How One Black Woman Built a 20-Year Tradition in the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration

Members of the NFL Players Choir Terrence Stephens, Olrick Johnson, Bryan Scott and Cameron Newton perform during a press conference in Atlanta on Jan. 9, 2019.Marcus Ingram / MIE

For two decades, the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration has featured worship, live performances and personal testimonies from gospel artists, mainstream acts and even NFL players — the first and only NFL-sanctioned gospel music extravaganza.

Its founder and proprietor, Melanie Few-Harrison, likes to think of producing the concert every year as “a faith walk.”

“We going to do it big this time, y’all. This is the 20th anniversary,” the Atlanta native said in an interview with NBCBLK. “I’m truly hoping that night will be a testimony to what unshakeable faith is. Bring your tambourines that night. I just want to go old school praise. We’re taking it back to how it used to be — take it back to the church and just celebrate.”

This year, the comedian and radio personality Rickey Smiley is hosting the affair at Atlanta Symphony Hall on Thursday. The list of performers include Kirk Franklin, LeCrae, Koryn Hawthorne, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and The Winans. The celebration has aired on BET for the last six years, drawing significant audiences in Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, and Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida. A portion of the evening’s proceeds go to a local charity. The concert is set to air on BET Saturday.

Super Bowl Gospel Celebration founder Melanie Few-Harrison
Super Bowl Gospel Celebration founder Melanie Few-Harrison at the Annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration in Tempe, Arizona, on Jan. 30, 2015.Imeh Akpanudosen / Getty Images for Super Bowl Gospel

Past performers include Faith Evans, Sheila E., Snoop Dogg, the Clark Sisters, Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin.

The concept started in 1992 when Few-Harrison traveled with some friends to Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis. Few-Harrison, a Clark Atlanta University alumna, noticed there wasn’t any nonsecular programming as part of the festivities. The budding entrepreneur started writing letters to the NFL asking them to consider sponsoring a gospel music event as part of Super Bowl weekend. She wrote letters for seven years, and was rejected for seven years, but as the daughter of a minister, she was determined to make her dream a reality.

“I knew the rejection wasn’t anything mean-spirited,” Few-Harrison said. “I knew that they get hundreds of thousands of letters every day, and I knew that I would keep trying. I didn’t know where it was going to go, but I wasn’t going to give up.”

In 1999, the NFL greenlight Few-Harrison’s idea to put on the gospel concert as part of Super Bowl XXXIII events in Miami. “I got the letter saying, ‘You can try it; come do it,’” she said.

The year after the celebration debuted, Few-Harrison’s hometown, Atlanta, hosted the game. A major snowstorm hit, but the show went on. Referring to that brisk evening as “a huge testament to faith,” Few-Harrison said she ended up turning away 2,000 people.

That was the moment Few-Harrison says she realized her idea had believers. “People wanted to come to see players tell their stories of faith and listen to some amazing music,” she said. “It’s been so worth it.”

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Source: NBC News

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