Yolanda Adams the Highlight Event for NAACP's Gospel Extravaganza

( [email protected] ) Jul 08, 2004 09:06 PM EDT

Gospel Singer Yolanda Adams, who recently garnered her BET Award for best Gospel artist, appeared yesterday, July 7, at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) convention in Philadelphia, performing as part of the convention's Gospel Extravaganza that evening.

The 42-year-old singer, who is more than six-feet tall, was the first artist to win a BET Award three times in one category.

During the June 29 live telecast of the BET Awards from Hollywood, Adams and rapper Kanye West joined forces to enthrall the Kodak Theater with a rendition of "Jesus Walks."

Taking the stage with West was another step for Adams in creating a bridge with other pop musical forms, having already established her rep as a gospel singer who infuses her albums with R&B and jazz stylings.

"Performing with Kanye took my coolness to another level," Adams told Billboard. "There's another class of kids who listen to him and who now have heard of me."

Upon accepting her most recent BET Award, Adams alluded to recent personal hardships, perhaps referring to her reported split from former NFL-er Timothy Crawford, her second husband.

But considering her apparently unstoppable work ethic--which was seen as she toured into the eighth month of her pregnancy with her daughter, Taylor Ayanna Crawford, born in 2001--Adams' recent troubles shouldn't keep her from her fans.

Though Adams came to national attention with the 1999 platinum-selling release of "Mountain High...Valley Low," she made her first record more than 10 years earlier. But her roots in gospel go back even farther than that.

Born in Houston to Southern Baptist parents, Yolanda Yvette Adams was singing in her church choir at the age of 3. When she was 13, a car accident killed her father, and Yolanda took charge of her younger five siblings when grief incapacitated her mother.

"At 13 I'm picking out flowers, a casket and making all the arrangements because Mom is like, 'I don't want to see it; my husband is gone,' " Adams said in a July 2001 Essence profile.

When her dreams of becoming a TV news anchor were disappointed, she followed her parents' lead and became a schoolteacher, instructing second- and third-graders in Houston for seven years. All the while she was singing with the Southeast Inspirational Choir, a professional gospel choir.

In 1986, Thomas Whitfield, the owner of the Detroit label Sound of Gospel, discovered Adams. She released her first solo album, "Just as I Am," in 1988. She decided to quit teaching and devote herself to her singing full time in 1992.

On "Mountain High...Valley Low," recorded on the (recently folded) Elektra label, Adams worked with famed producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album earned Adams a Grammy, two Soul Train Music Awards, five Stellar Music Awards (gospel awards) and four NAACP Image Awards.

"People have had enough 'bling-blinging' and booty-shaking," gospel artist Tonex told Jet during Adams' breakthrough year. "Yolanda Adams was received with open arms because people were ready for something to touch their heart."

Since then, she has weathered some controversy for her genre-bending style. Some critics found it inappropriate that Adams presented religious music in a pop mode. Her crossover single "Open My Heart" even has a dance-mix version. But Adams has been unapologetic.

"When [Mahalia Jackson] first showed up on the scene, she was considered just as controversial as a [currently popular gospel singer] Kirk Franklin," she told BET.com. "Staunch traditionalists don't listen to contemporary music in general, so they make assumptions about contemporary gospel before they've even heard it."

She has said that she grew up listening to Shirley Caesar, Shirley Horn, Natalie Cole and Nancy Wilson.

Adams also spoke to Essence about listening to a Donny Hathaway CD. "He took his knowledge of the church and brought the soul and the anointing of that into his music so it could touch people. That's exactly what I'm trying to do," she said.