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Gospel music going big time with 16-city tour

- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ATLANTA — Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Donnie McClurkin and Israel Houghton believe if they collectively raise their voices high enough, believers will come in droves. And Live Nation is banking on it.

The four gospel superstars feel confident as they await the start of the King's Men tour, the first gospel concert tour backed by Live Nation Inc., the world's largest concert promoter. The concert series will be the first step toward proving the genre can broaden its fan base and become a lucrative business for the promotional company.

"The hope is that the tour does so well that the demand continues to grow," Mr. Houghton said in a recent interview. "I think if we play it right, and execute it the way we hope, it's going to be a game changer."

The 16-city tour kids off Sept. 16 in Phoenix. Mr. Franklin views it as an opportunity to pave the way for other top gospel acts. As a follow-up to King's Men, he hopes there will be an all-women gospel tour that'll include acts such as Mary Mary and Yolanda Adams.

"This tour is an extension of all [our] sacrifice and hard work," he said. "It's an extension of the Fred Hammonds, the Commissioned. It's important that everybody sees us as an extension of them. The success of this will continue to open up those doors to celebrate those men, ladies and daughters of the King's Men tour."

Mr. Franklin assembled the team of gospel's heavyweight singers to join him, and then approached Live Nation with the idea of the King's Men tour. He invited one of the company's executives to attend the recent Stellar Awards with him.

That's all Mr. Franklin needed to hook Live Nation, and everything else fell into place.

"I saw how amazing the emotional side of gospel is," said Kevin Morrow, the senior vice president of touring at Live Nation and a former manager for gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama. "I had forgotten how unbelievably great the singers are in gospel. I went back and told everyone else at Live Nation that we need to get in business with them."

Mr. Morrow said he was impressed by the different elements of musical talent the self-proclaimed "King's Men" bring to the table. He was attracted by Mr. McClurkin's smooth crooning, Mr. Franklin's ability to mesh a hip-hop melody with gospel as a producer and choir director, Mr. Sapp's soaring voice and Mr. Houghton's jazzy rock presence.

"When you see those four guys together, the only thing you can compare them to in the rock world are the Traveling Wilburys," Mr. Morrow said of the supergroup that included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. "With the King's Men, these are four guys, four different parts of their lives with four different types of music. This just seems like the right time and the right movement for them and gospel."

Mr. Morrow said the tour could lead to additional cities for the King's Men. He said Live Nation also is looking into promoting gospel tours through House of Blues venues for up-and-coming artists in the genre. But it's predicated on how well the King's Men tour packs venues in each city. Live Nation isn't concerned how the tour will do in larger cities like Los Angeles and Houston, but will certainly keep a close eye on smaller markets like Tampa, Fla.; Hartford, Conn.; and Norfolk, Va. The cities for the tour were chosen based on the foursome's strongest markets and their hometowns.

Mr. Sapp knows there are no guarantees. However, he feels optimistic that people from the gospel community will come out and support the tour.

"They are extremely loyal to the genre," Mr. Sapp said. "This is our chance. This is our time to promote the King's music to another level."

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