Mary Mary's Erica Campbell Joins A-List Judge Lineup
For the past 14 years, gospel group Mary Mary has been judged on the merit of their music. And based on albums sales and awards, Erica and Tina Campbell, who are also sisters, have done extremely well. But the tables have turned. Erica Campbell will now judge others during a nationwide choir competition that rolls through the District on Sept. 12.
Campbell is one of four judges who will select the country's best gospel choir during Verizon's How Sweet the Sound gospel celebration. The accomplished songstress said she's excited to embark upon this new endeavor and listen to some of the best gospel choirs the nation has to offer.
"I think that [the competition] is a way to reward them with a platform," said Campbell, 40. "I'm really glad to be a part of this competition, it's amazing. It is absolutely an event for the whole family. There aren't many events like this that can cater to the whole family. It's enjoyment for everybody."
Gospel heavyweights Donald Lawrence and Yolanda Adams will host the show; and Fred Hammond, Bishop Hezekiah Walker and CeCe Winans will join Campbell as judges on Sept. 12 at the Verizon Center in Northwest when How Sweet the Sound comes to the nation's capital.
Trini L. Massie and 4 The Caz of Christ of Pittsburgh, Pa; The Harvest Life Changers Church Choir of Woodbridge, Va.; The Virginia State University Gospel Chorale of Petersburg, Va.; 100 Men In Black Male Chorus of Durham, N.C.; Gentle Giant Music Ministries of Bethesda, Md.; and Elder Patrick Riddick and D'vyne Worship of Virginia Beach, Va. will perform for the panel of judges and gospel music enthusiasts. Campbell won't reveal her scoring rubric, but she did list several traits that make or break a choir's performance.
"They have strong vocals, they are professional, they execute well, they're sincere, well-rehearsed and they're committed to excellence," she said. "You can just see and feel [energy]. I'm excited about being a judge and about being honest about the good, the bad and the ugly of choirs."
Verizon's How Sweet the Sound kicks off its fifth season on Sept. 6 in Dallas, Texas, before moving on to stops in Georgia, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and California. Choirs that advance past the regional rounds will travel to New York City for the show's finale on Nov. 4 and a chance to win $50,000 in cash and prizes.
Competition judges aren't the only ones who will enjoy the vocal performances. Campbell said that How Sweet the Sound has something for audiences as well.
"If you love music, it's like American Idol for choirs. They [the singers] bring their A-game," she said. "I think it's just entertaining. I think that people are going to be blessed by the music they hear. It's not just a competition. You can feel the presence and power of the Lord. I hope everybody comes out and has a good time. It's going to be amazing."
For Campbell, the fact that her expertise and opinion is highly valued by others who deem her an expert, is humbling. And the fact that she'll share the stage with Walker, is also an added bonus.
She counts among her musical influences Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir, the Rev. Milton Brunson, Kirk Franklin and the Family and John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir.
"It feels like a full-circle experience to be a judge on the show when I was just aiming to be a good choir member," she said.
Mary Mary ascended to national prominence in 1998 when Dance, a song the duo wrote and performed, was featured in the film Dr. Dolittle. The song, Let Go, Let God, also performed by the sisters, was used in Disney's The Prince of Egypt film that same year. The group has since won three Grammy Awards, an NAACP Image Award, a Black Entertainment Television Award and two American Music Awards.
For all her success, Campbell surprisingly said that there isn't a specific formula that she and her sister adhere to that makes them popular among gospel music aficionados or that gives them staying power in a competitive business.
"I don't know if there is a secret. We're committed to working hard and to being our best," she said. "We fully acknowledge that there are talented people out there. We don't feel a sense of entitlement and we work hard to put the same passion and drive into every performance to make sure that it's the best. We really feel blessed. For some reason, people pay attention. I'm going to keep singing as long as people will listen."
Tickets to the 2012 Verizon How Sweet the Sound are currently on sale. For more details about Verizon's How Sweet the Sound, please visit www.HowSweettheSound.com. Or, to purchase tickets go to Ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000. Tickets can also be purchased at the Verizon box office.