Early on in life, when I was only a young teen, I learned a very valuable lesson that would carry into my adulthood: Christian radio stations will not play gospel music. I learned this lesson when I made the decision to swear off all secular music (I have since reneged on that) and promised God that I would only listen to music that glorified His name.
I searched Milwaukee’s radio stations, longing to hear my gospel favorites at the time: Fred Hammond, CeCe Winans, John P. Kee, Hezekiah Walker, Kirk Franklin, Commissioned, Sounds of Blackness, Men of Standard. I soon learned that I wouldn’t find these artists on any other station but V100, a station that typically played R&B, on Sunday morning. And so I settled for the contemporary Christian station and learned to embrace artists like Stacie Orrico, Crystal Lewis, Jars of Clay, Phillips Craig and Dean, and Jaci Velasquez (who is Latina so at least there were some people of color) none who spoke to the experiences of my culture but who I identified with because of my faith. I quickly learned to make clear distinctions between the two seemingly contradictory pieces of my identity.
Fast forward to present day 2014, not much has changed besides the relevancy of some of these artists. I now live in Minnesota, a completely different state, but once again, there is only one station who commits to playing Gospel music for a few hours on Sunday morning (while most folks are at church – I just don’t get that but anyway). All of the Christian radio stations stay away from any gospel sound, and sometimes, most times, black artists outright regardless of their sound. It would seem to me that folks like Mandisa and Israel would have a better chance here, but nope, these stations exclude all things black.
And that’s really too bad. I mean besides the obvious reason of discrimination, these stations and the people that listen to them, are missing out on some of the best musicians that Gospel has to offer. They never get to hear Tamela Mann, Brian Courtney Wilson, William McDowell, Tye Tribbett, or Donnie McClurkin, people who are not only good at their craft but who, in my opinion, are gifted worshippers.
One of my favorite Gospel artists right now is Tasha Cobbs. Oh, this woman can sing. She has the type of voice that makes somebody want to tarry at the altar all day long! Made popular by the song, Break Every Chain, she is just it.
But contemporary Christian radio would never know that. They will never hear her voice, never get to appreciate what she has to offer. But they will allow another artist, who sings the same song, with the same exact words, to play all day long. They don’t want Tasha but they want to reap the benefits of a song that she made famous. So this tells me that it is not about the words, but the face of the person singing them.
And it sucks. Because the message that they keep sending is that the Christian experience doesn’t belong to someone who looks like me. It reinforces the sad reality that black artists, preachers, teachers, pastors, etc, will hardly ever be able to use their voice in the ‘mainstream’ Christian arena in the U.S. without being silenced, marginalized or exploited.
So then, what makes what we are doing any different than what the rest of society is doing? The rest of society outside of the Christian community, has already done a good job silencing black people, exploiting our labor, and minimizing our worth. Hello Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling! If Christians, including Christian radio, are serious about the message we preach, we just have to be about something different. Otherwise, we will be branded hypocrites.
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