Since their crossover hit, “Shackles (Praise You),” the gospel-singing sisters of Mary Mary have built a great career containing many more achievements, including their recently renewed TV series Mary Mary on cable network WE tv.
Amidst their platinum and gold record awards and Grammy, American Music, NAACP Image and BET honors, appearing at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans is always a particularly special occasion for Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell, aka Mary Mary.
“We are super excited to be performing at Essence,” Erica Campbell said recently from a blisteringly hot New York City. “Essence is probably the biggest urban music festival in the United States. For us to be a part of it is an honor.”
Having previously played the Coco-Cola Superlounge, Mary Mary, whose hits include “Heaven,” “The Real Party,” “Yesterday” and “God In Me,” move up to a Saturday night main stage performance this year at the Superdome.
“This incredible festival brings people from all over to New Orleans to enjoy the festivities and the good food and the good folks,” Campbell said. “We are ready to come down there and have a good old time.”
Mary Mary and singer-producer Fred Hammond also will be honored Sunday morning for their contributions to gospel music with an all-star salute featuring Yolanda Adams, Kim Burrell, Byron Cage, Pastor Marvin Winans, Tramaine Hawkins and more.
From Inglewood, Calif., the Campbell sisters are two of eight children of an evangelist-choir director mother and youth minister father.
Naturally, they grew up singing.
After touring with gospel shows and backing rhythm-and-blues artists on the road, the Campbells got a songwriting deal with the help of songwriter-producer Warryn Campbell. That deal led to writing and singing backup for soundtracks and other artists’ recordings.
The sisters released Thankful, their debut album as Mary Mary, in 2000. It contains “Shackles (Praise You),” a contemporary gospel song that crossed over to the R&B and pop markets.
“When we first started, we were not aware enough of the industry to say, ‘Place us here, place us there,’ ” Campbell recalled. “But when Sony (Music Entertainment) asked Tina, Warryn and I who our audience was, our answer was simply, ‘The world.’
“I don’t want to just sing for the church,” she explained. “I love that, but they already know who God is. So I want my music to be for people who don’t know God, who are not going to church on Sunday, who need to know that they are loved and God cares for them.”
It’s a blessing that Mary Mary’s music reaches beyond gospel fans, Campbell said.
“I’ve never wanted to be an R&B singer,” she said. “I wanted to be a gospel singer, but I wanted to do it the way God showed to me in my dreams. I envisioned singing the way I’m singing, about who I’m singing about, but with audiences everywhere. And my dreams came true.
“I hope that speaks volumes to so many people who have a desire to do something that has never been done before. It’s possible and it can happen, if you work hard and stay focused and really believe in what you’re doing. And you have to believe in yourself more than the people who work with you or for you. That faith will fuel your dream. We had enough faith. We’re here today and we are blessed.”