Franklin and Tomlin

2 comments Written on October 7th, 2011     
Filed under: Multicultural, Music
Today’s post is written by Matt Nightingale, Director of Worship Ministries at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa, OK.

A few weeks ago, Jelani Greenidge and Jo Anne Taylor started and important conversation about culture in worship. You can read it here. This week in our “Better Together” forum (see sidebar), Jelani kept the conversation alive with the following post:

Who’s the most famous White Christian musician in the U.S. right now? Chris Tomlin.

How many of his songs are on the CCLI top 25 right now? A bunch.

Who’s the most famous Black Christian musician in the U.S. right now? Kirk Franklin.

How many of his songs are on the CCLI top 25 right now? None.

Why do you think this is?”

And seventy replies later, we may not be much closer to getting this problem “fixed,” but we’re talking about it in a healthy and productive way. Here is just a taste of some of the more salient comments…

  • From a white worship leader: “Without demographic stats re: “black/white” churches, I can’t give you math. But it’s easier for say… *you* to inject some r&b sensibilities into a Chris Tomlin tune than it is for say *me* to get a Kirk Franklin tune into a place that’s accessible for my team and my congregation… Chris Tomlin tunes are singable and simple. They follow the pop song laws of chord harmony – I, IV, V, vi, ii are pretty much it. Any kid with a guitar can sing a Chris Tomlin song.”
  • “What I have noticed is the lack of realistic diversity on CCLI’s home screen feature scroll (where they show pics of a variety of artists/songwriters). Take a look especially at the Paul Baloche picture (if it’s still on the site). All the worshipers look alike – nicely dressed with trendy clothes, women in scarves, hands lifted, etc. Not that these things are bad, but does that image really reflect who worships with Paul Baloche (and others)? I know our group of worshipers is much more widely diverse than that. Maybe its just me, but part of the problem is image portrayed by the industry itself.”
  • “I wouldn’t care that much… except that I see the influence that these lists have on the rest of the body. It becomes an echo chamber, where something good gets noticed, gets promoted, and then if it’s really good, EVERYBODY jumps on it… And the thing is, there is real money at stake here, because the “plays” in churches help to fund the artists who create. It’s not a perfect system, but it is a blessing to musicians. My question is, how can we tweak the system to get some different color into the pipeline? THAT is why I care. It’s not because I’m worried that Kirk Franklin doesn’t feel affirmed by the greater evangelical community. It’s because there are young men and women who are talented and gifted and God is using them, but because of the inherent cultural biases baked into the system, they are not getting the same amount of exposure, play, and therefore CASH as some of our Caucasian brothers and sisters.”
  • “Good and sane comments so far in my view. For African Americans to crank Tomlin or whites to rock Franklin (or Spanish-speaking/cultural folks to do either on any wider scale) is rare, though not entirely beyond at least some of our ability or desire. We raised our kids and grandkids on wide (very wide) varieties of food. They all dig it all. For such to happen must at some point be intentional. Musicians, much like sports teams -can- and often do (and will) knock these color/cultural walls down… IF they (we) are willing to pay the price.”
  • “How would you define the price? Because I agree… People who are willing to pay are rare.”
  • “For me, on the local level, the key is musical collaboration. A few years back I invited the youth choir from one of our predominately black churches in town to lead our worship. They graciously accepted and WOW! It was incredible (worship and music), but I think our predominantly white congregation wasn’t quite sure what to do (with their hands, their voices, nothing). Especially, with all the dancing in the aisles! If we could join in collaboration (both/all three/all four cultures on the platform) we all might learn from each other what “to do.” Both from a musical and expressive perspective. Our congregations could see what a white person “does” in the context of gospel music and vise verse, Maybe a Tomlin/Franklin album might help lead the way? Now where did I put Tomlin’s phone number?”
  • “This is one of the healthiest conversations I’ve witnessed in a long time. Seems to me, with some intentional leadership, we can take the Christian Arts aesthetic to a much healthier place… and take it out from the unthinking influences of commercial forces and media. It’s time for the trend towards Lowest Common Denominator art to be over…”

I sincerely hope you’ll join in the discussion. One of our denomination’s great strengths is its commitment to racial righteousness (Read our 2008 Resolution on Racial Righteousness here), but we still have so far to go. May God give us clear guidance to move forward, and may we obey as we worship Him with heart, soul, mind and strength.


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2 comments “Franklin and Tomlin”

Matt, Jelani, JoAnn,

I appreciate this discussion quite a bit.  However, I don’t think it goes far enough.  CCLI does not just lack diversity in this way, it lacks it in almost every important way.  Maybe I haven’t spent enough time on it, but I have found myself frustrated over and over again by its narrow promotion of only one type of worship music far over and above any other types.  As the main go-to for many church musicians, especially for maintaining legal copyright, it appears to be severely lacking any sense of a well-developed theology of worship to provide a back-bone for their choices of what to promote.

I would like to see them show some intentionality in their choices and decisions as a company.  This may be something we as church musicians need to ask/encourage/demand from them.  After looking up their history and their “global team” of leaders, I am beginning to understand why they appear to come up short in the area of diversity.  See for yourselves:

I wish I was surprised by what I found, but unfortunately I’m not.  CCLI does serve a very important function and I am glad they exist, but I believe they could do better, a lot better.

I wonder if we should as a group somehow come together to express some of our frustrations (or maybe I’m the only one at frustration-point?) and encourage them to take a serious look at their theology and values in light of this conversation.  I for one would be excited to join with others to do this.

Thanks for getting us rolling on this ya’ll!

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I have to confess that I haven’t really been part of this conversation till now because I’ve not really been sure what to say.  To be honest, I never went to CCLI’s website until we just started our reporting period a few days ago.  I never listen to Christian (or otherwise) radio because the commercials irritate me.  I occasionally use “” but mostly I find their choices for the front page are kind of boring.  No, I get all of my new music from suggestions from people I know, in my congregation, friends, and my colleagues here from across our denomination.  We used “Santo Santo Eres” and “Abre Mis Ojos” from Midwinter this past year, to the great confusion of my mid-upper class white congregation … though many really liked them both and would like more on occasion (our senior pastor keeps accusing me of using them when he’s gone and wants to be here to sing them, how great is that?!)  Also, while I think our church could use a broader diversity of music in our modern gathering, I worry that my teams and I are unable to pull off multiethnic music well (our teams are nearly as ethnically homogeneous as our church).  Still, it’s worth a shot and it’d be good for everybody to step outside their boxes a little.

So here’s a suggestion from somebody who would love to see more diversity of music but really has no clue how to pull any of it off: can those of you who know the music best put together a “best of” album for those of us that really don’t know the genre?  Instruction videos on youtube for methodology?  This could be a useful thing for a class or workshop at Midwinter this next year as well.  I think lots of us are willing to learn but have no teacher.

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