Tony Cummings updates the story of MARY MARY and their 11 years of R&B gospel hits
The Campbell (formerly the Atkins) sisters, best known as Mary Mary, continue to enjoy showbiz acclaim unimagined by earlier pioneers of gospel music. When Cross Rhythms became the first UK media people to interview to the sisters in 2000 they were hitting with their classic single "Shackles (Praise Him)". The second time we caught up with Erica and Tina was in 2002 when their 'Incredible' album was well on the way to going Gold. And our third interview with the R&B gospel hitmakers occurred when 'Mary Mary' was also going Gold. Since then 'A Mary Mary Christmas' (2006) and 'The Sound' (2008) not to mention an avalanche of nominations and awards, birth of children and the publication of the sisters' Be U book have kept the spotlight shining on the ladies.
The release on 29th March this year of their sixth studio album 'Something Big' has brought Mary Mary another major hit. Mary Mary shared with Today's Christian Music why despite their songs continuing to expound the Gospel have found tremendous acceptance in the mainstream. Said Erica, "We live in a hurting world with people who need help, answers and direction. Our music offers those in a relatable way that makes God accessible to Christians and non-Christians."
The 'Something Big' album was originally intended to be called 'OMG' but the title was changed after R&B star Usher had a hit single with a song called "OMG". So why did the sisters settle on the 'Something Big' title? "God is still the biggest," responded Tina. "Even though many religions are touted in the media, God is still the Creator of the universe. He still rules and reigns. His Son still died and rose for all of our sakes. And that's BIG! How can we not live life in a big way? When we don't [live life big] we devalue his name." Erica added her thoughts. "Living big is not accruing things. It's about loving big and giving big of yourself and your resources. It's about letting God's light shine through your life to be the big difference."
Erica spoke to the Gospel Flava website a bit more about the thinking behind 'Something Big'. "Along with the song we are telling people to live big, love big, give big, and do something big. We actually have a campaign on our Facebook page that's challenging people to do something to change the surroundings, whether it's helping a school, donating books to the library, helping clean up the neighbourhood, helping homeless people and senior citizens, doing something initially to help change your street but eventually your city, State and then the world. That's the 'something big' we are talking about: everybody plays a part if we serve this great big, awesome, mighty GOD! How come we put him in this box and slap a label on him, which means he can only have his music played on a Sunday? He's GOD who created the free world, he's not American, he's not black, he's not Pentecostal, he's not Catholic, he's the God of the universe, he created all and he is all. So his music should be everywhere at all times affecting all people. I think 'Something Big' for us represents us knowing who we are even more profoundly, understanding our position and how we are seed planters, and our music goes different places that some people don't go or won't go. We feel like as God's children and God's daughters that we belong everywhere. So that's what 'Something Big' is for us. I hope that everybody gets it and understands and follows suit! Let's change the way people view who we are as the body of Christ."
Gospel Flava went on to ask the sisters what they felt about some of the more salacious developments in today's music scene like Lady Gaga. "I'm going to go ahead and say how I feel about it! I expect sinners to sin. I expect sinners to do sinful things. I expect them to go about and dance and dress like they do. They are not going to be modest and mindful and thinking about what's going to happen and how this is going to affect the mindsets of people. A lot of mainstream media today is about 'how do I make myself bigger'. It's a very self-centred industry. People like Lady Gaga, I don't expect them to think about, 'What are children going to think'. I don't expect her to understand or take on a Christian mindset as it relates to how God created us. So I understand what that is."
Tina added, "Most of the time when you are singing about God you are representing God. And you understand that everything that you do is a reflection on him, be it good or bad. So you are a little more conscious of who it is you're representing. When you are a mainstream artist you are just representing you. People are not thinking about their community, parents, ethics, the way they have been raised, NONE of that. It's just, 'I want to be a big star, so whatever works, just do it, however you do it, and if it sells, it's all good.' So like Erica said, that's what you expect, that's what the mainstream industry is about. They're not governed by the same moral laws that we are, so to speak. And, by the way, there are also people on our side that aren't governing themselves by the same laws! But you find it more in the mainstream industry because they are not representing God, so you don't expect them to be godly."
Mary Mary were asked what goes down in the recording studio during their sessions. Responded Tina, "We lounge around, laughing and shooting the breeze. Then we listen to a few banging tracks. Erica jumps on YouTube for inspiration. I jump on the phone with nannies, my kids, hubby or the bookkeeper. Warryn [Campbell, producer] starts making Mary Mary tracks to play Sunday morning-up-tempo choir music. All this insanity helps us vibe. Then we pray. If we are ministered to by [a track's] direction, we continue. The lyrics and melodies must be scrutinized and loved by us all. If it brings us to our knees, makes us dance, think or just feel really good inside, we believe it will make listeners feel the same."
Like any figures in showbiz, and sadly particularly those within the Church, Mary Mary have had their share of negative criticism. How do they deal with it? Said Erica, "You take one day at a time. And I thank God for my uncle who was my childhood pastor where we were born and raised. He used to say all the time, 'As far as I know, everybody loves me, and I love everybody and don't you tell me nothing different'. That negativity doesn't help get us anywhere, it doesn't propel us, it doesn't make me a better songwriter, or better singer. I know a lot of people focus on the haters and use that energy. I don't need energy from haters or hatred or anything like that. I use the energy of the people who support me and believe in me, and really you don't have a right for me to change my emotion when you don't even like me in the first place! You don't even love me and I'm gone waste emotion on you, when it could possibly be some young kid, in 'wherever USA', who doesn't really do anything with their life and take stabs at who you are and what you are? God bless them and I wish them all the best. I focus on the love and the support and knowing that God has placed us here to do something for him and change the way people look at us."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.