Brandon Heath and Casting Crowns each won two major honors at Thursday night’s 40th annual Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards, but it was Steven Curtis Chapman’s acceptance speech upon winning Artist of the Year that provided the night’s emotional highlight.
Coming off a year that included the tragic death of his daughter Maria, and in the middle of co-headlining a huge tour with fellow Christian music superstar Michael W. Smith, Chapman spoke earnestly about the upheaval that he and his family had experienced. He commented at one point that they had been a “broken family,” but also one that was healed by their faith and able to persevere in spite of everything.
The award came almost immediately after his equally demonstrative and powerful live performance of “Cinderella” from his 2007 release This Moment. It was one of many in the night’s 2 hour, 20-minute-plus show that aired live on the Gospel Music Channel from the Grand Ole Opry.
This year marked the first time that fans could vote in the categories New Artist of the Year and Artist of the Year, and both online and text votes were accepted until about an hour and 45 minutes into the broadcast.
Another innovation included using segments of the five nominees for short form video of the year as bumpers and transition pieces during the show. But the accent and emphasis was mainly on performance and testimony, with a number of the winners using their time to espouse messages of hope and faith, and standing ovations being the norm throughout the night.
Heath, a Nashville native, won both Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year (“Give Me Your Eyes”), and said that he’d always “just considered myself a songwriter. I’m still finding my voice, and I’m honored to be up here with all these talented people.”
Casting Crowns won for “Group of the Year” and “Short form Video of the Year.” They commented that “Christian music doesn’t point to itself,” and instead is “music that points you to better ways to live.”
Stylistic diversity was the main theme of the evening, with every type of gospel represented from four-member harmony groups to singer/songwriters, ensembles, rockers, and acts that blended elements from pop, hip-hop and R&B into a modern spiritual sound.
Natalie Grant, winner of the “Female Vocalist of the Year” honors did a masterful performance in tandem with Group 1 Crew, while The Blind Boys of Alabama and Edwin Hawkins helped end the show in rousing fashion. There were electric and acoustic instruments, some songs with elaborate backgrounds and arrangements, then others featuring little more than lead vocals backed by barely audible rhythm playing.
This is the Blind Boys of Alabama’s 70th year as a group. They began back in 1939, and it was Hawkins’ monster crossover hit “Oh Happy Day” that made it onto both soul and pop charts in 1969.
The fiery Sandy Patti, who also marked her 30th performing anniversary, matched their performances. Patti did a dynamic rendition of a Dottie Rambo song she sang when making her first appearance on the awards show 27 years ago. That segued into a medley of performers honoring Rambo and performing some of her more than 2,500 selections.
The urban, contemporary and rock side of the Christian music equation was also well represented. The sparkling duo Mary Mary were not only part of the opening medley, they also won Urban Recorded Song of the Year and Tenth Avenue North won New Artist of the Year, acknowledging that “we’re just blown away” while accepting the award.
A complete list of all the winners is available online. In addition, some of the songs and video performances from the awards can be either purchased or downloaded at itunes.com/Dove awards.