Because of the music they make and the God they serve, gospel artists are held to a high personal standard by their fans. So every once in a while, some magazine or blog will expose a singer’s marital or financial woes, and scandal ensues. Rather than presenting an image of perfection that is bound to break down at some point, sisters Tina and Erica Campbell, better known as the gospel duo Mary Mary, have decided to cut out the drama and throw their flaws out to the world, on their own terms, rather than wait for them to be uncovered.
Last year, the Inglewood, Calif., sisters launched their own reality TV show, WE network’s “Mary Mary.” The program has shown their challenges in balancing work, family and their own relationship. And recently, Tina penned an open letter to her fans, revealing her husband’s affair and her struggle to forgive him. “For me, I’m not scared of exposure,” Tina said at Mary Mary’s show at the Howard Theatre on Friday night. “Everybody’s got a secret, everybody has a past, and everybody has a yesterday, but if you spend your today crying about it, you won’t get to your tomorrow.”
Mary Mary’s willingness to lay everything bare makes the group’s music — which is gospel with a light wash of contemporary R&B — stronger. At the Howard Theatre show, their songs about keeping the faith, holding on and trusting in God were especially powerful in light of the personal trials they’ve shared with the world.
“Walking,” from 2011’s “Something Big,” mixes a little CeCe Peniston, a bit of Kanye West and a lot of Jesus into a smooth track about moving forward by simply putting one foot in front of the other. The women used an instrumental break to talk about how the message applied to their personal lives. On “Go Get It,” Tina and Erica encouraged everyone, over aggressive keyboard chords, to be active about receiving blessings.
While the women’s stock in trade is urban contemporary gospel, they also do a more traditional sound well. Without all of the slick production, it’s easier to hear Erica’s clear, crisp voice and Tina’s guttural, strong one — as during their performance of the version of “Yesterday” on 2005’s “Mary Mary,” and the title track from 2011’s “Something Big.”
The group’s two biggest hits to date, 2000’s “Shackles (Praise You)” and 2009’s “God in Me,” still get hands clapping, as did “A Little More Jesus,” a solo tune from Erica, who has contemplated a solo career over the past year. Still, the sisters assured fans that they aren’t splitting. “We have had our challenges,” Erica said, “but we’re here.”
Godfrey is a freelance writer.