Gospel Music Advocate and Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation Chairman Carl Davis with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) on stage at the 2018 Evolution of Gospel Tribute to Aretha Franklin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Photo by Brian Stukes)

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation’s (GMHMF) 10th Evolution of Gospel presented an exhilarating, spirit-filled tribute to the life and legacy of the late great Aretha Franklin on a stage where she once performed; the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  The evening featured soul-stirring musical performances from some of gospel’s leading artists and a litany of powerful narratives that paid homage to her expansive body of music and contribution to the civil rights movement.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the GMHMF’s Legacy Award to the Queen of Soul by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Gospel Music Advocate and Chairman of the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation Carl Davis; music industry legend James “Jazzy” Jordan, and. entertainment attorney Ricky Anderson.  The Award was warmly accepted by Aretha’s son, Kecalf Franklin and granddaughter Victorie Franklin.

The almost-capacity crowd at the Kennedy Center was entertained and filled with rousing musical performances and tributes from gospel artists who blew the audience away singing a collection of Aretha’s most memorable songs from her gospel and urban music repertoire.  Featured musical artists included Yolanda Adams, Jennifer Holliday, Regina Belle and Patrick Lundy and the Ministers of Music featuring Gaye Arbuckle.  A special video was presented by Neil Portnow President and CEO of The Recording Academy which featured memorable moments of Aretha at the Grammys.  Other notable presenters were inspirational singer, songwriter and producer Richard Smallwood, V. Michael McKay and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Deborah F. Rutter.  The celebration was hosted by gospel music legend and television show host Dr. Bobby Jones.

The celebration came to a triumphant end with a powerful rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” performed by Samantha McElhaney John with Rickey Dillard and the Ebenezer AME Choir.  The audience united with clasped hands and lifted their voices in unison.  It was a most appropriate close to an evening that honored and remembered the Queen of Soul whose music, compassion and commitment will forever live.

The Evolution of Gospel is the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation’s signature event.  It was sponsored by AARP, Denny’s and Walker Entertainment Group and was held on Monday, September 10th.

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

About Gospel Music Heritage Month

Gospel Music Heritage Month was created by Congressional resolution in 2008 to celebrate and educate people about the rich history of gospel music. GMHM honors a true American art form for its vast contributions to our culture, bringing a message of hope and inspiration to people of all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. People are encouraged to celebrate Gospel Music Heritage Month by attending concerts, events, watching and listening to gospel music, learning and reading about gospel music and more.

 About Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation

The Foundation was established to celebrate and educate people everywhere about the rich heritage of the gospel music genre through word and song by gospel music advocate Carl Davis.  In 2008, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Blanche Lincoln led the passing of a resolution in both chambers declaring September as “Gospel Music Heritage Month.” In each year since its establishment, both local and global celebrations have been held to educate and entertain diverse audiences about the rich history and legacy of gospel music.