NASHVILLE — Contemporary Christian music legends and rising stars in the industry descended on Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena for the 52nd Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, the biggest annual event in Christian music.
Ahead of the ceremony, The Christian Post spoke to some of the industry’s top names, from Lauren Daigle and Lecrae to Maverick City and Elevation Worship — one of this year’s most-nominated groups.
“I’m really excited about just seeing a big crowd,” gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds, who hosted the Tuesday night awards alongside Natalie Grant, told The Christian Post. “It’s been a while. I’m just so excited about the performances.”
“It’s one big family reunion,” worship singer Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music agreed. “I’m just so happy to be here, celebrating, seeing all of my friends.”
Though the GMA did a “great job” of being creative with last year’s awards — which were entirely virtual due to restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic — Joel Smallbone of for King & Country, a band nominated for Artist of the Year, stressed that there’s “something spiritual and beautiful about being together.”
“We love the sentiment of ‘Stronger Together,’” he said, referencing this year’s theme.
Southern gospel artist Jason Crabb emphasized that “there is nothing like the Dove Awards,” adding: “Everybody being here — you can feel it. The embraces are a little tighter this year.”
Voted on by the GMA Professional Membership, this year’s nominees were chosen from over 4,600 submitted entries.
The event featured performances from CeCe Winans, Lauren Daigle, Maverick City Music, Elevation Worship, Hope Darst and more.
Elevation Worship and artist Brandon Lake are this year’s top nominated artists with seven nominations each. For King & Country earned six nominations. CeCe Winans, Ed Cash, Tiffany Hammer Hudson and Zach Williams each received five nominations.
“All of us are just like church people. We love serving the local church,” Chris Brown of Elevation Worship told CP. “It’s why we got into it. It’s what we’ve given our lives to. Worship is what we do. Our church has just been writing songs for years, and that turned into recording albums. And that turned into this. It’s wild.”
Darst, who was nominated for Best New Artist of the Year, gave God all the praise for her journey to success.
“It’s surreal; I mean 20 years ago, I was working behind the scenes for GMA and talent, making sure everybody got here,” she reflected. “I never imagined that I would be back here 20 years later. But God has a way of doing the unexpected in our lives. … Because it’s been such a long time coming, I’ve been able to soak it in and just really be so grateful and recognize that every room you get to be in, you get to tell the story of Jesus.”
Maverick City Music, also nominated for Best New Artist of the Year, credited their crossover success to the “honesty” in their music.
“It’s about [God’s] consistency, His goodness, His faithfulness. I think, really, that’s something we can all agree on,” Maverick City Music’s Naomi Raine told CP.
Artists spoke of the positive trends in CCM, from the collaborations seen across genres to artists’ willingness to talk about challenging issues like doubt, regret and pain.
“Artists, more than ever, are coming closer and rubbing shoulders more than ever, and they need to,” Luke Smallbone said. “Christianity is a journey. They call it a ‘faith journey’ for a reason. So I think it’s important to create space for people to show compassion to people, to show empathy. I don’t have it altogether; my theology is not perfect, but I hope that Jesus knows I’m in pursuit.”
Chris Tomlin, a Grammy Award-winning artist behind some of the most well-known worship songs today, including “How Great is Our God” and “Good Good Father,” expressed his joy at the success worship music has seen in recent years.
“Especially in worship music, what’s happened is really cool to see,” Tomlin told CP. “To see Bethel to Elevation to Maverick City, all these groups. Back in the day, it was kind of like me and [Matt] Redman and some dudes. And now, to see it just expand to these movements is really cool, and I love it. The songs are so fresh and connecting people in such a great way and reaching the heart of where people are right now.”
Brown said he’s been encouraged by the “unity and diversity” seen in CCM.
“It’s exciting. There shouldn’t be any predictability to what Christian music is,” he said.
Multiple artists had words of encouragement to their fans following a year of isolation.
“There’s something that we just want to be clear about: When we wrote the songs on our albums, we weren’t necessarily in a great place,” Madison Cain of the group CAIN told CP. “Just know that if you aren’t having the best time, maybe it starts with some proclamations that you’re a child of God, you are loved and this is a season that will pass.”
“There’s a distinct difference between being lonely and being alone,” Logan Cain added. “I think almost everybody has felt lonely in this season, but we are not alone. We’re promised that we have a helper. And I think that, whether it be online or in person, however, we can do it, I feel the world connecting again. I feel things start to come back together. And so I’m so encouraged.”
While the awards ceremony was taped Tuesday night, the show is scheduled to air Friday at 8 p.m. ET and again at 10 p.m. ET on Trinity Broadcasting Network. The show will be simulcast on “The Message” channel on SiriusXM radio.