I love NBC’s hit show “The Voice”. It gives starving and independent artists the chance to be judged on their voice alone. No more getting by on great looks or an awesome personality; it’s all about pure talent. With the judges’ backs to them, these hopefuls sing their heart out waiting for Adam, Cee-Lo, Christina, or Blake to turn around and offer a spot on their team. It’s always exciting (and nerve-wracking) to see young artists succeed during these blind auditions. The amount of unheard talent is so overwhelming! On this past episode, however, there was a voice that I knew all too well—Anthony Evans.
Anthony’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” landed him a spot on Team Christina. I, personally, didn’t feel it was his best performance but it was good enough to get him through to the next round. After his performance, I was left thinking “What’s going on?”
Anthony Evans joined the world of Christian music in 2001 when he began singing background for Kirk Franklin, who was also there supporting him. He released his debut album in 2004 and has released 5 more plus an EP since then. He is well known in the Christian music industry and is a sought-after worship leader. His resume is extensive; so what is an artist who seems to be making waves in the industry doing on a show that is geared towards propelling young talent into the industry? The answer lies in the ongoing struggle between Gospel and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).
It is an unspoken truth that gospel is ‘black’ music and CCM is ‘white’ music. Unfortunately for Anthony Evans, his music labels him CCM but his skin color labels him gospel. For whatever reason, (well I have a couple reasons but don’t want to get too deep) it is extremely hard for blacks to be successful in CCM and whites to be successful singing gospel. During his interview on the show he said:
“The struggle that I have as a Christian artist is that people would say ‘Who is he like he needs to define himself as a gospel act or a contemporary Christian act’ and I wanted to define myself by being Anthony Evans which is straight up the middle”.
It’s not until the Christian music industry blurs the lines that artists like Anthony Evans will have consistent success. The truth of the matter is that when retailers sell albums it’s placed in a specific genre, which forces artists to define themselves while still trying to hold onto this idea of individuality.
Anthony Evans has a beautiful voice. I listen to his music all the time. His tone quality coupled with his clean runs gives his voice a slight R&B feel that is too ‘black’ for CCM but too ‘white’ for gospel. Yes, there is an R&B/urban category in the Christian industry; however, while his voice may excel there, his music won’t.
Recently, there has been a wave of artists—of all races—gravitating to this developing genre that seems to be the middle ground between gospel and CCM. That genre is praise & worship (or contemporary worship). I hear it all the time now when I go to different events: “I am a worshipper” or “I know we’ve already had our time of praise & worship but that’s what I do”. Though worship has always been around, I feel that artists like Israel & New Breed and Martha Munizzi used it to push the boundaries between gospel and CCM. This has been done before by 90s worship leaders (think Don Moen and Ron Kenoly) but I feel that it has recently been rejuvenated. Even already established gospel and CCM artists are increasingly incorporating worship songs on their albums. It has musical and lyrical elements of gospel and CCM. Kari Jobe, William McDowell, and Kim Walker (of Jesus Culture) are just a few artists that are marketed as worship leaders. That’s where this industry is moving towards. Anthony Evans is often called upon to lead worship, as many artists are now because of the large demand for it, but that’s not where his market lies; I wonder how well he would do if he focuses entirely on branding himself as a worship leader.
As an artist, whether you like it or not, you’re going to be placed in a box. It’s your marketing strategy that determines how big that box is. It’s a tough industry but I believe that God has a niche for Anthony Evans. His music has already touched my life and I’m sure that it has touched many others. I just pray that his goal to reach more people is not an itch for fame but rather a desire to touch more lives with the gospel. I wish him much success on The Voice and as he continues to navigate his music career.