By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever
Melvin Crispell, III has emerged in gospel music as a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and producer with fervor that resonates with the soul.
Since winning the ninth season of BET’s Sunday Best in 2019, the 26 year-old’s musical journey has been one in which faith, resilience, and the joy of ministry intertwine. His late parents, Melvin Crispell, Jr. and Tunesha Crispell, were celebrated in the gospel industry as a composer and singer, respectively. His father worked with James Hall & Worship and Praise and wrote for Bishop Hezekiah Walker, among others. His mother was a lead vocalist with James Hall and a solo artist. Their only child was just a teenager when they passed less than two years apart. Crispell’s Sunday Best win became an instant springboard, launching him into a music career his beloved parents didn’t live to see, but are very much a part of. We delve into that later.
June marked the release of Crispell’s sophomore full-length project, No Failure, recorded live at Springhill Church in Garland, TX. The album’s first single, “Alright,” was nominated for a GMA Dove Award and the second single from the project, “God Is,” is up for a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance/Song. No Failure also gives the singer-songwriter his first executive producer credit alongside a team that includes producer D. Jamel Kimbrough, music director Elijah Goodwin, and contributions from KJ Scriven, Trinity Anderson, and Maverick City Music’s Chandler Moore.
GMF talked with Crispell by phone about No Failure as well as the passion and unwavering faith that define his gospel journey.
Let me start by congratulating you on your current Grammy nomination for “God Is.” This is your second Grammy nod. How does it feel to be recognized among your peers at that level?
It’s an unexplainable feeling to be able to be recognized on that level amongst so many other legends that are in the gospel music industry and in the secular world. Just to be recognized amongst everyone means the world to me and I still can’t believe it sometimes.
“God Is” is from your project, No Failure, which is your second full-length album.
Yes. My second album and my first live album.
Tell us about it and the growth you’ve seen in your musical journey between your first album (I’ve Got A Testimony) and this one.
Yeah, so I really got to put my heart and soul into this one. And I got the opportunity to be an executive producer for this album. With that came a lot of hard work. I really got to see what all goes into when these artists would do live recordings. There are so many different moving parts to putting something together, and I really got to put my hands into the fire with this. I really spent a lot of long nights trying to figure things out, making sure things were right. Not striving for perfection, but for excellence. It was an amazing experience. And though it was a lot of hard work, it’s something that I definitely want to do again because I want to see how I can challenge myself to even do even more than what I’m doing now.
So No Failure is especially meaningful for you. (Smile)
This album is so special to me! Even the more being able to just be vulnerable with people and to create from my heart, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do another album. Of course, I said that I did not want to do a live album at first. Now that I’ve done this one, I said, yeah, we need to do another one. I feel that we need to do another one. So it’s definitely an amazing experience and one that I won’t forget.
And the theme of No Failure revolves around the idea that there’s no failure in God, yes?
What inspired you to bring this forward as the theme?
The inspiration behind that is while we were coming up with songs—we were trying to find two, and of course, we didn’t have the album title yet—God literally dropped two songs into my remembrance: “Here,” which is the first song on the album, and the title track, “No Failure.” And both of those songs were written in a writing session that was done by my church, Life Center Fellowship (in Charlotte) mere days before we had to be locked down for the pandemic. And so of course those songs were going to be recorded by my church; but due to the pandemic, we never got to record them and they were just sitting. And so God brought them back to my remembrance, and when we reviewed them and talked them over with the team, it all started flooding in like crazy like, this is the message that you want to relay to people on the Source of this whole album.
And if you look at every song on this album, you can trace all of the stories back to the fact that there is no failure in God. We have to continue to trust in His plan because He hasn’t failed us yet. Things are not always the way that we want them to be, and we don’t have everything that we want, but God has given us everything that we need and he’s always taken care of us.
Such an important message, especially coming out of the COVID pandemic. And to think that the songs were written just before the pandemic lockdown.
Yes. Days prior.
You know, it was just four years ago that you won Sunday Best. You’ve accomplished a lot in these few years. That experience had to have impacted you in ways you still reflect on.
That experience was unforgettable for me. It shaped my career in a way that’s given me confidence because I didn’t think I was qualified or even good enough to even make it past an audition for that show. That was just a mindset that I was in. It couldn’t be me to win something that big. And then when I got the call to be a part, I couldn’t believe it. And then from the moment I left my hometown, God had literally lined everything up in place.
Wait. You were not confident you would make the cut? That’s mind-boggling to me. How did you wind up auditioning?
Sunday Best had been on hiatus. I had seen on social media that it was coming back for the ninth season, and I just kind of kept scrolling past it because, well, I used to want to [be a contestant on Sunday Best] when I was younger, but my parents would shun the very thought of it. (Laughs) I guess it’s because they were a part of the industry and they knew all it entailed, so they didn’t really want me to get thrown into it; so I kind of stopped watching it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, as any kid would. But the show finally came [off hiatus] and a family member called me three times within a span of two weeks and said, “Hey, you need to audition for this show.” And then another family member came to me and said, “What have you got to lose? Just try.”
It’s so interesting to hear that was your mindset because many of us who were sitting at home watching, the minute we saw you at the auditions, we were like, “Oh, he is going to win it.” It was a no-brainer for us.
You mentioned your parents, the late Melvin and Tunesha Crispell, and their industry presence. My gosh, they were celebrated figures in the gospel industry. And what I think is really precious is your intentionality about honoring their legacy in your music. What influence do you feel they continue to have on what you do?
Yeah, it is definitely an honor to carry their legacy, and their legacy was not just music, but a legacy of love and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to people through music and whatever other means it may have been. And so that’s what I love to keep alive, even though they’re not here any longer. Of course, you have your moments where you feel like you could be living in their shadow, but I just feel like I didn’t have enough time with them to where I could actually say that because they were my world and I was so always inspired. Even as a young child, I was always inspired watching them do what they did, whether it was apart or whether it was together. And saying that, I mean that there were so many different avenues that they took to do what they did. It inspired me to say, there’s not just one way to do this, and you don’t have to do it just one way. There’s so much music they have that hasn’t even been released and I used to be a part of that music. That music was in my blood. I used to hear it going to sleep and waking up in the morning and all that stuff. That stuff was always on my mind and on my heart.
And so now that they’re gone … why not carry their legacy and carry that piece of me with me because it’s a part of who I am. I keep them close to my heart.
On your first album, you remade your dad’s composition, “Wonderful Is Your Name.” It shot to the top of the Billboard Gospel chart and got you Grammy and Dove nominations. It was a bop when Bishop Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir recorded it in the late ‘90s, and you elevated it when you recorded it two decades later. Now, on No Failure, you’ve remade “Jesus Is My Help,” another of your dad’s compositions that Bishop Walker and Love Fellowship popularized.
It was an incredible feeling. I wish they were here to see all that God is doing. Even with my mom, there’s music of hers that hasn’t been heard yet—well, at least from me—which will be coming soon.
Say more about that!
Well, there is new music coming sooner than you think! And I got some other things down the pipeline where I kind of venture out and do more than just music. So I’m excited about that. I don’t want to share too much! But yeah, it’s a lot of things happening for me and I’m just grateful to God for what He’s doing. Life is amazing right now.
I’m grateful for you guys and your love and support. It means the world. I ask that you pray to Jesus for me in the coming years, that He just gives me grace and longevity and strength. And I’ll do my best to create even more for you guys to inspire you and to give you hope, and to give you joy [so] that you feel loved and special. And I just thank you guys so much.
No Failure is available on all major digital platforms.
Libra Nicole Boyd, PhD is a musician, award-winning author, gospel music aficionado, and the founder and editor of Gospel Music Fever™. Her commitment to journalistic integrity includes bringing you reliable gospel music content that uplifts and advances the art form. Libra is presently working on several scholarly projects about gospel music in the media as well as gospel music in social movements.