Over the last five years, eight-time Grammy Award nominated singer Marvin Sapp has experienced some of the highest heights and the lowest depths a man can face.
After two decades as a respected Gospel artist, Sapp burst to superstar status on the heels of his 2007 radio smash, “Never Would Have Made It,” which beat out hits by The Beatles and Elvis Presley to hold the record as the longest #1 single at radio (43 weeks) in the history of the Billboard charts. Not only did it hit the top spot on the Hot Gospel Songs and Adult R&B Airplay charts, but it also became the first Gospel song to sell a million digital downloads. His follow-up CD, Here I Am, released in 2010, made further history as the highest Top 200 chart debut by a Gospel artist ever when it came in at #2 with over 76,000 in first week sales.
During this period of unprecedented success, Sapp, who also pastors the flourishing Lighthouse FLC church in Grand Rapids, MI, had to balance his public triumphs with his private tragedies. Thirsty, the CD with the breakout hit “Never Would Have Made It,” was recorded after the loss of the three most important men in his life - his natural father, his spiritual father, and his musical mentor. A few years later, after the release of Here I Am, he lost his wife of twenty-two years, Malinda, who died in 2010 after a battle with colon cancer. That loss, and how Sapp mitigated the pain through conversations with God, provides the backdrop for his ninth solo CD, I Win (Verity Gospel Music Group). “After all the stuff I’ve had to endure over the last five years, I felt like I needed to make a declaration and be open and honest about how I feel about everything that I’ve had to overcome,” Sapp says of the set. “And when I look back at it, I wasn’t as swift as I should have been. Probably wasn’t as fast as I could have been, but because I endured I won.”
Filled with gritty resolve and a special measure of God’s grace, Marvin Sapp’s newest record (and life) reminds us that we can defeat any obstacle through Christ.
This interview has been reprinted on NRT with permission from Family Christian Stores. Click here to visit FamilyChristian.com today!
What was the biggest inspiration for I Win?
I titled this CD I Win
because I want to affirm for myself and for others that the winning is in the enduring. People have a perception that the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first--but I maintain that winning is not a destination but an attitude. I discovered the song "I Win" at a pastor’s conference a while ago -- a young singer named Brittney A. Wright co-wrote and performed it. I was so very impressed by the song, I asked her if she would allow me to record it, and a year and a half later I did.
To date, your live albums have been recorded in your hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. What led to choosing to record this album near Washington D.C.?
I recorded the album near D.C. at Evangel Cathedral simply because that was one of the first places I ever did a concert when I first started in the Gospel music industry some 22 years ago. I was in Commissioned and one of our first concerts was [there]. I’ve had a great relationship with that church for literally 22 years. As bad as I wanted to do the new recording in Grand Rapids, MI, where I’ve done all of my live recordings, it was just too close of a reminder of having buried my wife. She was always a part of my recordings because she managed my career. So, since I wasn’t going to do the recording in my city, the only place I could think to take it was to [the] family that’s not here, and that was Evangel Cathedral.
Your Twitter page includes the quote “I’m a preacher that happens to sing, not a singer that happens to preach.” How do you balance these two distinct roles?
I always say that I don’t balance, I prioritize. Because, when you try to balance or juggle, something inevitably is going to fall. The call on my life is to preach. I started preaching when I was 22 years of age, and that is what I prioritize. The music is an extension of my ministry, it is a gifting, but I keep it in its rightful place based on God’s call on my life. The gifts come without repentance. I’ve learned that you can be gifted and anointed and live like the devil. In order to be successful in your call, though, you have to tap into the Source. The only way that you can maintain being connected to the Source is you have to live a life that’s holy and acceptable in the sight of God. That’s one of the things we don’t talk about anymore in the church, and that’s trying to live holy. I challenge people who live close to me, next to me, with me that they have to learn to strive to live holy at all costs. Everything else springs forth from that.
Your life took an unexpected turn in 2010 with the loss of your dear wife. How has that affected your approach to ministry/music?
One of the blessings was that all of my contracts were negotiated by MaLinda already so it hasn’t affected my business at all. My booking office still does what it does. I’m still turning down a bunch of different dates. Opportunities are still there because we built a great staff so it hasn’t been difficult to move forward. Musically, I continue to record songs that I connect with because I know that those are the songs that will connect with people. MaLinda also laid out in great detail how things would move forward at our church, where she was the administrative pastor. So my approach in both ministry and music has been to adopt a motto that MaLinda had and said all the time: "Keep it moving." That is what she wanted me to do.
What helped you through that time?
For me, prayer and praise and worship absolutely sustained me through the bereavement of my wife. I know I would not have been able to endure that great pain without God.
What is your favorite moment/song on the record, and why?
A standout moment was definitely the “Hymns Medley.” I grew up on hymns and my mom kinda taught me almost every hymn I know. When we were doing the recording, the “Hymns Medley” just happened. We were transitioning between songs and I just started singing hymns. At first, it wasn’t even supposed to go on the record. We were going to drop it and then the staff was like, "No, this is unbelievable. It’s gotta stay." So, we just ended up putting it on the record--but I was just singing things I grew up listening to from traditional hymns to Andrae Crouch. And [so] we just went back and forth and people were blessed by it and I enjoyed doing it. Hopefully, people will love it when they hear it on the record.
For all of the recognition you’ve received over the years, is there a specific honor that has meant the most to you? And if so, why?
[Laughing] The BET Award for Best Gospel Artist--because my kids were so excited about that! Honestly, every award and recognition is a very humbling experience.
Family Christian Stores is the nation's largest Christian retailer. Through their products and resources, the message of Christ reaches hearts, inspires faith and strengthens families.