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VaShawn Mitchell wins big at Stellar Awards

Gospel singer/composer VaShawn Mitchell swept six categories, more than any other artist, to become Saturday night’s big winner at the 27th annual Stellar Awards, which were held at the Grand Ole Opry House and will air on television in syndication Saturday through Feb. 26 on the GMC cable network.

Mitchell collected wins for artist of the year, male vocalist of the year, contemporary male vocalist of the year, and praise and worship CD of the year for his album Triumphant, and urban/inspirational single or performance of the year and music video of the year for “Nobody Greater” from Triumphant.

Marvin Sapp and Dorinda Clark Cole hosted the show, which celebrates gospel music and is characterized on the website as a “spirit-filled, hand-clapping, foot-stomping revival.” True to the description, the program was full of soaring performances from Kirk Franklin, Earnest Pugh, Fred Hammond, Ricky Dillard & New G, Richard Smallwood & Vision and other groups as well as choir performances that frequently had people up dancing or moved them to tears.

“It’s always a blessing to be on the Stellar Awards,” Smallwood said. “I’m grateful for the Stellar Awards. It’s gospel music’s own Grammys. It’s always good to be here and see my peers and feel the love from the audience.”

The evening’s other multiple winners included Kirk Franklin, who walked away with four trophies: song for the year for “I Smile,” and CD of the year, producer of the year and contemporary CD of the year for Hello Fear. Kim Burrell and gospel duo Mary Mary collected two awards each. Burrell won female vocalist of the year and contemporary female of the year for The Love Album, and Mary Mary won group/duo of the year for Something Big and contemporary group/duo of the year for the same album.

“I’m so happy about tonight’s awards because honestly I’ve been here before, but it means so much tonight because my sister wrote most of all the songs on the album,” Burrell said before introducing her sister Kathy Burrell. “She wrote our next single, ‘Open Up the Door,’ so when it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Legends honored

The Stellar Awards annually honor three of gospel music’s most celebrated veterans with specialty awards. This year a tearful John P. Kee was presented with the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award. Vy Higginsen accepted the Thomas Dorsey Most Notable Achievement Award. Dorothy Norwood, often called the world’s greatest gospel storyteller, was given the Dr. Bobby Jones Legends Award.

“I’m grateful for this feeling, this memory, and this moment to sit in the room where gospel is being celebrated and acknowledged and appreciated with some of the greatest voices of our time,” Higginsen said. “There’s something about the power of the human voice when it’s sung with feeling and spirit. I’m bedazzled by this whole experience. I’m excited.”

The Stellar Awards, which originated in Chicago but moved to Nashville in 2005, consist of 29 categories. This year recordings were eligible for award show consideration if they were released between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, and earned at least a Top 50 spot on the Billboard charts. Nominees are determined and voted on in the first round by members of the Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy, which is made up of record company executives, artists, radio announcers, gospel music industry professionals and supporters. The general public is allowed to vote in the second and final rounds to determine the four nominees in each category. Gospel music fans also vote to determine the evening’s winners.

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