|VaShawn Mitchell is the headline act at the 2017 Fall
Gospel Fest being held November 11th at
High Point Church on Madison’s west side
2017 Fall Gospel Fest
Feeling the Healing
By Jonathan Gramling
For over a decade, Clyde Gaines and Peboga have been featuring the finest in
gospel music, from local to international talent, through the Fall ospel Fest. And 2017
is no different as it features Grammy-nominated VaShawn Mitchell, singer, writer and
producer who has penned hits for Grammy winners Vanessa Bell Armstrong and
Mitchell is the product of the dynamic Chicago music scene. He was born and raised
in Harvey, Illinois on the far south side of Chicago.
“Chicago has so many influences, from Albertina Walker and so many others, just
being in such a rich city of gospel music,” Mitchell said during a phone interview. “I
had every pioneer to look up to and to pattern myself after as I was growing up.”
Like so many gospel performers, Mitchell grew up in the church and initially honed
his talent there. He was the assistant minister of music at a young age to Lonnie
Hunter at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Harvey. He held a day job with the
Chicago Area Project, a facility that worked for wards of the state. But music was
always his passion and joy. And then he got his big break
“And the doors opened that I can do it full time,” Mitchell recalled. “I transitioned to Sweet Holy Spirit Church as a minister of music at the age of
19. And I’ve been in the music ministry full time since maybe 2000.”
It has been a relatively slow climb for Mitchell who was more interested in the music than he was in his career. But his talent made him stand
“I was traveling with my local church choir and writing songs and just building the ministry there,” Mitchell recalled. “And over the years,
people started to call me to come on my own. And I didn’t think I was ready. I was still kind of preparing and trying to find myself. But at the
same time that the label we were on at the church offered me the opportunity to record my own project. And from there, it just kind of started the
process of going on my own. I didn’t jump out there thinking I was ready. I think the times kind of called for me for the message that I had through
the music that God was giving me.”
Mitchell honed his craft by performing at churches and other small venues.
“I started out in the gospel music circuit,” Mitchell said. “There were different gospel conferences and different places where you could reach
most of the major players in gospel over the years. As the ministry progressed and as my career progressed, it became outside of the gospel
circuit and more of a universal circuit that just loves inspirational music and music that I perform and minister.”
And inspirational is almost an understatement of what Mitchell’s music is about. Mitchell worked on his project Secret Place in South Africa
incorporating local musicians into his live performances.
“I did this last project in South Africa, in Johannesburg,” Mitchell said. “They like the Calypso beat and different beats. I purposely didn’t just
record in South Africa, but to use a familiar sound as well. I partnered with some of the South African musicians and that is what we came up
One of the songs is called Joy that is almost mesmerizing with its call and response with the local musicians and in the power of the message.
There's beauty in my brokenness
I've got true love instead of pain
There's freedom though you've captured
I've got joy instead of mourning
You give me joy
Down deep in my soul
Down deep in my soul
Down deep in my soul
It inspires people to seek self-love.
“That’s what it’s really about, love of God and love of people,” Mitchell said. “I have a certain ministry of life, love and encouragement through
the music. All of that is to point people to Christ through the sound that He gives me. Being uplifted is what it is all about. Everyone has their
own niche in ministry. I do believe that mine is exactly what you said, to encourage and inspire generations. I asked God to give me music that
would live longer than I can. If you listen to Joy today or you listen to it 10 years from now, it still brings that encouragement.”
Mitchell delivers a powerful message that appeals to young and old alike.
“Any music that is based around the gospel, based around what we do, which is to point people to Christ and the Christ sound, it should be a
sound of healing,” Mitchell said. “Some songs that we sing, it heals us first if we are to go out and minister to people the right way. If you live a
song or are able to embrace a song and not just sing a song, you deliver it even better, so people can feel the healing from your heart to theirs.”
Mitchell has come a long ways since he left the Chicago area in 2007 with time spent in Atlanta before he took his current position in Nashville
at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a 30,000 member congregation.
“Bishop Walker, who is the pastor at the church, and I been in a musical relationship for well over 15 years,” Mitchell said. “He had a need for a
minister of worship. We talked about it and it was just the right timing. No matter what I do in my career or travel the world, I always have a
heart and a passion for local church ministry. So it was the perfect timing. And what I have to offer definitely matches what the needs were at
Mitchell’s accomplishments as a gospel and inspirational musician, songwriter and producer have brought him some recognition back in his
hometown of Harvey. They named a street after him.
“It’s still kind of surreal to have a street named after me,” Mitchell confided. “Every now and then I go home and I pass by and say, ‘Oh my God,
what did they do with the street?’ I have to quote the principal of my local high school. He was speaking at the street naming ceremony. He said,
‘It’s an honor to name a street after someone while they are still living. And it’s not in sports; it’s in music to inspire the next generation.’ I hope
the street naming, when someone drives past who is striving to be anything and look at it and say, ‘I can do this too.’ I hope that is the main
goal of the street naming and not just to have a name, but to have something that inspires the next generation.”
And Mitchell has been working hard to not only inspire the next generation of gospel artists, but also to help nurture them professionally.
“I believe that whatever influence I have, whatever knowledge I have, I need to share it,” Mitchell emphasized. “I’m not sure if you are aware,
but I produced Tasha Cobbs’ first two records. I executive produced Anthony Brown’s first two records as well as a part of the fight to continue
the genre of gospel music not just through myself, but also through producing others. I attend conferences and workshops and things like that
just teaching and training artists as worship leaders or even in church ministry from what I have learned.”
When Mitchell comes to the 2017 Fall Gospel Fest, he will be bringing members of his band and back-up singers. And he wants the audience to
come ready to engage with the music.
“The audience should expect a high time of praise, a high time of worship and to sing with me,” Mitchell said. “Most of my songs are singable
and hopefully it becomes so singable that everyone is singing together and something sticks as they go home and live throughout the rest of the
week. They will leave with a good feeling.”
If you want to take your spirits higher, then plan to join VaShawn Mitchell at the Fall Gospel Fest. It’s an experience that the rhythm in your body
will have a hard time forgetting. The 2017 Fall Gospel Fest is November 11, 7 p.m., at the High Point Church, 7702 Old Sauk Road. Tickets are
$30 in advance and $40 at the door. They can be purchased at High Point Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher Street.