Ben Tankard talks about new season of 'Thicker Than Water,' new music, and his critics

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Multi-award–winning musician, producer, songwriter, author, pastor, and motivational speaker Ben Tankard knows the path to success, the value of hard work, and the significance of a supportive family system. During the first season of his family’s hit reality show on Bravo, Thicker Than Water, viewers got to tank up on the Tankards, taking note that although everyday isn’t peaches and cream in the “Tankard Palace,” blood really is thicker than water. 

Season two features more of the trials and triumphs of the self-proclaimed “Black Brady Bunch” family of Ben, wife Jewel, and children Brooklyn, Britney, Benji, and Cyrene. This go round, they’re joined by Ben’s oldest son Marcus and wife Tish, who return to Tennessee and are embraced by everyone, except Britney.  GMF’s Libra Boyd talked with Ben by phone to find out more about what’s in store for the upcoming season, his response to the show’s critics who say the show reps more vanity than Christianity, and his forthcoming musical project, Full Tank 2.0.

Libra: Thicker Than Water amassed ratings that the Bravo Network had not experienced with its other shows. What keeps people watching the series?

I believe [it’s] because it’s everybody’s family. You can find somebody in the Tankard family that reminds you of somebody in your family. We have been adopted and embraced. Every Sunday night, people just gather around with their meals and their family. They pick the show apart and say, “That reminds me of Uncle Joe,” or, “That reminds me of our oldest daughter. She wrecked the car, too.” People can relate. It’s just like when you’re in concert, you do a much better performance if you can get the audience involved and singing with you, with your songs. You’re not just a performer trying to impress them, but you get them involved and they feel like they’re part of your performance. I think that’s what we’ve been able to accomplish with Thicker Than Water as a TV show. 

Libra: One of the biggest criticisms of the show has been the emphasis that your family appears to place on wealth. Some critics have called it vanity; some have called it greed. Bravo TV as well as EEW Magazine quoted you as saying, “If you don’t get rich, you’re not really taking advantage of Him (Jesus) hanging on the cross.” That was in response to a question that was posed to you about prosperity and how that’s depicted on your show. Say more about what you mean. 

It’s a long-standing debate as to if God wants you to be blessed or not. I try not to engage in battles that don’t matter. We can agree to disagree. I came from a very, very poor background. If you know me, you know that anything that I talk about wealth-wise is in the form of a testimony. I was born and raised in Central Florida and we were on public assistance, welfare. Didn’t have a car; walked five miles to school. Used to shovel chicken manure on a farm. I thought my way out of that poor environment would be professional basketball because I was 6’6″ by the time I was in the 6th grade. I pursued basketball as a way of getting my family out of the ghetto, but I really had music in my heart. I was a tuba player in the band, and a drummer. When I got ready to graduate from high school, I had thirty scholarships for basketball and twenty-five scholarships for band. I wanted to take the music scholarship, but I was highly encouraged to take the basketball scholarship by my folks because they wanted me to go pro and somehow get them out of the woods.  I went to college on a basketball scholarship and pulled out after one year to go pro. Went pro and did pretty good one summer, but I got injured on my way to the NBA. That brought me back to church; God anointed my hands to play….Here comes all these fifteen gold and six platinum albums. I’m able to really become wealthy through what I really like doing, which is music. Whenever I testify and say, “Look what God did. He gave me a couple of airplanes; He gave me a mansion,” it’s from a context of, “Look where I was. Look what He’s done. I give Him the credit. God did this, I didn’t. He can do the same thing for you if you want.” Most peoplesome peopledon’t agree with that, but I’m sticking to my story. If you want it, God can give it to you. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it, but if you do want it, it is possible if you want to have a higher lifestyle. It happened to me and God is not a respecter of person.

Libra: You’re certainly making no apologies for your lifestyle and the way that the Lord has blessed you. With that said, will these criticisms somehow be quelled in the upcoming season? Will we see as much emphasis placed on wealth?

I think this season, you’re going to see more of the work that goes behind our being successful. The first year you saw the testimonies, but you didn’t see how we get there. This year, you get to see me take my son back to the chicken farm and shovel some chicken manure for a day to see where I came from. This year, you get to see how Jewel has a 16-hour workday of doing financial consulting with people, trying to get them out of debt. You get to see the works behind what makes us successful.

Libra: What other insights will we gain into the Tankards this season that we didn’t have last season?

A lot of celebration. I’m celebrating turning 50 this year! When you turn 50, sometimes the light goes on in some areas. For me, it was in the area of health. Having been a former pro athlete, I kind of got away from the exercise that I should have and my proper eating habits. Being successful enough to eat a steak everyday doesn’t mean you need to. I gained a lot of weight and got a little slow. Turning 50, I increased my workout and started drinking those eight glasses of water. I’m more health conscious, and I’m getting the family more health conscious as well. Also, [I’m] celebrating 25 years in the music industry. We’re having a big shindig that’s aired on the show of me celebrating 25 years in music and all those relationships over the years that I was able to participate in. It’s just a blessing. This kind of shows you the whole story behind the Tankards.

Libra: Who is going to surprise us the most this season on Thicker Than Water?

I think my oldest son, Marcus, who you didn’t see a whole lot last time. First season, he came in at the latter episodes with the wedding. Him and his wife, they have come back to Tennessee. They finished a missionary assignment that they were on in Missouri and they are back in Tennessee, so you’ll get to see some surprises from them. You’re going to be surprised at what’s going on with Britney and Benji and his wife, Shanira, as well. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but they are really going to bring a smile to your face this year.

Libra: Tell me this. You and your wife, you’re not only devout Christians, but you’re pastors of a thriving congregation. What impact do you believe reality shows like yours have on the unchurched?

I think that they get to see that being a Christian is not a holier-than-thou episode that just happens on Sundays. Being a Christian is a way of life. The Christian walk really is developed between Sundays. At church service, it’s easy to stand up at church and say, “I’m victorious. I’m the head and not the tail.” You’ve got other believers standing right beside you singing praise and worship songs. Everybody’s a winner at church, but being a real Christian happens between Sundays. We encourage our people to watch our lives on television because you get to see how we incorporate God in our life past Sunday and into our everyday life. That’s what being a Christian is all about. Not just Sunday morning.

Libra: Let’s shift to your new gospel jazz CD, Full Tank 2.0. Tell us about it.

[It] will be released in February. We’ve got Shirley Murdock singing “I’ll Take You There.” We’ve got Kirk Whalum doing a duet with me, an MLK tribute called “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,”an old Diana Ross cut. You’re going to love this record because it’s so relevant to what’s going on in life today.  My music is more (pause) I call it the backdrop for your life. [With] my music, you can [put] it on with whatever you’re doing and it helps you do whatever you’re doing better. [Because it’s] instrumental, it doesn’t take away from your thoughts. You can put it on while you meditate, or while you’re cooking, cleaning the house, driving, planning a family… (laugh)

Ben concluded our time together by reminding everyone to watch to the new season of Thicker Than Water, starting this Sunday night, January 4, at 9pm ET on the Bravo Network.  He also invites you to reach out to their family via their Twitters. “We are very approachable people,” he adds.  Finally, he drops a word of encouragement just for families.

“Communicate with each other and don’t give up on each other,” he says. “Sometimes family will take one little thing, and fall out with each other, and say, ‘I’m not speaking to them any more.’ We believe that even though you disagree on some things, you can look for something good in that person and use that as something to build on and stay in contact with them. Come on, have lunch with them. Don’t disconnectfight for your family! Keep on dreaming for big things.”

Carol Maraj, mother of Nicki Minaj, talks about her music, mission, and message

Carol Maraj
Photo | Paul Stephens

By Libra Boyd

Gospel Music Fever

Carol Maraj is making a name for herself, and it’s not necessarily through her famed rapper daughter Onika Maraj–better known as Nicki Minaj.  As a matter of fact, mother and daughter are on separate musical journeys, and Carol’s includes gospel music and humanitarianism.

Last week, GMF’s Libra Boyd had the opportunity to learn more about the minister’s music, mission, and message.  

Libra:  Thanks so much for talking with Gospel Music Fever Blog about your life, your music, and how your experiences have brought you into a greater sense of purpose.  For starters, you are a domestic violence survivor.  Tell us about this ordeal in particular as well as how it relates to the message you now share through your music and through the Carol Maraj Foundation.

Carol: Living with an addict became overwhelming for me.  He was constantly threatening and menacing.  It escalated one night in December when he pulled me out of a car, punching me all over my face and head. This was my turning point.  Being a survivor affords me the ability to relate to others who are going through and who have been through.  My music reminds them that they were created for better.  My foundation’s mission is to build self esteem and empower so that the abused, misused and battered, may see their goals attainable.

Libra:  Not only are you musical, but so is your family.  One of your children is R&B/hip-hop superstar Nicki Minaj.  Some people immediately suppose that you have connections in the secular industry, which would provide you with a larger platform compared to gospel when it comes to advocating for domestic violence victims.  Why, then, is gospel music your choice for sharing your message with the world?

Carol: It is not a choice for me but a calling.  It all boils down to my passion and drives.  As an Evangelist, singing is just another channel to help others come to know the Lord, build faith, and overcome their trials.

Libra:  What has been Nicki’s response to your advocacy work and music? 

Carol: Nicki is very protective, and does not want me in the media. However, I am on a mission from God; this is the season He has assigned for me.

Libra:  Your current single is “God’s Been Good.”  Tell us about it!

Carol: “God’s Been Good” allows us to reflect on moments when we did not expect to make it, but we did. It is about understanding that God is real and that even at unawares, He is bringing us through life’s challenges.

Libra:  Will the full-length project be entirely gospel?  Can we expect to hear some collaborations?  

Carol: No. My songs are both inspiring and motivating.  There [will] be collaborations in the future.  This album will benefit all listeners. Believers and non-believers.  It is well balanced musically.

Carol’s current single, “God’s Been Good,” is available on iTunes. For more about the Carol Maraj Foundation, you can visit You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @CarolMarajOrg.

Deloris Williams, entrepreneur and author, talks about the value of 'divine connections'

By Libra Boyd, Founder & Editor
Gospel Music Fever

Deloris WilliamsDeloris Williams makes an impact by helping others to be successful. The only match to her talent for creating meaningful connections among people, businesses, and organizations is her ambition as a businesswoman, author, and the CEO of Divine Connections. Deloris has an entrepreneurial spirit, and GMF’s Libra Boyd invited her to talk about her company’s impact, her current book, and the key to effective networking.

Libra:  Divine Connections is in its fourth year of existence. Tell us the inspiration for and purpose of Divine Connections.

Deloris:  I am a self-motivated entrepreneur at heart. Through various experiences with several companies, the desire to pursue my own business grew stronger every day. From that experience, I gained a wealth of knowledge, recognizing that believing in myself, getting organized, and creating a system for success would enable me to accomplish my goals. I believe that goals are met when the system you create produces the positive results you desire.

Divine Connections was birthed from my life experiences that derived from people looking for specific services. Somehow, the requestors knew I had connections with individuals to meet needs and provide solutions. The purpose of it is to spread the good news of things happening in the community. Divine Connections is divided into two major categories which are publications and events. My company publishes a quarterly magazine (Divine Connections Magazine) that includes entrepreneurs, businesses, and opportunities; inspirational quotes; community events; and overall inspiration. The other months, I publish a newsletter sharing more vital information as I make new connections. I also host an annual event to celebrate my yearly accomplishments which includes various ministry gifts, praise dancing, miming, vendors, friends, family, and the community–giving God all the glory for what He has done!

Libra:  How would you explain your company’s impact?

Deloris:  My company allows business owners, churches, and the community to stay connected by providing resources that impact the quality of life. There are so many positive things going on in the community, church, and world, but they sometimes are overlooked or suppressed because the media pushes a lot of [negativity]. Divine Connections is that media [outlet] that stands for God, positive people, positive places, and positive media. Divine Connections is that light that shines to let the world know, “You Can Do It!  Make It Happen & Handle Your Business.” God has given me this opportunity to shine the light through Divine Connections.

Libra:  Speaking of “You Can Do It!  Make It Happen & Handle Your Business,” you’ve published a book by that name, and it seems to be as motivational as it is practical. Tell us more about it.

Deloris:  I wanted to share my experiences with others and not only let them know that they can accomplish the “impossible,” but give them some knowledge to assist them on their journey through my book, You Can Do It! Make It Happen & Handle Your Business. In this book, I simply lay out things I accomplished in my life, my thought process, and the plan of action of how I made things happen with the help of the Lord. I cover a vast [range] of information such as graduating from college with no loans; owning a home (as a single person); starting and growing a business; and maintaining focus, gratitude, and dependency of God.

Libra:  It’s apparent through your endeavors that you promote the power of networking. What do you believe to be the single most important key to creating those “divine connections”?

Deloris:  If I had to give just one answer I would say character. You can have the greatest gift, resource, connection, or service but character will help you maintain and grow your divine connections. This will allow you to build relationships with your network. Character builds the foundation of who you are and the value you possess. 

Click to enlarge

Deloris will celebrate the fourth anniversary of Divine Connections Saturday, March 15, with a gospel musical featuring The Yanceys, John Thorpe & Truth, Tre G and Exodus, and others.  Ticketed admission is $20 and includes a copy of Williams’ book.  It all takes place at:

Bethesda Elementary School
2009 South Miami Blvd
Durham, NC
1-5 PM

For more information about Deloris Williams & Divine Connections, her book, or tickets for the anniversary event, visit

Highway QCs' Spencer Taylor: "If you're gonna sing gospel, you got to know the Lord"

By Libra Boyd, Founder & Editor
Gospel Music Fever

Spencer Taylor has been on gospel’s battlefield with the Highway QC’s for nearly 60 of the group’s 69 years, and at 86 years old, he shows no signs of putting on the brakes.

The Highway QC’s are legendary. This is the same group whose line-up once consisted of Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke, and Johnnie Taylor (no relation). A younger Spencer Taylor probably could’ve chosen the secular road at some point, too; instead, he stuck with gospel. His fans sure are glad.

When I caught up with the dapper Mr. Taylor a while back, he was standing both unnoticed and undisturbed in the back of the auditorium he’d be wrecking in just a few more minutes with his most requested number, “Oh, How Wonderful.” Admittedly, I was impressed that he wasn’t cooped up in a dressing room or luxury bus waiting for his time to hit the stage. Instead, he was just hanging outchillin’visibly enjoying the performance of a lesser known quartet. As engaged as he was, he didn’t seem the least bit startled when I approached; and when I requested that he weigh in on his group’s longevity and offer advice to upcoming groups, he chimed in without hesitation.

Taylor’s take on the group’s relevance after nearly 70 years…

Well, through Christ….Anything you’re doing…only stands by the Word of God, and that has been our success. Staying with Godyou’ve got to stay with God.

Taylor’s advice to upcoming groups…

[You] must be born again. Be a Christian. If you’re gonna sing gospel, you got to know the Lord. That’s your first step. And I mean, [there’s] no other way around it….This is a must; it’s not a might. You know, you see some people who can sing, and they don’t know the Lord—and I could never try to pick out no one—but they don’t know Christ. They have a good voice, but they don’t realize how far they could go if they just accept Him and let Him be their total controller….You look at all them other people; they make millions of dollars, but if you sing for the Lord, don’t worry about that. You ain’t gotta worry about that, because He will supply your every need.  And that’s so clear, ya know….The first thing you got to do is be a born again Christian…can’t be straddlin’ the fence. Can’t serve two masters; the Bible says you’ll love one and hate the other one.

Sage advice, I called it.

“But it’s right,” Taylor insisted. “What I’m saying is…I don’t know anything to tell you but right. I make a habit of trying to tell people right.”



An Interview with Ruth La’Ontra

By Shaundria Williams
Special Contributor
Recently, I had the awesome opportunity to speak with North Carolina’s own Ruth La’Ontra (pronounced Lah’Ontrah).   She’s the daughter of radio pioneer Bishop Arvetra Jones—who’s also the president of the North Carolina Gospel Announcers Guild of the Gospel Music Workshop of America—and Mrs. Ruth Jones.  Her grandfather, the late Apostle Arvetra Jones, Sr., was a recording artist as well; so it seems accurate to say that music is in her blood.
Our conversation was like talking to a cousin on the porch in springtime as the sun sets just beyond the trees.  La’Ontra’s got such a sweet spirit and a playful personality; but don’t let the giggles fool you.  This young lady is serious about her Kingdom Assignment!
Her debut album, So Good boasts four self-written songs, including the title track: “Speechless,” “I’m In Love With This Man,” and “I Believe.”  Of her songwriting process, La’Ontra explains, “I try to keep the song in a storyline, in order to express what I am going through.”
“Speechless,” for instance, is the first track on the project, and it is an energetic song of worship fit to minister at any sports half-time show.
QUICK SOAP BOX:  Before the Pharisee in you comes out because of her vernacular, yes, some of the lyrics in the chorus are “my Father, my best friend, my boo.”  To that I say, “AWESOME!”  Really, it is, because if you understand what it truly means to be “booed-up” and if God has ever come through for you in a very real way, you get it.  To those who still don’t get it I’ll just encourage you to get booed-up with Jesus, ask Him to be the true LOVER of your soul, then you’ll sing along with Sis. La’Ontra.
The entire So Good project is hip and young with nuances of The Clark Sisters, Kim Burrell, Beyoncé, Bilal and Ledisi.  La’Ontra’s producer Bubby Fann translated the images in La’Ontra’s head into hot beats, smooth transitions and mellow lulls.  He also wrote her first single “Count it All Joy,” which has swiftly made its way up the charts.  Her brother, Arvetra Dominic “Dom” Jones, and sister, Princess Jones added “I’ll Trust You” and “I Got This” to this dynamic project.  If you are nervous about doing something that God has placed in your heart, put that last one I mentioned on “repeat” and get it done.  The full collection of songs is sure to encourage and uplift you.
Beyond her music, La’Ontra reveals that she wants to develop programs for women and children who have been affected by domestic violence.  While she doesn’t have a personal history with domestic violence, she has seen the effects and wants to provide an avenue for women to express their feelings and leave with hope.  Maybe in some way, this actually works in tandem with her desire “to go outside of the four walls of the church and minister to the mainstream while maintaining gospel roots and go wherever God’s footsteps lead.”  I am positive that wherever God leads the young twenty-something songstress, it will be so good.

LaTonya Earl: Her Story, Her Song

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

LaTonya Earl has been leading people in worship and ushering in the presence of God for a long time.  Just this past year, her labor was recognized with five Rhythm of Gospel Award nominations–and she’s up for three more in 2014 (see nominees and vote here).  Though it would be counterintuitive to now proclaim that she’s walking in her season, she’s certainly walking in a season of enlarged territory.

The singer, songwriter, musician, and worship leader has been purposed to bless people when and wherever she has ministered over the last 39 years.  Formerly Minister of Music at The Church at Bethel’s Family in Houston, TX, Earl is now involved in full-time ministry, sharing her music and testimony with the nation.

We first met this summer at the Rhythm of Gospel Awards in Florida, during which she gave me her single “I Run To You.”  After hearing it, I knew I had to find out more about the lady behind the lyric.  What I learned is that hers is an anointing that has come with a weighty price.

In a sequence of recent events that fell like dominoes, first, Earl’s salaried ministry position at the church was eliminated at the end of 2011.  While adjusting to the loss of financial stability, health challenges hit.  Earl recalls the very day.

“On March 31st [2012], I had a stroke, which was stroke number three,” she remembers.  Her first stroke occurred several years prior, subsequent to a ruptured brain aneurysm.  Grateful for the miracle of living to recount her testimony, she knew there still were more obstacles to overcome.  “I [couldn’t] walk, but I refused to use a walker or a cane.  I would fall sometimes….My left side didn’t want to act right, but it strengthened really fast–because I demanded it to.”  Nonetheless, her story continues somewhat like a modern adaptation of the book of Job.

“Two weeks [after my stroke], my favorite aunt passed away.”  The mourning would persist when her father, a well known pastor whom she affectionately calls her “super best friend and fishing buddy,” passed unexpectedly on the day of the funeral.  “My father came, and he did the prayer for the funeral….he hugged me…he kissed me and he left” to minister at a local prison, where he collapsed and died.  “I felt like the earth swallowed me whole,” she opines.

Again, Earl relied on the strength of God to press through the pain and sing through the sadness.  On the heels of all the tempestuous transitions, “I Run to You” was birthed (see GMF’s review here).  The worship ballad came about, however, in response to another family ordeal that hit close to home.

“I have a brother who’s been strung out on crack for 20 years, and I had a dream.  In my dream, he was running and he could see the top of the church, but it was evident that there were some things that were pursuing him; so he went from a light jog to a sprint toward the church because he knew there was safety there.”

“In my dream, he was running and [people] were holding on to him, but he would break away…and he made it into the church, ran down the aisle and fell on the altar.  And [as] God began to deal with him, his body began to glow; then he stood up, turned around, and…he was clean.  The choir was singing…and I heard that song: ‘I run to the altar with my hands lifted high / Lord, I surrender and You’re the reason why…”’

Earl senses there is deliverance on the horizon for her brother, who preached as a teen.  “I told him about [the dream and the song], and he doesn’t mind me sharing his testimony….He still holds to the fact that he’s going to be clean one day.”

This measure of faith has brought her far, and it’s the same faith out of which she encourages all to whom she ministers.

“I’m hoping and praying that people can understand that no matter how far you are or where you are, no matter what situation you’re involved in, if you run–the enemy will try to stop you–but if you run [to God], you’re going to get there!”

The psalmist is currently working on a full-length CD, on which “I Run to You” will be featured along with a spoken-word altar call and extended vamp.

Brooklyn Allstars' Thomas Spann reflects on "signature sound that I didn't realize I had"

By Libra Boyd
Thomas Spann
A fan approaches Rev. Thomas Spann sporting a wide grin and extending a slightly trembling hand, hailing, “The Legend! The Legend!” Rev. Spann graciously returns the gesture, “My man! Good to see you,” making apparent that he appreciates his supporters as much as they appreciate him. Admiration for the quartet veteran is immediately perceivable by the number of fan interruptions that continue throughout our early evening interview just prior to one of the Brooklyn Allstars’ concerts.
Since organizing the Brooklyn Allstars in 1948, Spann has worked the gospel circuit with his group’s instantaneously recognizable styling, which is directly attributed to his own bass vocals. Along the way, they’ve racked up a couple of gold records (“they say they were gold; I just say they were good,” Rev. Spann interjects) and toured extensively. Now, at 88 years old, Rev. Spann is assisted by a cane and sits onstage with mic in hand during some of the group’s mild numbers such as “No Cross, No Crown.” But you can rest assured that his voice still booms and when the Spirit moves him on tunes like “Stood on the Banks of Jordan,” he springs from his chair to join in with group member Sonny McClary, with whom he now shares lead tasks. Theirs is a sound that stands apart in traditional quartet music.
I guess that’s what I say the longevity or success of the group is attributed to—the signature sound that I didn’t realize I had for a lot of years until I got a chance to compare it to a lot of other artists; then I realized it was so different that I decided to change it one time,” reflects Spann. He admits that the group almost lost its following when he tried to alter it.
I was rejected; I had no idea I had that many fans, and I didn’t know that that many people cared one way or another, you know, about what we were doing.”
They still care. As a matter of fact, their loyal fan base is what keeps them going more than six decades later; and they’re picking up a younger generation of quartet heads with their current release, Just Look At Me Now. Among the tracks on the Malaco/4 Winds project is a 4-song throwback medley that includes “I’ve Got My Ticket,” a number first recorded in 1950 that Rev. Spann says bears the group’s trademark sound.
“And [our fans] still want us to do that song most places we go right now,” he adds. Hopefully, those places will continue to be many for the man known to his fans as “The Legend.”
Thanks to Malaco/4 Winds’ Darrell Luster and YouTube, you can watch the Brooklyn Allstars (Rev. Spann with Bobby Butler and Sonny McClary) and Luster rehearse a snippet of “I’ve Got My Ticket” a cappella.  

Film producer Regina Rene discusses the making of The Barrett Sisters’ movie

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Photo | Do It All Productions, LLC
 Producer Regina Rene (kneeling) with (from left) Rodessa Barrett Porter, Billie Barrett GreenBey, and the late Delois Barrett Campbell.
First introduced to the legendary gospel trio Delois Barrett Campbell and The Barrett Sisters through their unforgettable musical performances in the critically acclaimed 1980’s documentary Say Amen, Somebody, Regina Rene Davis recalls that the film quickly became one of her favorites.
Many years later, it would be her appreciation for the gospel veterans’ legacy duetted with Rodessa Barrett Porter’s dream–disclosed to Chicago Tribune journalist Howard Reich during a 2008 interview–that would inspire her to produce and direct the newly released documentary film The Sweet Sisters of Zion: Delois Barrett Campbell and The Barrett Sisters.  The long anticipated 114-minute documentary chronicling the sisters’ lives and careers premiered Saturday, February 16, 2013, at Chicago’s Life Center COGIC. (Read Bob Marovich’s recap and review on The Black Gospel Blog.)
For the multi-talented producer/videographer/editor whose resumé includes a lengthy tenure with Entertainment Tonight, the project was an intensive labor of profound love for octogenarian sisters Delois Barrett Campbell, Rodessa Barrett Porter, and Billie Barrett GreenBey, as well as the group’s most recent member, songbird Tina Brown.  Nevertheless, undaunted by personal adversities, unforeseen challenges, and the sisters’ inability to compensate her for the enormity of her undertaking, she forged ahead enthusiastically to transform a dream into a reality for the gospel greats. 
“I found [an] article where Mrs. Rodessa said that she wanted a document of their career and that she had all these videos that someone told her would cost $5,000 to put together,” remembers Regina. “And I said, well I can put their stuff together; that’s no big deal.”
The fact that it evolved into a feature length documentary, however, is a huge deal. 
“I thought I was simply going to be stringing together their footage because if you’ve ever visited Mrs. Campbell’s house when she was alive, she’d always want to put [the Barrett Sisters’ videos] on so people could see them singing–and the grand-kids always had to come in every 15 to 20 minutes to change the DVDs!”
But it wasn’t long before Regina discovered that like many artists of their era, the sisters–whose career includes over 30 overseas tours, multiple television and radio appearances, invitations to perform at every major concert hall in the United States as well as The White House, and numerous awards and commendations–had amassed considerably more fame than fortune throughout their careers and had been grossly underpaid for their work.  Meanwhile, there were savvy folks on the business side who had reaped the financial harvest of the sisters’ labor.
“So [I thought] maybe I could create something…see what happens and try not to let someone just sign it away again….That’s really how I approached [the idea of a feature film].  I tried to do it in such a way that nobody was gonna take it away from them.”
The Sweet Sisters of Zion: Delois Barrett Campbell and The Barrett Sisters is co-produced and owned by The Barrett Sisters. 
“At the age of 80-plus, the Barrett Sisters [finally] own something that they did–and they’ve never had that before,” beams Regina.
Audiences will be overjoyed that the documentary serves as a fond memorial to Delois, who passed August 2, 2011, at age 85.  Her anecdotes are uproarious at times, although characteristically candid.  Still, beyond Delois’s bright eyes and larger-than-life personality, Regina was especially intent on giving the audience an inside look at the bond that Delois and her younger sisters–each only two years apart and the last survivors of ten siblings–relished both onstage and off.
“The thing about the Barrett Sisters is that they’re just like this beautiful hidden jewel of talent, and once you discover them you’re like, ‘Oh wow!’  You see these little morsels of performances, like on YouTube, but then you don’t know anything about them because they don’t have that recognition like the Caravans and Shirley Caesar and James Cleveland and all of those folks from that generation that were successful…but they were very much in that loop [because they were all contemporaries].”
Regarding the film itself, Regina explains, “Most documentaries are very sterile and very matter-of-fact.  I really wanted this one to be like listening in on a conversation.”  The concept of the movie was to allow each sister to tell her story in her own words, but to also allow fans to experience the ongoing interplay of ladies who are as close as any siblings can be.
“That was the whole point: to capture their spirits, their personalities. They’re just like honey, and we’re the bees.  When they sat down together and they started that camaraderie and that give-and-take and yin-and-yang, that’s when I knew I had something special.  It’s them in their element, being themselves.”
Despite the sisters being their delightful selves, the making of the film was not devoid of hurdles. The most challenging thing was trying to make sure I got clearances situated [for the performance footage].  The challenges were more technical than creative….But in terms of going to Chicago and spending time with the sisters, that was a joy!”
Photo | Herbert McFadden
At right: The audience responds to the documentary with a thunderous standing ovation.
That joy was also expressed by every family member, friend, and fan who attended the premiere.  Throughout the movie, laughter, swaying, applause, and even tears filled the edifice of Life Center COGIC as the Barrett Sisters along with professors and icons like Aretha Franklin contextualized the ladies’ indelible influence on sacred music.
I actually spoke with Donnie McClurkin last week, and I told him all about [the movie], and he got super excited,” Regina says. “He just went over the moon when I showed him a picture of the Barrett Sisters. He was excited to know that someone was doing a documentary about them.” 
The Sweet Sisters of Zion: Delois Barrett Campbell and The Barrett Sisters can be purchased online at and is a must-have for traditional gospel music enthusiasts.
“Most of the documentaries that are done about gospel singers and jazz singers are done by people overseas,” Regina points out. “This is one of the few times that we are truly telling our own story in a way that doesn’t come across as rigid and sterile.”
“When you’re done watching this movie, if you didn’t know the Barrett Sisters you’re going to say ‘Wow.’  If you did know the Barrett Sisters, you’re going to say ‘Amen.'”
For more information on Regina and her company Do It All Productions, LLC, visit
Photo | Herbert McFadden
Regina Rene (right) and group members (seated from left) Tina Brown, Rodessa Barrett Porter, and Billie Barrett GreenBey as well as Chip Johnson (standing left) and Randy Johnson are congratulated by friends at the VIP reception for the documentary premiere.

Related Stories

Offstage: GMF Insider with Shirley Caesar

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Shirley Caesar

Pastor Shirley Caesar is multidimensional.  She is a singer and songwriter, a preacher and pastor, a former politician and forever a comedian.

A comedian?

“There’s a side of you that many people don’t see,” I mentioned to Pastor Caesar several weeks ago inside her sprawling office at Raleigh’s Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church. “A lot of people don’t know that you have a sense of humor.”  She bursts into laughter.

Since I opened the door, I figured she may as well take us on a tour of what it’s like to be Shirley Caesar offstage.

Libra:  If you were not a singer, preacher, or pastor, what would you be doing?

Pastor Caesar: Um…(long pause)…raising children.

Libra:  How many?

Pastor Caesar: Two.

Libra:  A boy and a girl?

Pastor Caesar: A boy and a girl.

Libra:  Do you have names for them?

Pastor Caesar: I like “Desiree,” and I like “Hope.”

Libra:  What’s the best dish you can prepare?

Pastor Caesar: (Laughs heartily)  I think my best dish would be spaghetti and meat sauce with all of the I mean I fix all of that from scratch.  I bake it, I fix it any kind of way.  And my rice.  I can cook rice and the grains are not gummy…yeah…and I can cook other stuff I just don’t.  I go out and eat everyday.

Libra:  Me too.  I don’t really cook, but I can make a really good peach cobbler.

Pastor Caesar: Really?  I cannot cook a lot of sweets; I can’t do that, but you know, some things I watched my Mom do.  My sister Anne, Anne was a cook, because Mama taught her!  She learned by observation.  Not me.  I was always running and breaking streetlights and doing something crazy when I was a little girl! 

Libra:  What’s your favorite thing to do in your leisure time?

Pastor Caesar: I have a Galaxy [tablet], and I have a lot of games on there.  There’s one game on there that’s called Tile Takedown.  It’s a word game, and I love words.  In fact, I saw it on the bed on the way to church, and I started to grab it!

Libra:  Do you have a favorite cartoon or fictional character?

Pastor Caesar: Favorite cartoon is Tom & Jerry, but I also like uhwhat’s that “beep beep”?

Libra:  Road Runner.

Pastor Caesar: Road Runner!  I love Road Runner, because he’s always trying to figure out a way to catch the chicken. (chuckles)

Libra:  Is there another product or service that you would endorse if given the opportunity?  (Pastor Caesar currently has endorsements with AARP and Medicare.)

Pastor Caesar: When I was growing up, we did not have a McDonald’s or a Burger King but I don’t eat red meat, and I’ve also become something of a health nut.  I could [endorse] the salads though.  I’d also maybe like to talk about cancer or some other cause like that.

Libra:  What’s the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Pastor Caesar: That because I’ve come from a family that wasn’t well-to-doI didn’t even have, uh, hardly a spoon, much less a silver or a gold spoon in my mouththat today, I give 50% of my earnings to the Lord, monies realized.  I try to help needy families.  I buy them fans in the summer and try to help them with heat in the winter; not because I’m trying to be different from anybody else, but I know where I’ve come from.

Related Stories

Deanna Ransom’s ups and downs taught her to ‘Never Say Never…Again’

Deanna Ransom
By Libra Boyd
To say Deanna Ransom is on the move is an understatement, but somehow GMF caught up with the contemporary music sensation to chat about her current project Never Say Never…Again.  Ransom, a 2011 Rhythm of Gospel Award winner and current nominee in three categories, including Contemporary CD of the Year, explained what inspired the music for Never Say Never…Again.
“My life experiences were the fuel,” the soprano vocalist shares.  “Navigating the good and the bad of life–rights and wrongs, the ups and downs, the triumphs and the tragedies–while living the Word is a pretty amazing journey that should always ultimately give glory to God.”
Among the triumphs: completing a graduate degree and recording new music.  Amid the tragedies: an assault, the loss of a baby, and the passing of her husband of a little more than a year–all within months of each other.
So “I bring…me…my unique perspective, attitude, experiences, and song interpretation,” Ransom says of what she offers gospel and inspirational music like no other artist. 
“We all bring our talent, gifts, anointing, vocals and presentation, but nobody can bring what each artist, including myself, brings to the industry and kingdom.”
Through it all, the songstress acknowledges, “I really learned to Never Say Never…Again in this latest chapter of my journey!”