Lay Leader and the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation Presents its 8th Annual “Evolution of Gospel” Celebration

Lay Leader and the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation Presents its 8th Annual “Evolution of Gospel” Celebration

 Chelsye J. Burrows              

 On September 12, the Eighth Annual “Evolution of Gospel” Celebration was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The event commemorates the month of September as Gospel Music Heritage Month (GMHM). The 2016 honorees included: composer/producer/vocalist Edwin Hawkins; Grammy® Award-winning singer/composer and choir leader Bishop Hezekiah Walker; and philanthropist and Kennedy Center Board of Trustee Reginald Van Lee. In addition, The Gospel Music Heritage Foundation paid tribute to Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.


The awards event was hosted by Grammy® Award-winning gospel music singer and television host Dr. Bobby Jones and Stellar Award winning musical artist Lonnie Hunter. Presenters included Deborah F. Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Musical tributes were rendered by some of the most anointed gospel vocalists and choirs, including McDonald’s Gospel Inspirational Tour artists Donald Lawrence, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark-Sheard, Charles Jenkins, Canton Jones, Johnathan McReynolds, Doug Williams, Allen Chapel AME Church One Accord Choir, Stacy J & Unified Praise, and the WPAS Men and Women of the Gospel Choir. The event was produced by Ernest Walker of Walker Entertainment Group.


In 2008, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced historic resolution, H.J. Res. 90 which established September as Gospel Music Heritage Month across the nation. Advocates joining Congresswoman Lee in support of the recognition were gospel music advocate Carl Davis; UP TV Founder and President Charley Humbard, and entertainment executive Alvin Williams. With additional support from Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), the bipartisan passage of the bill helped to usher in a new national focus to honor gospel music for its valuable and longstanding contributions to the culture of the United States. Subsequently, Congresswoman Lee led the effort with Carl Davis to create the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation that celebrates gospel music annually and honors the music as a national treasure.


Congresswoman Lee said of the event, “I am excited as we prepare to celebrate the 8th Annual Gospel Music Heritage Month Celebration at the world renowned Kennedy Center. The Gospel Music Heritage Month Celebration is the nation’s singular event of significance commemorating gospel music history. This year presents one of our best celebrations as we honor four of America’s greatest advocates and beneficiaries of gospel music. Gospel music has a prominent place in the history of America and it has impacted the entire world for generations.”


Carl Davis, chairman of the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation stated, “This year the “Evolution of Gospel” will honor two gospel icons, Edwin Hawkins and Bishop Hezekiah Walker as well as Kennedy Center Trustee and philanthropist Reginald Van Lee and Congressman G. K. Butterfield all for their contributions to the fabric of this nation. The efficacy of these individuals has impacted the genre of gospel music with historical relevance and meaning. They have indelibly written on the consciousness of the human spirit the unyielding power of the gospel through song.


This year the Gospel Music Heritage Month’s “Evolution of Gospel” joins McDonald’s 10th Annual Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour. The “Evolution of Gospel” is sponsored by Southwest Airlines, Reginald Van Lee, Walker Entertainment Group and Faith Based Communications.

Previous distinguished honorees of the “Evolution of Gospel” acknowledged for their major contribution to the legacy of gospel music, include gospel icons and trailblazers Rev. Shirley Caesar, Rev. Andraé Crouch (posthumously), and Richard Smallwood; Grammy® Award-winning gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Yolonda Adams; civil rights pioneer Rev. Jesse Jackson; Senator Blanch Lincoln (D-AR); Chairperson and Founder of Radio One Cathy Hughes; President and Founder of UP TV Charley Humbard; Chairman and CEO of Central City Productions and producer of the Stellar Awards Don Jackson; Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was honored in conjunction with the Foundation’s salute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; and, CEO of Capital Christian Music Group Bill Hearn.

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