Natalie Grant and Jonathan McReynolds served as affable co-hosts for the evening; this marked McReynolds’ first time co-hosting the event, while Grant previously hosted in 2007.
We the Kingdom gave the first performance of the evening, bringing the churning folk-rock of “God So Loved” to the stage and welcoming international children’s choir His Little Feet. The first award of the evening, contemporary gospel album of the year, went to Koryn Hawthorne’s I AM.
From there, this year’s GMA Dove Awards seemed to easily blend performances from CCM, gospel, rap/hip-hop, worship, Southern gospel and more into a seamless showcase for the breadth and depth of the genre as a whole, from the hard-hitting hip-hop of KB, Hawthorne’s simmering R&B, the folksy worship style of Daigle, The Isaacs’ bluegrassy “The American Face,” CAIN’s amalgam of rock, country and folk, and the congregational worship style of Elevation Worship.
Grant and CeCe Winans, two of gospel and Christian music’s premier vocalists, held court during the evening. When Grant took the stage, a silence immediately fell over the crowd and attendees stood to attention as she performed “My Weapon,” teaming with the Belonging Co. choir to offer a commanding, string-filled performance.
Winans has had a banner year, collaborating with Carrie Underwood on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (from Underwood’s My Savior album) and having her own “Believe for It” currently residing in the top 15 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart. She offered a stunning live rendition of the song that was both powerful and elegant.
Winans, one of gospel music’s most highly awarded entertainers, added to her accolades, winning in four categories during the evening, including gospel artist of the year, gospel worship album of the year (Believe for It), gospel worship recorded song of the year (“Believe for It”) and Inspirational song of the year (“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with Underwood).
Later in the evening, We the Kingdom returned to the stage as winners in the contemporary Christian artist of the year category. They also took home the pop/contemporary album of the year honor for Holy Water. The members of the multi-generational group, led by popular songwriter/producer Ed Cash, hugged each other after taking the stage to accept the honor.
Jason Ingram also took home four honors during the evening, including songwriter of the year (non-artist).
“I’ve been doing music a long time and this means so much to me,” said Cash, who is also known for his work writing CCM hits such as Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” and “Made to Worship.” “This means so much because I have seen God move in my family in miraculous ways.” Of winning the honor, he said, “God saw fit for whatever reason, so I want to give Him all the glory.”
Key collaborations during the ceremony included Mali Music and McReynolds joining forces on “Best Thing” and “Jump Ship,” and Dante Bowe’s collaboration with Kelontae Gavin. Later, Matt Redman guested on KB’s performance of “10k,” which includes a snippet of Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).”
In addition to delivering one of the most electrifying performances of the evening, KB offered one of the evening’s most impactful acceptance speeches, for his win in the rap/hip-hop album category for his project His Glory Alone.
“Wow. I was 16 years old when somebody gave me a Christian hip-hop CD. It had a dude on the front cover that had dreadlocks like mine, a red bandana going across his forehead and a red bandana going across his mouth and the album was called Bloody Streets. I said, ‘Listen, I have no degree in Lifeway Christian Bookstores, but this is not Christian rap, this man’s about to rob a bank.’ He said, ‘No, this is Christian hip-hop. You take it home.’ I was in a dark, dark place. I took that album home. I listened to it front to back and the eighth song was a gospel presentation and I believed on Jesus listening to that album,” he said, as the crowd cheered. “I vowed to the Lord Jesus that I would spend my life trying to reproduce that moment for people all over the world.” Turning to acknowledge one of his collaborators on the album, he added, “It just dawned on me: The gentleman behind me, Wes, who helped create this project, heard my album several years ago, believed on Jesus and now he’s helping me make records.”
Elevation Worship collected wins in four categories through its work with Brandon Lake and Kari Jobe. “Graves into Gardens,” featuring Lake, was named worship recorded songs of the year, while “The Blessing” from Elevation Worship, Jobe and Cody Carnes was named song of the year. Elevation Worship’s work with worship music collective Maverick City Music on the album Old Church Basement won worship album of the year, while Lake was named songwriter of the year (artist). “Graves into Gardens” also picked up a win for recorded music packaging of the year.
Maverick City Music has stormed up Billboard’s Christian and Gospel charts with “Jireh” (which featured Elevation Worship, Chandler Moore and Naomi Raine) and their current single “Promises” over the past year, and took home a Billboard Music Award earlier this year for top gospel album. At the GMA Dove Awards, the group took home the new artist of the year honor.
For King & Country’s Joel and Luke Smallbone earned the evening’s biggest honor, artist of the year. It was one of three wins for the duo during the ceremony. Last year, they earned a Billboard Christian Airplay hit with “Together,” featuring Kirk Franklin and Tori Kelly, and this year followed with “Amen.”
“It’s been a little bumpy, It’s been a strange couple of years,” Luke told the audience, and sharing his own struggle with throat surgery a few months ago. “For about five days, you can’t say a word. So you wait in suspense to find out what’s going to happen,” he recalled the days following the procedure.
“I felt good until about two days after the surgery until some of those thoughts came through my mind: ‘What if I can’t do this any longer? What if my voice is taken? What If I can’t do this with my brother anymore? What if I can’t write songs or perform?’ When you start asking those questions, it comes to a point where you think, ‘Who am I if I can’t sing?'” Luke said. “I felt God say really, really clearly, ‘It’s never been about a song that you can sing. It’s never been about a performance, a show, about the mistakes you’ve made in the past, or the good things or failures that may take place in the future. I love you.'” He added, “I stand up here…more convinced than ever that the power of music is transforming.”
See a selected list of winners below:
Song of the year: “The Blessing,” from Kari Jobe (writers: Kari Jobe, Chris Brown, Cody Carnes, Steven Furtick)
Contemporary christian artist of the year: We the Kingdom
Gospel artist of the year: CeCe Winans
Gospel worship album of the year, Believe for It, CeCe Winans
Gospel worship recorded song of the year, “Believe for It,” CeCe Winans
Artist of the year: for King & Country
New artist of the year: Maverick City Music
Worship recorded song of the year: “Graves into Gardens,” Elevation Worship feat. Brandon Lake
Rap/hip-hop album of the year: His Glory Alone, KB
Southern gospel album of the year: Change Is Coming, Joseph Habedank
Contemporary gospel album of the year: Koryn Hawthorne
Inspirational film of the year: A Week Away
Songwriter of the year (nonartist): Jason Ingram
Songwriter of the year (artist): Brandon Lake
Rap/hip hop recorded song of the year: “Deep End,” Lecrae
Pop/contemporary recorded song of the year: “Famous For (I Believe),” Tauren Wells
Inspirational recorded song of the year, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Carrie Underwood feat. CeCe Winans
Pop/contemporary album of the year: Holy Water, We The Kingdom