Anthony Brown
Anthony Brown

Special to The Dallas Examiner

It was the “Super Bowl” of gospel music … the 2016 Stellar Gospel Music Awards, a celebration of the most renowned artists of gospel music produced by Central City Productions Inc. In its 31st year, comedian Ricky Smiley and actress Sherri Shepherd hosted the annual celebration at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Feb. 20.

For one day, the town known as “Sin City” became “Salvation City,” with more than 10,000 people from across America in attendance for what may have been the year’s greatest praise and worship session – recognizing the top gospel performers of 2015.

It was an historic night, as Anthony Brown and Group Therapy won a total of 10 Stellar awards for their album, Everyday Jesus – including Artist of the Year, Song of the Year and CD of the Year. That eclipsed the previous record of seven Stellar awards given to Bishop Marvin Sapp in 2009.

Other multiple-award winners at this year’s show were Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago with four awards and Tasha Cobbs with three awards, including the Ablertina Walker Female Vocalist of the Year for her Motown Gospel album, One Place Live.

Kirk Franklin received the Urban/Inspirational Single or Performance of the Year award for his new hit single, Wanna Be Happy? Casey J. received the New Artist of the Year award for his album, The Truth. God’s Gift and Soldiers Youth Choir received The Youth Project of the Year award for Through the Fire and Flood.

There was a surprise guest who made a special appearance during the program – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a current presidential candidate.

O’Landa Draper received the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement award. He formed his first choir at the age of 22. It grew from 12 members to over 70 and became known as the choir of the 90s. He received seven Grammy nominations before receiving his first Grammy Award for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album in 1999. He has also received a Stellar, a Dove and Vision award. His choir, which has toured across the country, has performed for presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. On July 21, 1998, only weeks after recording the album, Reflections, O’Landa died of renal failure. In 2000, the choir, led by Draper’s fiancée, Patrina Smith, recorded their last album, All About Him. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album in 2002. The album single, I’ll See You Again, was dedicated to Draper and his legacy, according to Central City Productions.

Willie Joe Ligon, founder and lead singer of The Mighty Clouds of Joy, received the Ambassador Dr. Bobby Jones Legends award. Formed in 1955, the three-time Grammy award-winning group is the world’s best-selling gospel quartet of all-time. The group has performed around the world to sold-out audiences, as well as presidents, and kings and queens. Celebrating 60 years in ministry, the group released Down Memory Lane: Chapter 2, its 78th musical project, which features new hits along with award-winning classics, according to Central City Productions.

Local radio station HEAVEN 97 – KHVN received a nomination for Radio Station of the Year. Carmina Barnett of KHVN received a nomination for Gospel Announcer of the Year.

Carlton McConnell, CEO of Round The Clock Entertainment Group, was among 10 recipients of a special award from Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, California. McConnell was honored for his efforts to promote the work of new, independent Gospel artists.

The night before the awards, McConnell helped debut Fearless, a new CD from Virtue, managed by Mixed Bag entertainment. An exclusive premiere party was held in a penthouse suite at the Bellagio hotel in front of a group of executives from Gospel music radio stations and production companies.

This year was also the first time Round the Clock was an official media sponsor for the awards show. The head of Central City, Erma Davis, said she was “delighted to welcome Round the Clock onboard.” McConnell indicated that hoped this would be the start of a long relationship between Central City Productions and his group.

The show premiered Sunday on TVOne. There will be several encore shows following the premiere.

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