Hail Mary passes aside, the idea of teaming up football’s biggest showdown with a faith-based concert might sound a bit incongruous. But just as fans rev up every year for the commercial blitz and round of parties, the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration has become a popular tradition in its own right.
Taking place on Jan. 31, the 2014 celebration will usher in its 15th year with headliner Patti LaBelle. Joining LaBelle at Theater at Madison Square Garden are acts Mary Mary, Natalie Grant, Tamela Mann, Donnie McClurkin and the NFL Players Choir, comprised of current and former players. Hosts for the American Family Insurance-sponsored evening are television personalities Wendy Williams and A.J. Calloway.
In keeping with years past, a portion of the celebration’s proceeds and tickets will be donated to a chosen charity. This year’s beneficiary: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Headed by CEO Richard Shadyac Jr., the hospital treats some of the most aggressive forms of childhood cancer. Over the years, the concert has raised more than $500,000 for various local and national charities including the Special Olympics.
“It’s a blessing to show the other side of the helmet; to let fans see players in a different light,” says Melanie Few-Harrison, creator and executive producer of the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. “The players provide amazing stories about faith; others play instruments and sing. Gospel’s popularity goes beyond just one segment of folks. It transcends race and age.”
A pastor’s daughter who loves both gospel music and football, Few-Harrison broached the idea of pairing those passions to a friend who worked at the NFL Players Association. Launched as a gospel brunch in Miami in 1999, the event has since become the first (in 2002) — and still the only — concert sanctioned by the NFL. Its playbill boasts such previous performers as Fantasia, Lecrae, Gladys Knight and Yolanda Adams.
“This is a win-win combination… pairing life-changing music with America’s favorite sport,” says award-winning contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Natalie Grant. “It’s so exciting to see the NFL recognize the important contribution gospel music makes in general and the inspiration it is for so many players.”