For a dozen years, the Allstate Gospel Superfest has been bringing the biggest names in black gospel music into people's homes through its annual TV specials. When audiences tune in next season, they'll also get an eyeful of Memphis.
"We're thrilled to be in Memphis," says Superfest producer Bobby Cartwright Jr., who is bringing the 13th edition of his TV event to Temple of Deliverance tonight for a public taping. "Memphis is a great gospel town, music town, period. We've been on the East Coast for the past few years, and we decided to bring it into the Bible Belt and give Memphis the opportunity to view the television taping."
Hosted by actress Vivica A. Fox, the event will feature more than 30 performers on stage, including Regina Bell, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Canton Jones, Stephen Hurd, Kevin Davidson & Dominion and, making his gospel debut, actor and singer Tyrese Gibson.
Also performing will be Memphis gospel stars like Donte' Everhart & The End Time Movement and Billboard chart-topper Earnest Pugh.
"The local artists are local, but I'm from Ohio, and some of the artists you consider local in Memphis are national in our mind in Ohio," Cartwright says. "They've actually made an impact around the nation as far as gospel's concerned, and that's another reason we wanted to come here."
Also on tap are appearances by actors David and Tamela Mann of "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns," a lifetime achievement award for Bishop Paul S. Morton of New Orleans, and Keith and Karl Edmonds, better known as the duo K&K Mime, leading a "90 mime tribute" to the unique pantomime ministry movement they helped start.
Each artist will perform a handful of songs, which will then be edited into several one-hour TV specials, which are seen by millions through syndication. The Superfest was also featured in a half-hour series that ran on Trinity Broadcasting Network for nine years. Currently, past and present editions of the Superfest can be seen every morning on the recently launched Bounce network, billed as the broadcast TV network for African-Americans. (Locally Bounce can be seen on WMC-TV digital channel 5.2 and on Comcast channel 906.)
"With all that exposure, there's never been a black gospel property with this kind of distribution in the history of the genre," Cartwright says.
The Gospel Superfest was divinely inspired, according to Cartwright.
"I received a vision in my sleep in 1998, and it took me two years to figure out how to do it," he says of the buildup to the Superfest's debut in 2000 in Louisville. "But I felt the Lord had inspired me to do it. I wasn't a television professional by any stretch of the imagination. So when I got the call, it took me two years to do my homework, read the credits of other television shows, and find out where the expertise was."
Since that first event, Superfest has bounced around the country, playing in cities like New York, Atlanta and, last year, Baltimore.
With the move to Memphis, the Superfest looks to tap into a rich local gospel tradition that includes Robert Wilkins, O'Landa Draper, Al Green and Darrel Petties. Producers had originally planned to hold the event in the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts but ultimately settled on the Church of God in Christ's Temple of Deliverance Church, both for both its larger size and its spiritual significance.
"The late Bishop G.E. Patterson was a household name around the world," Cartwright says of the late leader of the church. "We are excited to be here at Temple of Deliverance because he put that ministry on the map nationally with his television broadcasts, which were a viewing tradition for many Christians around the country."
Allstate Gospel Superfest
7:30 tonight at Temple of Deliverance Church, 369 G.E. Patterson. Tickets: $10, VIP $20. Tickets available at the door and in advance online at ticketweb.com. For more information, visit gospelsuperfest.com.