New gospel reaching out to next generation
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From Correspondent Jim Moret
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Gospel singer Kirk Franklin has a unique theory when it comes to his relationship with fans.
"We don't have fans, we have friends," says Franklin. "And when you look at them as friends, everybody (is) coming together for the same purpose, just getting excited about our faith."
Franklin has another reason to get excited -- he's nominated in five Grammy categories this year, including song of the year for "Lean On Me," proving sacred sounds can succeed on the radio and on the charts.
They might succeed on TV as well. VH1 is bringing gospel to its audience with a series of concert specials from the House of Blues with Franklin, MC Hammer and vocalists CeCe Winans and Shirley Caesar.
"Gospel music is no longer relegated to just the churches in the South," says Robert Katz, a production executive at VH1. "There is an emerging gospel music, a pulse that is all over the country, and we wanted to capture that for our viewers."
Focusing on message
Along with attracting a large audience, Franklin's brand of contemporary gospel is also garnering the attention of other artists.
U2'S Bono sat in with him in the studio, and so did R&B sensation R. Kelly.
But crossover success doesn't distract Franklin from focusing on the music's message.
"It's an opportunity to reach more people with the message -- especially a generation that isn't into organized religion, God, the Jesus thing," says Franklin.
Others are joining the effort.
Andrae Crouch has made the transition from full-time musician to pastor of the church his father started. He sees funk and hip-hop beats as a natural addition to the art form.
"The church has been doing it," he says. "You listen to the feet thumping in the church and you hear all those beats. It's always been around."
'Gospel until I die'
Shirley Caesar has been singing to the heavens since the 1960s, and plans to stay at the forefront of traditional gospel.
"I'll be here when you come and be here when you go," she says. "In other words, I'm in gospel until I die."
Gospel artists believe their music has the power to do more than simply entertain.
"It changes people's lives," says Crouch. "It just doesn't give them a bop of something to dance by. It changes their lives."
"It's spiritual music," says Katz. "It hits people in a place that a lot of music doesn't, and I think the audience is recognizing that."
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