Ever since her debut with "Just As I Am" in the late 1980's, Yolanda Adams has triumphantly carried the torch for contemporary gospel and inspirational music via a dozen glorious albums. Here, she talks about her life and career, and about hosting Verizon's "How Sweet the Sound," the country's most prestigious gospel music celebration and competition. Now, in its fifth year of celebrating the community and the power of gospel music, "How Sweet the Sound's" national finale will be staged at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 4.
Kam Williams: Hi Yolanda, I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Yolanda Adams: It's great to talk to you, Kam.
KW: What interested you in How Sweet the Sound?
YA: First of all, it gave me an opportunity to spend time with my great friends Donald Lawrence, CeCe Winans, Erica Campbell, Fred Hammond and Hezekiah Walker. Whenever we can hang out, it's wonderful. Unless we're on tour together, we usually don't have a lot of opportunities to see each other, other than at something special like award shows. So, I was excited to do this.
KW: What's it been like judging How Sweet the Sound? Is it similar to the job you do on BET's "Sunday Best?"
YA: No, I actually co-hosted with Donald this year. So, I didn't have to face the difficult challenge of judging these great choirs.
KW: Do you care to share which choir you think is going to win?
YA: The crazy part is that the finalists are the top choirs from all of the cities that we chose. So, there are no duds left in this selection of choirs. These really are just the cream of the crop, the best choirs in the U.S.
KW: How is picking the best Gospel group different from picking the best singer from a show like "American Idol" or "The Voice?"
YA: The only difference is whether you can feel the heart of the song, the heart of what they're trying to convey. You still have to be professional. The choir's moves still have to in sync. So, you're looking at the same criteria you'd find on "American Idol" or "Sunday Best."
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: "Which of your songs has the most personal meaning for you?"
YA: That's like asking: "Which of your children is the most precious?" When I write a song, it comes from the heart and is based on a specific experience. You can't really say that one experience is greater than another, because all of your experiences take you through life on this journey.
KW: Harriet also asks: Do you ever feel that the spiritual essence of a Gospel song's message is transformed when you sing in a secular arena instead of a church?
YA: No. No. Unh-uh. The message is still the same. The delivery is still the same. You have to understand that everyone has a heart, and when it hits, the emotion is there.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: "You served as spokesperson for Operation Rebound, a program that addressed the concern of inner-city schoolchildren. Many young people want to make it in the music business and do not see the value of education. You worked in the past as a schoolteacher while you were modeling. Can you share with us the importance of education and how it helped you in the music business?"
YA: Education helps you to be a well-rounded person, period. It teaches you how to take in information and data, process it, and use it for life building. Education was key in my family. You were going to college. Unfortunately, I think what's happening nowadays is that many young people think they don't need to avail themselves of higher education because a lot of music stars left high school before graduating. Kam, you and I both know that you can be hot today in the music business and then nobody knows who you are tomorrow. So, you always have to have a good education. I am a stickler for that.
KW: And some of those rappers are college-educated.
YA: Yeah, nobody talks about how Puffy went to Howard University or about Lil Wayne attending the University of Houston. All the young kids know is what they see on the videos. They don't realize that these guys have taken managerial and business courses, and know how to brand and how to market themselves. They're very smart. ...
KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets," asks: "What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
YA: My best was to own everything that belongs to me. My worst was once making a spur of the moment decision because I needed the money.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
YA: I see a very happy mom who is in love with life and in love.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
YA: I know everybody says world peace but, seriously, world peace. I really wish we could have world peace....