Christian Retailing

Gospel Music Association celebrates 50 years Print Email
Written by DeWayne Hamby   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:26 AM America/New_York

GMA aims to foster community, create cohesion in Christian music industry

GMA-Anniv-Final-1-boldThe Gospel Music Association (GMA) continues as a unifying force for Christian music as the Nashville-based organization celebrates 50 years in 2014.

GMA was founded in 1964 to bring “cohesion” to a diverse industry, said Jackie Patillo, the association’s executive director.
She believes this need still exists today.

“This group of Southern gospel music executives formed the organization because they wanted to centralize the resources and bring some cohesion,” Patillo told Christian Retailing. “They were concerned for the fragmentation of our industry. It’s interesting that 50 years later, we still need that.”

Patillo, who became director three years ago, points to the diversity of Christian music—which encompasses R&B, pop, country, bluegrass, Southern gospel, rap and more—as an example of an industry whose common vision is spreading the gospel of Jesus. She wants to continue to bring more people under the umbrella of the organization, reaching beyond Nashville, which has typically been considered Christian music’s headquarters.

“It’s important to us, we believe, that as a community, we are stronger together, and we represent all different facets and genres,” she said. “And becoming a member of the GMA keeps everyone connected.”

This diversity is best displayed at the GMA’s most popular event, the annual Dove Awards ceremony, which will take place Oct. 7 at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena in Nashville. Lecrae and Bart Millard (MercyMe) have been placed strategically as Dove Awards hosts to raise awareness of the category’s wide scope of artists.

“It’s the only platform that brings together all types of music,” she said. “To be able to reveal that onstage is our goal.”

The evening will include performances and appearances by artists Matthew West, One Girl Nation, Andy Mineo, Love and the Outcome, Erica Campbell, Hezekiah Walker and Bill Gaither as well as authors Rick Warren and Karen Kingsbury. Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is this year’s telecast partner, helping the awards reach a potential 100 million homes in the U.S.

The awards are the best way of honoring what’s happening in Christian music, Patillo said, noting a Scripture verse she found when she first became director.

“The verse [Matt. 5:16, paraphrased] said, ‘Let our lights so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,’ ” she said. “That’s as relevant now as it was 45 years [ago in the early days of GMA]. We need to honor the current artists that are making the sacrifices that they make for our families and spreading the gospel through music.”

In an effort to reflect what’s happening in today’s Christian marketplace, a new category for Inspirational Film of the Year was added, with God’s Not Dead, Grace Unplugged, When Calls the Heart, Son of God and Heaven Is for Real as the inaugural nominees.

“God is using faith-based films to reach the world,” Patillo said. “More often than not, those films are including our music.”

At the same time, the organization celebrates what’s happening in today’s Christian entertainment world, it is also charged with honoring the heritage and future of Christian music through events such as GMA Honors, an awards night to honor GMA Hall of Fame inductees, and IMMERSE, a training conference for next-generation talent.

While GMA has been inducting artists and other leaders into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame since 1971, this past April featured the inaugural GMA Honors, this year celebrating the contributions of inductees Brown Bannister, Take 6, Rich Mullins and Gaither Vocal Band.

 “It was a great inaugural event, and it really emphasizes not only the talent and their hearts, [but also] how they’re walking out their faith in practical ways,” Patillo said.

IMMERSE provides training ground for upcoming artists and songwriters. Held in June at the LifeWay campus in Nashville, the event featured author Ed Stetzer, Christian pop artist Jonny Diaz and songwriter and worship leader Jennie Lee Riddle as speakers.

“It’s very pertinent that those of us that are seasoned begin to speak into the next generation,” Patillo said.

IMMERSE has been a success because of the organization’s partnership with LifeWay, which is one of several alliances Patillo said has helped the GMA “stabilize” its events, another being Lipscomb University’s hosting of the GMA Dove Awards.

Beyond the big happenings, GMA also hosts local networking opportunities for industry leaders such as NEXT and Band Wives for wives of men who frequently travel in the industry.

“Ministry and commerce live within our Christian-label agencies and what not, but at some point, we need to know each other not as competitors, but as people,” Patillo said. “We’re trying to encourage community.” —DeWayne Hamby