Director Michael Gentry discusses creating ‘Gospel In Person’ documentary

Michael Gentry, creator, producer, and director of Gospel In Person documentary

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Erin Ganey-Hill, cultural arts program director at Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, had an idea, recounts Michael Gentry.

Over the years, Erin had witnessed how the community celebrated Black gospel music and its singers in their small city of Roxboro (population, roughly 8,100) and throughout Person County. Several quartet-styled groups regularly booked the Kirby to host their singing anniversaries or major programs, and Erin and the Person County Arts Council envisioned a project that would pay homage to the valuable legacy of music and culture in the community.

“Erin’s goal was to talk about the history of gospel [music], but from the standpoint of quartets,” Michael explains. “She wanted to celebrate the history of that [in Person County] and [the impact its] singers had.”

The culminating result is a feature-length documentary titled Gospel In Person. It premieres on Father’s Day at the Kirby Theater. Michael is the film’s creator, producer, and director.

Map of NC with Person County highlighted
Image Credit | Amy Rudersdorf

Gospel In Person chronicles over eight decades of the rich Black gospel music history found in Person County, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, along Virginia’s border. Much of the history is told by the singers themselves, many of whom still travel the circuit singing God’s praises. In their vivid accounts, they also reminiscence about area legends who are no longer with us, such as Roosevelt Whitfield of the pioneering Silver Moon Quartet and his son, prolific singer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Whitfield; Martha Pettiford of the Joylettes; Leroy Cash of the Spiritual Lights; Victor Hester of another pioneering group, the Traveling Sextet; Willie Carrington of the Mighty Harmonaires; and many more. Additionally, the film features classic performances of the Mighty Gospel Travelers, Original True Lights, Spiritual Lights, Mighty Prophets, Joylettes, and others. And although they may not be household names beyond the region, their impact has created ripple effects throughout the broader gospel music scene, as their stories reveal.

Michael grew up in Person County and in church. Admittedly, he was more interested in playing basketball as a youngster than attending weekend gospel music programs. His parents, on the other hand, “know all about this music scene,” he asserts. “This is what they grew up in. Of course, as I grew in Christ and grew in ministry, as God had told me that my work would be in Person County, I developed an interest in wanting to get to know [some of these singers’ stories]. I just didn’t know that I would be called upon to do this.

The calling of which he speaks came about after Erin took notice of Just Love In Person, an organization Michael co-founded that is committed to strengthening Person County through acts of service powered by love. One way the organization does this is by sharing first-person narratives of people in the community with webisodes fittingly called “Just Love Stories.” The web series piqued Erin’s interest so much so that she jotted Markeith Gentry’s name down to contact about her idea. Markeith is the head of Gentry Visuals multimedia publishing company, the official publisher of Just Love In Person’s “Just Love Stories” series. He is also Michael’s younger brother. In the meantime, she ran it by fellow arts council board member Kim Hargrove. 

“So it just so happens that Erin asked Kim one day, ‘Hey, do you know Markeith Gentry? I need to find a way to get in touch with him,’” Michael recalls. What Erin did not know, he says, is Kim “is like my brother’s second mother.” 

It turns out Markeith’s schedule was full, but he had already been showing his big brother the ropes when it came to videography. Erin and Michael finally met in March 2022 and began developing the project.

The first Sunday in June, Michael visited New Hope Person Missionary Baptist Church in south-central Person County to invite its pastor to appear on “Just Love Stories.” “I went to the church—this is after I had met with Erin—and of course, who do I see? Dr. Libra Boyd. And that’s when I told you about this idea that the Kirby had. And you got on your phone, pulled up several pictures, and said, ‘Here are the people you have to contact. Here are some of the older groups.’”

One of the first people Michael contacted was David Ramsey, a renowned singer and bass guitarist who has been a member of several of the groups discussed in the Gospel In Person film. He is also a longtime radio personality and host of the David Ramsey Gospel Show on WRXO 1430 AM / WKRX 96.7 FM. “I started with David Ramsey, and he’s just a gold mine of knowledge.”

You’re going to
see a lot of things
that were not in
the stories we’ve
already [released]. . . .
We have not released
any information on
Facebook or in
these concerts about
maybe the most
talented gospel
singer in Person
County history.

Ambitiously, he went on to conduct interviews with more than 60 people for Gospel In Person and estimates working on the project an average of eight hours every day for just over one year. “But my soul was getting fed. My knowledge was being increased. So it was a labor of love—emphasis on love, not labor.” Still, the most demanding task may have been condensing nearly 100 hours of accumulated interview and archival footage into a suitable documentary length for one sitting. Gospel In Person runs approximately three hours and is divided into three parts. “From a quartet standpoint, you’re talking about probably 85 years of history.” 

And even though the film focuses on singers of the quartet style, both choirs and churches are acknowledged in this body of work because “all the quartets, for the most part, come directly from a church choir,” he points out. “They were in the choirs, even though they were singing full-time, you know, every weekend, all evening long. They were always in their churches on Sunday morning.”

Another eye-opener, one that blew him away as he collected stories and listened to audio and video recordings, was, “I believe all of these groups could have been professional. Traveling the country. Famous. And I think had these groups been in a larger city, they would have been. . . . You know, they weren’t just ‘Roxboro’ good. They weren’t just ‘North Carolina’ good. They were awesome. But not only that; they had relationships with professional groups. . . . ‘I’m coming through North Carolina. Can I come stay at your house?’ (laughs) The professionals knew them. Some of these singers were singing alongside professionals before they were professionals.” 

The Gospel In Person documentary rounds out the “Gospel In Person” series, which since the fall of 2022 has featured live concert performances of MG Music Group, the Torain Family, Just Us Guys, the Spiritual Lights, the Mighty Harmonaires, and John Thorpe and Truth. Concertgoers were treated to short documentaries spotlighting the headliners, but Michael is quick to emphasize that the full-length documentary is a new release and not a stringing together of the previously released short docs. “You’re going to see a lot of things that were not in the stories we’ve already [released]. . . . We have not released any information on Facebook or in these concerts about maybe the most talented gospel singer in Person County history.”

“Historic and monumental” is how the talented producer and director describes the significance of Gospel In Person; and yet, his prayers and hopes for it are profoundly humble.

“My prayer for [Gospel In Person] has been that it moves people spiritually because that’s [Just Love In Person’s] assignment; our assignment is to make a spiritual impact. I pray that it gets folks saved, revitalizes people, strengthens the spiritual work of quartets in Person County, and continues to strengthen the church community. I hope it encourages the active quartets to continue the work they’re doing and realize they’ve made an impact. And then my prayer is that people can know, understand, and appreciate what exists in our community. We have greatness all throughout. I hope people understand what is in these roots and see it as their responsibility to continue to feed these roots by producing more greatness. My main prayer is that God is glorified and the people are encouraged.

“I’m grateful that God called me to the work because it is, to me, it’s been the most important thing that I’ve really ever worked on.”

Flyer for Gospel In Person documentary film

Gospel In Person premieres Sunday, June 18, at Kirby Theater on 213 N. Main Street in Roxboro. Showtimes are 1 pm and 5:30 pm. Admission is FREE. GMF’s Libra Boyd appears in the film.

Editor’s Note: The group pictured on the graphic is The Mighty Gospel Travelers. Seated from left to right are the late Michael Whitfield, David Ramsey, and Stacey Pettiford. Standing from left to right are the late James Lunsford, Rev. McArthur Pettiford, the late Victor Hester, the late Burley Pettiford, and the late Freddie McGhee.

Kelontae Gavin talks new music, sharing his platform, and ‘the necessity of being alone’

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Kelontae Gavin

Kelontae Gavin was only a high school freshman in 2014 when a cafeteria worker captured him on video singing Rev. Paul Jones’ popularized version of “I Won’t Complain.” The South Carolina native was already such a force that when the video was posted on social media, it spread with virality.

Just nine years later, Kelontae has Billboard charting music—including the single “No Ordinary Worship”—over 55 million audio streams, two full-length albums (The N.O.W. Experience and The Higher Experience), and a Stellar Award. He is set to release his third album, Testify, this summer. The first two singles from it, “Live Again” and “Good Love” have already dropped. It might appear that his music career is progressing at lightning speed. 

When I caught up with Kelontae, he had just performed at the 8th Annual Black Music Honors, a star-studded celebration of music legends including this year’s gospel honorees, The Hawkins Family. He took some time to talk with GMF about music, mentoring, and maturing.

First off, I love the new single “Live Again”! It represents a fresh start and the joy of being able to walk into a new beginning. That being said, what fresh start(s) are you celebrating?

One fresh start that I am celebrating is I just launched a worship mentorship for worship leaders and aspiring artists—those who have the big dreams, but they’re from small towns. You know, many of us come from small churches or smaller ministries where we don’t really have the facilitators to help us grow in our gifts. And so I wanted to be the lifeline for worship leaders that have felt like the communities that they’ve served have overlooked them. It is not really the case, it’s just God develops us in the dark. And those who may have felt like you are unseen, you are seen, like, you got all of heaven backing you up! And God has given them gifts that are beyond their last name, that are beyond where they come from. And so the “live again” for me is being the platform for somebody else.

So, yeah, let’s talk about platforms. You have multiple #1s on Billboard and Mediabase Gospel charts, and you’ve earned a Stellar Award so far. How do these achievements fit in with what you envisioned at this stage for your platform of music and ministry?

Yeah, I would have, like, I don’t even know if the little boy in me knew that I would even be answering a question like this. Everything that I have, God gave it to me. Every place that I’ve been, God took me. Everything that I know, God has placed people in my life to help teach me. And the awards are just the consequence, the byproduct of my relationship with God, of trusting God and knowing that the gifts and talents that He has given me are not just to shine my light, but it’s also for people to see his light.

“Live Again” is the first single from your upcoming album. “Good Love” is the second one. What is it that we absolutely must know about the full-length project that drops later this year? What can we expect?

Yeah, Testify is gonna be incredible! And Testify is the name of my upcoming album that is dropping. Testify is an album that is a collaboration of worship songs and life songs that you will hear and you can sing that will not just be a testimony to you, but be a testimony for others as well [of] just how great our God is. I’m so excited that people will get the opportunity to purchase and download and stream and even share with other people. This record is special. It’s another baby of mine that I’m birthing out for the world to hear and just be changed and encouraged.

Kelontae Gavin seated

A final thought as we’ve talked mentoring, music, and testimonies:  If your life were a book, what wisdom would a chapter titled, “The Maturing of Kelontae Gavin” contain?

Man, if my life were a book, I would say that the wisdom in that chapter of “The Maturing of Kelontae Gavin”…I would just talk about the fear of being different. We all want a crew, we want friends. We wanna belong to something, we wanna run with the herd. But as I am growing and maturing as a man, I’m realizing that some of the greatest leaders in the world and leaders in the Word of God were lonely, or felt lonely, or practiced the art of being alone. And many people don’t understand that true leadership is evolved, nurtured, developed—not when everybody’s applauding, but when you’re by yourself looking in the mirror to your core [at] who you are. Do you love who you are when there is no best friend, when there is no marriage, when you’re not dating, when you didn’t get the promotion? So I think a chapter on maturing would definitely entail a lesson called “The Necessity of Being Alone.”

Wow, man! If you were to write it, I would certainly read it. It would be profoundly introspective.

What else would you like to share with GMF?

I would say get the album! I’m so excited about Testify! Subscribe to my YouTube channel: I Am Kelontae Gavin. [I’m] dropping some new heat, some exclusive releases and videos, and I’m just excited. And of course, follow me on Instagram @kelontae_gavin, Facebook @Kelontae Gavin, and stay locked in for all that I have going on in my life, my journey, and on the road.

“Making A Way” – The New McShaws

“Making A Way”
The New McShaws (2022)
Available on digital outlets
Facebook: TheNewMcShaws

The New McShaws Making A Way

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

In the gospel music world of husband-wife duos, a few names readily come to mind like Angelo and Veronica, Phil and Brenda Nicholas, Sullivan and Iola Pugh, and Mom and Pop Winans. Insert Pastors David and Jacqueline McShaw. The pair, known as The New McShaws, have most recently brought us the single, “Making A Way.” 

“Making A Way” is The New McShaws’ personal expression of God’s provision during the COVID-19 pandemic and in their daily lives. Together, they sing as a couple who has, in fact, experienced enough adversity to know God as their waymaker. With their sentiments elevated by upbeat musical support, Pastor David leads the way through this moderately-paced, celebratory tune, tagging Pastor Jacqueline in the verses and vamp. 

All the things I need in my life
I have faith in You Lord, you’ll provide
You give me everything that I need
And You have never forsaken me

The McShaws have been singing nearly all their lives. Pastor David has traveled, sung, and recorded with the late Rev. Timothy Wright’s Concert Choir, Pastor John P. Kee, The O’Neal Twins, and as part of Dr. Juan Santiago and Uninhibited Praise. Pastor Jacqueline grew up singing in and directing the church choir from a child until adulthood. She has sung in various workshop choirs with Pastor John P. Kee, LaShun Pace, Bishop Donnie Graves, and Twinkie Clark, and has traveled extensively with Dr. Juan Santiago and Remnant.

Currently, the McShaws have a Facebook ministry that streams live on Saturdays. 

Pastor Nell makes 2nd round 2023 Stellar Awards ballot for New Artist of the Year

– Sponsored Post –

Pastor Nell has made it to the second round ballot of the 38th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards for New Artist of the Year! She invites everyone to vote for her in category 6 at

Everyone can vote for Pastor Nell for New Artist of the Year through May 1.

“He’ll Make It Alright” – Julius Pearson and The Gospel Chorale of Chicago

“He’ll Make It Alright”
Julius Pearson and The Gospel Chorale of Chicago (2022)
Enchanted Media Group
Available on Apple Music

Julius Pearson and the Gospel Chorale of Chicago art work - He'll Make It Alright

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Julius Pearson and The Gospel Chorale of Chicago give me exactly what I love about choir music in the Windy City: the sound of church. It’s the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, high energy that makes “He’ll Make It Alright” a great addition to the Sunday morning catalog. Maryta Powell blazes the lead vocal. The single is the first from the choir’s forthcoming album, Black Church Music, Vol. 1, set to be released this summer.

Pearson is originally from Louisiana and now resides in Chicago. He is the Gospel Chorale of Chicago’s founder and director.

John Thorpe and Truth to close out ‘Gospel In Person’ concert series

John Thorpe and Truth
John Thorpe (second from right) and Truth

Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – John Thorpe and Truth are set to take the stage for the fifth and final installment of the “Gospel In Person” concert series, presented by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex in partnership with Just Love In Person community service organization and Gentry Visuals production company. The event gets underway Saturday, April 29, at 6 pm, at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC.

“Gospel In Person” is a multipart celebration of the rich Black gospel music history found in North Carolina’s rural Person County, located in the Piedmont region along Virginia’s border. Since the fall of 2022, the concert series has included live performances featuring MG Music Group, The Torain Family, Just Us Guys, The Spiritual Lights, and The Mighty Harmonaires, along with short documentaries chronicling the performers’ histories and Person County roots. John Thorpe and Truth round out the series this month.

John Thorpe and Truth was founded in April 2012, by Thorpe, Lorenzo Dixon, and Robert Lunsford. Since organizing, the group members have performed throughout their home state of North Carolina and along the east coast, engaging traditional gospel enthusiasts with their infectious charisma, rollicking drives, and passion for spreading the good news in song. In 2015, they released their debut project, Stay With Jesus. An EP, Come By Here, followed in 2019, as well as their second full-length project, Let Him In. The group’s current single is, “I Made It.” John Thorpe and Truth have earned multiple Rhythm of Gospel Award nominations and are Season 14 recipients of the Prayze Factor Award. The present roster of singers and musicians includes Thorpe and Dixon along with Jamaal Moore, Brandon Gibbs, Bernard Dixon, Jarmaal Lawson, Iakee Pettiford, Zynell Hardnett, and Giovanni Hardnett.

Before founding John Thorpe and Truth, Thorpe traveled the gospel highway with the Mighty Jubilaires of Newburgh, NY, and The Brower Brothers of Newark, NJ. Upon returning to North Carolina in 1999, he brought together his 13 siblings to form an aggregation known simply and fittingly as The Thorpe Family. He says it was a last wish of his mother Vida—with whom he sang his first song at age five—for him to “keep the family together.” Thorpe, the ninth of fourteen children, honored her request through his family’s shared love of singing, and The Thorpe Family went on to spread the gospel, eventually releasing two CDs, In His Name (2007) and Child Of God (2012). The latter was recorded live at the Kirby Theater with special guest, Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones.

The Thorpe Family

“John Thorpe is a force—from his stature, to his bellowing voice, to his incomparable energy,” says Just Love In Person’s Michael Gentry, who is also the creator and producer of the forthcoming feature-length documentary titled, Gospel In Person, which premieres in June 2023.

“And with Truth,” Gentry continues, “he is indeed surrounded by awesome talent. In the Dixon brothers, Jamaal Moore, Jarmaal Lawson, and others, John is surrounded by men who were born and bred in Person County quartet and can all sing and play. And they’ll dance too. The John Thorpe and Truth concert will be a high-energy celebration and a fitting way to end this beautiful concert series.”

Purchase tickets for the live concert on Saturday, April 29, at Kirby Theater is located at 213 N. Main Street.

Spiritual Lights, Mighty Harmonaires co-headline ‘Gospel In Person’ concert series – April 1

Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – The Spiritual Lights and The Mighty Harmonaires, two quartet-styled groups each with over fifty years of ministry in song, will share the stage for the fourth installment of the “Gospel In Person” series. The series is presented by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex in partnership with Just Love In Person community service organization and Gentry Visuals production company. The ticketed concert performance takes place at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC, on Saturday, April 1, at 6 pm.

“Gospel In Person” is a multipart celebration of the rich Black gospel music history found in North Carolina’s rural Person County, located in the Piedmont region along Virginia’s border. The schedule of events includes live concert performances with short documentaries through April 2023, as well as a feature-length documentary film, Gospel In Person, which is set to premiere in June 2023. 

Concertgoers are in for an evening of high-spirited singing and praise as The Spiritual Lights and The Mighty Harmonaires each render some of their most requested songs.

The Spiritual Lights

The Spiritual Lights
The Spiritual Lights have sung God’s praises for nearly six decades.

The Spiritual Lights, formed circa 1964 by the late Isaac Daye, have been spreading the gospel in song for nearly six decades. In the ‘60s, the Lights took innovative approaches to enhance their sound, being among the first gospel groups in the area to incorporate both a lead and bass guitar as well as drums and a PA system.

In 1980, The Spiritual Lights cut a 45 RPM record with “Send A Blessing Our Way,” written by Robert Lunsford, Jr., and “Working for My Savior,” written by Melvin Cash. “Working for My Savior” became one of their most-performed drives. In 1995, they released Trust the Lord, a full-length project with all original songs. By now, Melvin had emerged as a primary songwriter for the group. In 2005, the Lights released another full-length project—a 12-song disc titled, Still A Few Things. The recording was dedicated to the memory of Leroy Cash, who had passed four years prior. Leroy was a beloved lead singer and writer of several of the group’s popular songs, including “Meet Me There,” “Show Some Sign,” and “He’s Alright.”

Clyde Cash, lead singer and manager, is the current lineup’s only original member. Andrew Daye continues in the ministry his father founded, serving as bass guitarist. They are joined by members Wanda Coleman, Marshall Johnson, Leland Gadson, Sr., Solomon Smith, Cynthia Cash Dixon, Iakee Pettiford, and Melvin Cash. 

The Mighty Harmonaires

The Mighty Harmonaires
The Mighty Harmonaires are pictured with original members, 2nd and 3rd from left, the late Richard Carrington and Cynthia Carrington Petty.

A Children’s Day program at Old Mount Zion Baptist Church in April 1968 would be the beginning of the singing ministry later known as The Mighty Harmonaires. It is where Willie Carrington and his two children, Cynthia and Richard, sang The Sensational Nightingales’ “It’s Gonna Rain” and the elder Carrington was inspired to continue cultivating his children’s musical talents. The group was formally organized in 1971, with Willie accompanying his family on guitar. Richard went on to become the group’s bass guitar player, and several family members and friends joined The Mighty Harmonaires over the years as singers and musicians.

In 1986, the quartet released its first project titled, No Need to Worry, with Richard as writer on the tracks “I’m Glad Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Around.” (Many years later, his musicianship gained the attention of the Brooklyn Allstars, who enlisted him as a member for a period of time.) In 2009, The Mighty Harmonaires released another project, One Day. Richard again sat at the writer’s desk for several tracks.

With the passing of her father (2011) and brother (2020), Cynthia Carrington Petty carries on the family ministry as the Harmonaires’ sole surviving original member. Alongside her are her children Cinzia P. Harris and Stavonna Petty, along with J.C. Bailey and Leland Gadson, Sr. R.J. Carrington follows in the footsteps of his father as bass guitarist. Together, they continue to deliver renditions of some of Black gospel quartet’s popular songs along with their own arrangements. 

Gospel In Person Documentary

In addition to their upcoming live concert, The Spiritual Lights and The Mighty Harmonaires are among area singers and musicians featured in the documentary, Gospel In Person, which is scheduled to premiere in June 2023. According to Michael Gentry, the film’s creator and producer, Gospel In Person “will tell the history of the great musical anointing that has rested upon Person County.”

“It is fitting that The Spiritual Lights and Mighty Harmonaires have joined together for the next concert in our ‘Gospel In Person’ series,” says Gentry. “These two groups both began in the 1960s as family groups and more than fifty years later, they are both still mostly made up of family. Both groups still have one original member and second- and third-generation family members, and in both groups the musicians are homegrown.”

He continues, “The Spiritual Lights and Mighty Harmonaires represent the Person County values of humility, community, and perseverance. And both groups have no problem letting the Holy Ghost have His way. That is why they are so beloved here in this community.”

Purchase tickets for the live concert on Saturday, April 1, at

The Manns, Dr. Bobby Jones to be honored at 2023 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Awards

(Atlanta, GA – March 7, 2023) BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) will honor Gospel superstars Tamela and David Mann and Dr. Bobby Jones at its 22nd Annual Trailblazers of Gospel Music Awards to be held at Flourish Atlanta on March 30. The inspirational ceremony will recognize the impact that the three legendary entertainers have made on the genre and beyond and pay tribute to the songwriters and publishers behind the best in Gospel music. The private event will be hosted by BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill and BMI Vice President, Creative, Atlanta, Catherine Brewton.

“BMI is thrilled to be back in Atlanta celebrating the best in Gospel music,” said Brewton. “We’re extremely proud to honor powerhouse couple Tamela and David Mann for their incredible contributions to the Gospel community, the enduring legacy of Dr. Bobby Jones, and the songwriters and publishers behind the top Gospel songs of the previous year. Through song and praise, they deliver inspirational messages of hope, faith, and goodwill to music lovers around the world. We feel truly blessed to bring these trailblazers together in fellowship and celebrate their creative works.”

Throughout the ceremony, BMI will also recognize the songwriters, producers, and music publishers of the past year’s 25 most-performed Gospel songs in the United States. The BMI Gospel Song, Songwriter, and Publisher of the Year will also be named during the event.

Together, Tamela and David Mann have become staples in the Gospel community and have flourished across radio, television, film, and stages around the world. The iconic couple began their professional music careers in the ‘90s after joining the Gospel group Kirk Franklin and the Family and toured the globe. They went on to develop successful solo careers and joint ventures as a couple in music and beyond, creating Tillymann Entertainment in 2005, a home for all of their many projects in entertainment. In 2018, David and Tamela released Us Against the World, their first collaborative album as a duo. The companion book of that album won an NAACP Image® Award for Outstanding Literary Work, and the album’s singles have topped the charts, including the Urban AC track “Ups & Downs.” Most recently, The Manns embarked on the acclaimed “Overcomer Family Tour,” a mixture of music and comedy, featuring their son David Jr. and their daughters La’Tia and Tiffany Mann. 

As a solo artist, Tamela has released six studio albums and has received a GRAMMY Award, BET Award, Billboard Music Award, and multiple NAACP Image, Stellar Gospel Music, and GMA Dove Awards. She was also the first Gospel lead artist in Billboard Gospel radio chart history to score three consecutive No. 1 singles from her album Best Days. Beyond music, The Manns have appeared in numerous Tyler Perry plays, films, and television shows, including I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Meet the Browns and Madea Goes to Jail, among others, and the pair also starred in their own sitcom, Mann & Wife, and the docuseries, It’s a Mann’s World.

In addition, the esteemed singer, TV host, and radio broadcaster Dr. Bobby Jones will be celebrated, honoring his illustrious career spanning more than 40 years. For more than 35 years, he was the host of Bobby Jones Gospel on BET, which was the highest-rated show on the network and longest-running original cable show in history. Jones is credited for giving Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, and many others their first national exposure on television. 

An established Gospel singer and songwriter, Jones received a GRAMMY Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group in 1984 for “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today” with Barbara Mandrell. He also received a Dove Award, three Stellar Awards, and a presidential commendation from President George W. Bush, among several other awards and accolades. He currently serves as a UNICEF Ambassador and was inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame (BMEWOF) in February 2023.  

‘Gospel In Person’ series to feature Just Us Guys – March 4

Just Us Guys

Pictured a few years ago at a singing engagement are members of the group Just Us Guys, from left to right: Nathaniel Vincent, Rev. McArthur Pettiford, Marshall Johnson, Gerald Lunsford, the late Wallace Hedgspeth, David Ramsey, and Jimmy Lunsford. They are accompanied by musicians, background from left: Tyrik Bradley, Iakee Pettiford, and R.J. Carrington. (Photo provided by Michael Gentry)

Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – The Kirby Cultural Arts Complex in partnership with Just Love In Person community service organization and Gentry Visuals production company is set to continue its successful run of the “Gospel In Person” series Saturday, March 4, featuring Just Us Guys.

Just Us Guys delivers traditional Black quartet gospel, leaning into the stylings of quartet mainstays like the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Canton Spirituals, and the Dixie Hummingbirds. The cast of singers is a spin-off from two earlier well-known groups from the Person County area, The Mighty Gospel Travelers and The Gospel Supremes (both now defunct), and is comprised of former members of both groups along with their sons and nephews.

Just Us Guys’ live performance is sure to honor the memory of beloved members Wallace Hedgspeth and James Lunsford, who passed on in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Attendees will also be treated to a short documentary titled, A Living Legacy, by David Ramsey, Rev. McArthur Pettiford, and Stacey Pettiford; all of whom are renowned singers and alumni of The Mighty Gospel Travelers. Ramsey and Rev. Pettiford are also frontmen for Just Us Guys.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at The show takes place at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC, and starts at 6 pm. 

About the “Gospel In Person” Series

“Gospel In Person” is a multipart celebration of the rich Black gospel music history found in North Carolina’s rural Person County, located in the Piedmont region along Virginia’s border. The schedule of events includes live concert performances with short documentaries through April 2023, as well as a feature-length documentary film, Gospel In Person, which premieres in June 2023. Michael Gentry, the film’s creator and producer, hopes the documentary will duly honor some of the community’s legends whose impact has created ripple effects throughout the broader gospel music scene.

Donald Lawrence revives Edwin Hawkins’ Music & Arts Seminar as Music + Arts Global


Choir music is as popular as ever. The world watched on television as London’s Kingdom Choir sang at Prince Harry & Meghan Markle’s royal wedding. South Africa’s award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir has performed on the Academy Awards. The USA’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir lifted their voices during Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony. Today, choir music is not only sung in churches around the world. It’s featured in TV commercials and films, sampled by pop artists, and played in dance clubs on six continents. It’s against this backdrop that GRAMMY® Award winning choirmaster Donald Lawrence is reviving his mentor, the legendary late Edwin Hawkins’ annual Music & Arts Seminar that was birthed in 1979 and reimagining it for the 21st century as a bi-annual conference, Music + Arts Global.  

“I want to see young people really benefit from the art…,” Hawkins said of the Music & Arts Seminar in a 1987 interview with Totally Gospel Magazine. “I don’t want it to be just another social affair. …I’d like to eventually take the convention out of the states…just to keep it fresh.” While that hope didn’t materialize during Hawkins’ lifetime, it’s happening April 27-29, 2023, when Lawrence will present the newly renamed conference Music + Arts Global at the Gaumont State Theatre (197-99 High Road NW6 7HY) in the Kilburn district of London, England.

“Choir music is everywhere, and music is a universal language,” Lawrence says. “A lot of people in the Baltic states can really sing well.  I’ve visited many countries and worked with their choirs. I conducted a 500-voice choir at Duomo Cathedral in Florence, Italy with 30,000 people in attendance. A lot of the leaders in different cities asked for me to come and teach their choirs. Instead of me going to all of them, I said why don’t we all meet in London for this first year and then I’ll come to you the next year. So, we’ve got choirs coming from Sweden, Latvia, Denmark, and so many other places.” Bazil Meade MBE (the pioneering founder of the 40+ year old London Community Gospel Choir that’s given royal command performances and performed with a who’s who in music) and Ayce Oyerinde, are handling on the ground promotions for Music + Arts Global through their London-based firm, GloFest International.

Lawrence’s plan is to expand upon the rich legacy of the Music & Arts Seminar. Each day there will be educational courses on topics such as vocal blending; incorporating spoken word, dance, and theater into a choir’s stage presentation; and how to dress a choir and create its fashion imprint. Audio sound designer Armando Fullwood will join 7x GRAMMY® Award winning engineer Danny Duncan (who’s worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Israel Houghton) to introduce VenueFlex/ChoirFlex, a new technology that enhances audio clarity for an immersive acoustic listening experience. On Friday night, Volney Morgan of the MOBO Award winning gospel group Volney Morgan & New-Ye, will host a showcase of dynamic choirs from throughout the European continent and the United Kingdom. 

There will also be guest appearances by music veterans such as Anthony Brown (of Anthony Brown & group therAPy), William Murphy, Ted Winn, Vincent Bohanan, Rodney Posey, and Derrick Starks. Songwriter Jeffrey LaValley will not only share his musical knowledge with attendees, but he will also tell the story behind his song “Revelations 19:1.” It was originally recorded by the New Jerusalem Baptist Church Choir in 1985. Over the years, the song has become a staple in church worship services. However, it became a TikTok and viral hit after the Sunday Service Choir recorded it and made it popular with a new generation of fans in 2022.

Music + Arts Global concludes with a big Saturday night concert. An international mass choir will pay tribute to singer LaShun Pace and to the Hawkins Family’s longtime bassist, Joel Smith, who both passed away in recent years. The choir will perform songs from the vast musical catalogues of Donald Lawrence, the Music & Arts Seminar, The Hawkins Family, and the guest choirmasters. GRAMMY® Award winning producer Cedric Thompson will serve as music director alongside Edwin Hawkins’ longtime music director, Derrick Hall. The sterling band will also include The Isley Brothers’ drummer, Calvin Rogers. Singer DeWayne Woods of “Let Go, Let God” fame will be on hand as Lawrence’s assistant vocal director.

Edwin Hawkins

In his career, Edwin Hawkins earned 19 GRAMMY® Award nominations and four wins, including one for the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ million-selling single, “O Happy Day,” which peaked in the Top 5 on the Billboard R&B and Pop singles charts in 1969. The Oakland, CA-based choir was one of the leading acts of the music industry for two decades with other hits like “To My Father’s House,” “God Will Take Care of You,” “Worship the Lord,” and “Let Jesus Love You.” Hawkins launched the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar in 1979 as an annual gathering for professional and aspiring singers and musicians to congregate for classes in vocal technique, songwriting, the business side of music, and other matters. Each conference closed with a live recording session that produced over a dozen album releases over the years. Artists such as  Yolanda Adams, John P. Kee, Daryl Coley, and LaShun Pace all got their early start as soloists on the projects. The conference has been dormant since Hawkins’ death in 2018.

Donald Lawrence

In his career, Donald Lawrence has earned 18 GRAMMY® Award nominations and wins for producing The Clark Sisters’ 2007 album, Live – One Last Time, and Tennessee State University’s 2022 project, The Urban Hymnal. As a music director, vocal coach, or producer, he’s collaborated with Stephanie Mills, Mary J. Blige, and En Vogue on the R&B side. In the gospel world, he’s risen to prominence singularly, as well as the leader of the Tri-City Singers, and Donald Lawrence & Company.  In the various pairings, he has placed 22 songs on the Billboard Gospel Airplay charts, including eight Top Ten hits and five number one smashes such as “Encourage Yourself,” “The Blessing of Abraham,” and the gold-certified single, “Deliver Me (This Is My Exodus).” Lawrence’s name is synonymous with choir music. From 2007-2013, he served as host for Verizon Wireless’ How Sweet the Sound choir talent competition in television commercials and on the road. In addition, Lawrence has either composed or produced classic songs on artists such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Faith Evans, Lalah Hathaway, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Bebe Winans, and even Hezekiah Walker’s No. 1 hit, “Souled Out.”

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– From a media release