Lockhart and The Walls Group, who picked up their second Grammy nomination for the single “My Life”.

He would then announce another incredible concept birthed from his partnership with Live Nation Urban. Following this year’s Soul Train Music Awards, Franklin announced the launch of the Exodus Music & Arts Festival. This multi-day celebration is a Gospel music festival along the lines of Coachella and Lollapalooza as artists from around the country will converge on Dallas, TX Memorial Day weekend to be a part of this incredible festival. Artists such as Tamela Mann, Marvin Sapp, Tye Tribbett, and Franklin himself will be performing on the main stage. In addition, opportunities will be available to showcase local choirs and groups in the Dallas area.

Franklin gave us his first bit of Christmas music since the release of his iconic Kirk Franklin & The Family Christmas album back in 1995. This came with the single “We Three Kings” which was featured in the new animated holiday film The Star, which starred the vocal talents of Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and Keegan-Michael Key.

It’s been 20 years since Franklin released the iconic God’s Property project, which taught the world how to “Stomp”. He continues to be an innovative and progressive presenter of this genre with no signs of stopping this necessary forward movement.

Thank you Kirk Franklin!

2. You Deserve It!

Each year can clearly be defined by a standout song or group of songs. In 2017, it was ALL about JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise and their anthem “You Deserve It”. While the single was released in 2016, 2017 was the year that the single became a worldwide smash. For the aggregation that gave us singles such as “Incredible God, Incredible Praise”, “Awesome God”, and “After This”, “You Deserve It” became their FIRST #1 hit.

This also served as the title track for the 2017 release from JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise and the debut release for Hairston’s new imprint JamesTown Music. The live effort served as a 15 year celebration of their incredible career, revisiting hits such as “Deliver”, “Glory And Honor”, and “Lord You’re Mighty” while delivering new singles such as “Grateful” and the energetic “No Reason To Fear”.

However, no one could have predicted just has massive “You Deserve It” would become for the gifted choir director and worship leader. With the song making its way literally around the world, it was performed on the 2017 Stellar Gospel Music Awards. This led to a GMA Dove Award nomination for this project and produced the group’s first Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Performance/Song.

In addition, the song has been named the #1 song of 2017, as it tops THREE different Year-End Billboard Charts, including the Top Gospel Airplay Chart, Hot Gospel Songs Chart. The single also comes in at #4 on the Year End Gospel Streaming Songs Chart. The album ends the year at #8 on Billboard’s Year-End Top Gospel Albums Chart.

There’s no doubt that THIS is the Song of the Year for 2017. Given the nearly two decades of consistency that Hairston has brought to the genre, he is incredibly deserving of the success this year has delivered.

It’s time to find out the what topped this year’s countdown! Click here to find out!

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