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Gospel Superstar Tamela Mann Talks 'Overcomer' and the Blessings of Staying Independent

Tamela Mann
Tillymann Music Group

Tamela Mann

With a busy acting career and her own clothing line, gospel superstar Tamela Mann’s life has never been busier, but that didn’t keep her from leaning into her music career on her new album, Overcomer, out tomorrow via her Tillymann Music label.

Despite having double-knee replacement surgery last year, Mann, who stars on Tyler Perry's Assisted Living, took a much more active role in the songwriting and production of her new 12-song collection. “I wanted to be more of a part of it than I ever have been,” she tells Billboard. “I wanted to talk about what I’ve been going through. I found words that I wanted to apply to my life, so that’s how I wanted to apply it to this music. I wanted to stay focused on the work that I’ve started and to put my life into this album.”

Fans have already embraced the album’s first two singles. “Touch From You” made history by becoming Mann’s seventh No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart, which tied her with her longtime friend Kirk Franklin and James Fortune for the most No. 1 songs by an artist on the listing. The song spent five weeks in the top spot.

“It resonated with people because it was talking about the brokenness in the world,” Mann says. “We’ve all just been trying to survive. It hit home with everyone. The lyrics of the song [say] that we all needed a touch from the Lord. We all needed to hear from him. I wanted to release it simply so it could be a blessing to people. It was just saying everything we needed at that point.”

Her current single, “Help Me,” which features The Fellas, is currently at No. 11 on Gospel Airplay. If hits the top, it will be her eighth time at the summit, and she will hold the record for the most No. 1s. “I don’t smoke, but I might need a cigarette,” Mann says with a laugh when asked how it would feel to break the record. “I would just be in amazement and just really grateful to God, if that happens.”

Mann’s success is even more impressive because she doesn’t have a major label behind her. She continues to record for Tillyman, the label she launched with her husband actor/businessman David Mann in 2005. “We can only chalk it up to one thing: nothing but the grace of God,” David Mann says. “We’ve always done it as an independent. The reason we did it that way is because we’ve seen some of the craziness in the industry, and we wanted to be able to control the narrative of how we wanted to do music -- how we release music, and the type of songs -- because a lot of times people go with trends.

“‘Take Me to the King’ is not a trendy song. It could be just as relevant now as it was when it was released in 2012,” he continues about the 2012 hit, which spent 25 weeks at No. 1. “We want music like that, music that could stand the test of time. Some of these songs that are on this new album, you could play them five years from now and they’ll still be relevant.”

Tillymann is distributed by The Orchard, and the Manns enlisted Linda Klosterman at Nashville-based TKO Marketing to help work their releases soon after launching the label. “This machine would not be where it is without Linda,” David Mann says. “The whole TKO team, wherever they are needed, they jump in and fill the gaps and they work hard. That’s what makes us such a great team because it’s like, ‘Okay that needs to be done, let’s get it done.’”

They have definitely gotten it done. Mann’s chart-topping album Best Days was named Billboard’s Gospel Album of the Decade (2010-2019). In addition to scoring a Grammy, Mann’s list of accolades includes honors from BET, Billboard Music Awards, NAACP Image Award, Stellar Awards and the GMA Dove Awards.

When asked what has made them so successful as an indie going up against the majors, David replies, “Being accessible. A lot of artists are taking the stance, ‘Okay I’ve made it. I’m good.’ But it’s important to reach out to the DSPs and the radio programmers to just let them know you care and say, ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes a simple thank you to people supporting your stuff goes a long way. People will remember you when you treat them well.”

The Manns are often approached by larger companies who want to sign Tamela, but they are content to stay independent and enjoy the freedom that comes with calling their own shots. They also believe in sticking with a project. “A lot of the labels will work a project for 90 days and then it’s, ‘Thank you, goodbye,’ and they are on to the next thing,” David says.

The Manns also enjoy enlisting their own creative partners. Production credits for the new album include Franklin, Phillip Bryant, Jevon Hill, Travis Greene, Dontaniel Kimbrough, Todd Dulaney, Shaun Martin, Rickey “Slikk” Offord and Stanley Green. In addition to The Fellas lending vocals to “Help Me,” Dulaney joins Mann on “Finished Work” and Franklin and Wyclef Jean join Tamela on “Hello God.”

Tamela, who began her career singing with Franklin’s group The Family, told her longtime friend she wanted to do a song on the new album with a Caribbean flavor. Franklin knew Jean had a song that would work and connected them. “Just to hear his voice on the phone I geeked because, ‘Oh my! We’re talking to Wyclef.’ I was pretty happy about it,” she says. “Because of COVID, he did his [part] at home and I did mine here with me and Kirk. It was just amazing.”

Similarly, she was seeking a particular sound on "Help Me" when she enlisted The Fellas. “I wanted the quartet sound,” she says. “They are young contemporary guys but still have an old school sound. I thought they would give it the grit it needs and that old school flair. It’s what they do.”

Dulaney joins Tamela on the opening track, “Finished Work,” a nearly seven-minute anthem she wrote with Greene. “I really believe this song will encourage people,” she says. “It reminds people that everything God has begun in you, he’s going to complete and finish in you.”

Tamela is excited about getting the new music released. “We’re going to get this out and God’s going to get the glory because I just believe it’s going to do great work in the world," she says. "I feel like the world is still in a little turmoil where we just are trying to figure things out, but the best way to figure it out is to have God as our guide.”