Super Bowl Gospel Celebration Kicks Off Super Bowl Weekend with Mary Mary, Natalie Grant, Patti Labelle, NFL Players Choir

( [email protected] ) Jan 31, 2014 03:20 PM EST
Tonight, some of Christian music's biggest stars will kickoff Super Bowl weekend in New York with the annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.
Gospel duo Mary Mary arrives at a New York press conference to promote the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. (William Perlman/The New Jersey Star-Ledger)

Tonight, some of Christian music's biggest stars will kick off Super Bowl weekend in New York with the annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.

Patti LaBelle and gospel duo Mary Mary will headline this year's event at Madison Square Garden, with additional performances by Natalie Grant, Donnie McClurkin, Tamela Mann and the NFL Players Choir, which is made up of current and former NFL players.

"We just know it's going to be bigger and better and more praise-oriented than ever before," said Melanie Few-Harrison, the event's founder and producer, at a press conference Thursday night.

This will be the 15th year for the concert, though Few-Harrison said it took a while to convince the NFL to allow it.

"For four years they told us no," she said.

The event originally began as a brunch at eh 1999 Super Bowl in Miami. Today, it's an event that draws stars like Lecrae, Marvin Winans, and Yolanda Adams.

"This is a win-win combination," Natalie Grant told Billboard, "pairing life-changing music with America's favorite sport. It's so exciting to see the NFL recognize the important contribution gospel music makes in general and the inspiration it is for so many players."

In 2008, the NFL Players Choir was added to the lineup. Members of this year's choir include Green Bay Packers linebacker Victor Aiyewa, Cincinnati Bengal defensive tackle Terrence Stephens and former New York Giant Keith Hamilton.

At Thursday night's press conference, some of the choir members expressed how a strong devotion to God permeates the league.

"His presences is felt through the NFL," said Jets wide receiver Josh Cribbs, This idea was seconded by Keith Hamilton who said the locker room is often used as a prayer closet.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was on hand to open the press conference with a prayer, and he later shared his appreciation for the players who make up the choir.

"I want to thank these players for giving of themselves in this godly way," he said.

Many athletes also attend the concert as spectators. Each year, anywhere from 60 to 100 players show up to worship and - in some instances - share their personal testimonies.

Few-Harrison thinks this is, in part, what makes the event so successful.

"It's a blessing to how the other side of the helmet; to let fans see players in a different light," she told Billboard. "The player provides amazing stories about faith; others play instruments and sing. Gospel's popularity goes beyond just one segment of folks. It transcends race and age."

Talk show host Wendy Williams and A.J. Calloway of the entertainment news program "Extra" will host tonight's concert.

In the past 11 years, the concert has raised more than $450,000, a portion of which goes to charity. This year's proceeds will go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which provides free medical care for children with life-threatening diseases.

The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration will be televised in select cities this evening. Check your local listings for more information.