The McDonald's Gospelfest is an annual gospel music festival, talent competition, and fundraiser in Newark, New Jersey. The event, inaugurated in 1983, and sponsored by McDonald's, takes place in spring and has been held the Prudential Center since 2008. The closing night contest and ceremony is produced, directed, and hosted by A. Curtis Farrow. The event, which can take several hours, has been recorded and broadcast variously on WABC-TV and WWOR-TV. Involving more a thousand performers it has been described as the "largest collection of gospel talent ever assembled" and the "most spectacular gospel celebration in the nation". The event is followed up by McDonald's Inspiration Celebration which makes a national tour.
McDonald's Gospelfest originated in 1983 under the auspices of the McDonald's Corporation and the McDonald's Tri-State Owners' Association. The event has been an important fundraising event which supports education opportunities within local communities. and has awarded millions of dollars in scholarship money. Over the years the competition performances have taken place at Palace Theater, the Hammerstein Ballroom, Westbury Music Fair, Newark Symphony Hall, Madison Square Garden, and New York City Center. Since 2008, the 25th incarnation of the event, it has been held at Prudential Center. Parts of the show have been broadcast by WABC, which in 2000 and 2001 garnered New York Emmy Awards for WABC in the "Religious Programming" category. The show is since 2008 televised on WWOR-TV. The Gospelfest is produced by Newark-based Irving Street Rep and is directed and hosted by its founder, A. Curtis Farrow.
Greater Newark has long tradition of gospel and jazz, having begun in the 1910s with the Coleman Brothers. Savoy Records gave many early artists opportunities to record. Alex Bradford was musical director of the Abyssinian Baptist Church Cissy Houston, a member of the The Drinkard Singers and The Sweet Inspirations and mentor to numerous singers, has long been a driving force behind the New Hope Baptist Church and the Gospelfest. Newark Symphony Hall is home to the NSH Special Ensemble, which was selected as the Gospelfest Youth Choir Winner in 2011, and hosts the "When Praise Goes Up!" annual gospel showcase. The affiliated Newark Boys Chorus also includes spirals in its repertory. In 1980, the former movie palace Stanley Theater became the Newark Gospel Tabernacle. Newark is one of seven cities nationwide to host the touring gospel music competition "How Sweet the Sound".
Auditions and semi-finalist competitions are held in tri-state New York-New Jersey-Connecticut each year prior to the Gospelfest. There are fourteen categories:
- 1. Praise Dance Group
- 2. Praise Dance Solo-Trio
- 3. Gospel Rap
- 4. Gospel Comedian
- 5. Gospel Poetry
- 6. Step
- 7. Adult Choir
- 8. Group Soul
- 9. Contemporary
- 10. Spanish Language Soloist
- 11. Teen Soloist
- 12. Gospel Soloist
- 13. Youth Choir
- 14. Out-of-Town Choir
2015 When the Choir Meets the Quartet
May 9, 2015 with Bishop Hezekiah Walker & LFC (Love Fellowship Choir), Ricky Dillard & New G, Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Mississippi Mass Choir, the Thompson Community Reunion Choir, Greater Allen AME Cathedral Mass Choir, Doc McKenzie & The Hi-Lites, and the Clark Sisters.
2014 Women Who Worship
The 2014 Gospelfest took place on Saturday May 10 before Mothers Day. Auditions were held in January. Among those who participated are some most popular female artists in gospel: Shirley Caesar, Vickie Winans, CeCe Winans, The Clark Sisters, Dorothy Norwood, Kim Burrell, Yolanda Adams, Dottie Peoples, Tramaine Hawkins, Cissy Houston and Melba Moore.
Auditions for Gospelfest 2013 took place in January The show, which lasted eight hours, took place May 11, 2013 and include performances by Aretha Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Smokie Norful, John P. Kee and Lecrae. and Hezekiah Walker.
2012 Honor Thy Mother
One thousand performers chosen from 80,000 contestants took the stage for the May 12, 2012 Mother's Day event. Among the headliners were Shirley Caesar, Donnie McClurkin, Vickie Winans, Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, Steve Harvey and Cissy Houston. The festival was also seen as a tribute to Whitney Houston, with roots in Newark, whose had died earlier in the year and whose funeral services were held at the New Hope Baptist Church.
2011 The Mighty Men of Valour
On June 18, 2011 the Father's Day show had more than 1,100 competitors chosen from over 40,000 people who auditioned and included some of the biggest names in gospel: Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, James Fortune, Bobby Jones, and Bishop TD Jakes. The event was noted for showing the changing face and diversification of gospel music.
There were 80,000 audition contestants of whom 850 were chosen to perform in the event which took place on June 19, 2010. Headliners included Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Hezekiah Walker, Vickie Winans, Cissy Houston, Regina Belle, J Moss. Keith Wonderboy Johnson, Kurt Carr and The Kurt Carr Singers, KOHSHI, and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
2009 What a Fellowship
Of the over 80,000 people auditioned, over 1,500 competitors took part in the Gospelfest on Saturday, June 13, 2009 . The post-competition concert included Patti LaBelle, Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans, Regina Belle, J. Moss, Vickie Winans, Bebe Winans, Cissy Houston, and Bishop Hezekiah Walker.
2008 25 Years of Glory - Let There be Peace!
On June 14, 2008, its twenty-fifth anniversary, the Gospelfest increased its participant and audience capacity and for the first time was held in the arena recently opened Prudential Center. Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir, Byron Cage, Vickie Winans and Cissy Houston were among the headliners who performed in the evening concert.
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