Did you ever have a dream that just wouldn’t die? An idea you just couldn’t let go, even when faced with rejection? This Sunday millions of viewers will see one woman’s dream come to life on national television, and not for the first time…
When Melanie Few’s friend went to work for the NFL Players Association, she invited Melanie to hang out with her over a Super Bowl weekend. As the two women went from one event to another, Melanie wondered out loud why there weren’t any faith-based options. “Maybe,” Melanie’s friend said, “you could write the NFL and suggest one?”
So she did.
For seven years.
Imagine: seven years of rejection letters. It seemed impossible, but Melanie had a dream and she couldn’t let it go. Eventually Melanie wangled an introduction to then NFL President, Gene Upshaw. At first he rejected the idea, too, but after a couple of years of appeals, Gene finally said Melanie could do her gospel music event—but only if Gladys Knight was part of it.
Gene thought that would a deal-breaker, but he didn’t know Melanie! “Gladys is from Georgia,” Melanie said, “I’m from Georgia. We can ride that midnight train . . .”
Thanks to Melanie’s remarkable networking and persistence, they did.
Once Gladys was on board, Gene had to say yes . . . and that’s how the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration became the first (and only) inspirational concert sanctioned by the National Football League. Now in its 18th year, the event brings key NFL players and top artists together on one stage for uplifting music and inspirational messages. This year the concert will be filmed before a live audience in Houston on Friday night before Super Bowl Sunday and broadcast on BET the morning of the big game.
One unique feature of the event is an appearance by the NFL Players Choir. Who knew that was a thing? You can thank Patti LaBelle for that: at the 2005 Celebration in Jacksonville, Patti was struck by the abundance of “so many good-looking men” and asked, “Can any of them sing?”
Patti got her answer when players joined her onstage for an impromptu musical moment. They sang so well Melanie told them, “I’m going to have some robes for you next year” and singing football players have been part of the program ever since. (Full disclosure: These days the choir rehearses before they perform and while rumor has it a few of the guys lip-synch, the group as a whole both looks and sounds good.)
The Celebration draws live crowds in the thousands and two million-plus viewers each year, but not all of them come willingly: “I’ve had letters from mothers,” Melanie shared, “who told us ‘I had to drag my son [to the event]; he didn’t want to come. But when he came and he saw that big, bulky football player talking about his faith . . . my son left there different.’”
In 2017 the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration offers an eclectic evening of Contemporary Christian, gospel, and R&B music along with inspiring personal stories. Headlining this year’s event are Natalie Grant, Lecrae, CeCe Winans, and more. “Our theme this year is ‘unity in love,’” Melanie said. “It’s going to be phenomenal. We’ll have black people, white people, Hispanic people all weaving our message of unity and love . . . something we need now more than ever.”