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CeCe Winans and Donald Lawrence
By Cora Jackson-FossettSentinel Religion Editor
Reprising his role as co-host, Grammy-winning artist Donald Lawrence will join gospel superstar CeCe Winans in hosting the finale of Verizon's How Sweet the Sound Choir Contest. The music event takes place Friday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m., at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
"How Sweet the Sound is a celebration of choirs more than a competition. It's also a great family event that everybody can enjoy and it's Verizon way of acknowledging all of the hard work that local choir members do and show us what congregations get every Sunday," said Lawrence.
Joining Lawrence and Winans are the legendary Pastor Shirley Caesar, singer/songwriter Israel Houghton, and recording artist Marvin Sapp who will serve as resident judge. Also, Andre Crouch, an internationally renowned gospel artist and L.A. resident, will be honored with the first Living Legend Award.
The regional choir winners from Chicago, Il; Detroit, MI; Washington D.C., Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; St. Louis, MO; Oakland, CA; Charlotte, NC; and the Los Angeles area will showcase their talents at the event. The local favorite is the sanctuary choir of the Family Life Center Apostolic Church in Whittier. The grand prize is $25,000.
"L.A. has had great participation and of course, last year, a local choir won, the Voices of Destiny from Greater Zion Church Family. I think participation is continuing to grow here. Those of us in the Midwest and East Coast don't look at L.A. as a gospel music place, but they are showing out," Lawrence said.
Lawrence's connection to How Sweet the Soun dates back to its inception in 2006. Considering his dynamic musical background, it's no surprise that Verizon repeatedly asks the acclaimed producer and songwriter to return.
"I grew up in the church, but I always loved theater and drama. When I graduated from high school, I attended Cincinnati Conservatory of Music studying musical theater. My plan was never to do gospel music. I wanted to do Broadway," he recalled.
But God had a different plan for Lawrence and he landed a job as musical director for singer Stephanie Mills. After working and touring with her, he formed his own choir and along with Kirk Franklin, ushered in the era of urban contemporary gospel music with a traditional mix.
"I've never been a person to follow trends. I just want to express myself," said Lawrence who will celebrate his 20th year in the industry in 2013.
"That's why it's been a great experience participating in How Sweet the Sound. It's good wholesome fun and the music will inspire you, just to watch ordinary people get on a stage that big and have a chance to shine."
Tickets to the show are $15 and $10, and available at Ticketmaster outlets and Staples Center box office. For more details, visit HowSweetTheSound.com.