Mark your calendar for a feel-good, praiseworthy time at Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound (HSTS), a tour of one of the country’s biggest gospel music celebrations, which kicks off in Dallas on Thursday, September 6. It features church choirs from across the country showcasing their faith and colossal talent while vying for the chance to walk away with up to $200,000 in cash prizes.

Award-winning gospel greats Donald Lawrence and Yolanda Adams will serve as hosts. “What is completely unique about HSTS is that it is a celebration of the choir,” says Lawrence. “The choir is the root of gospel music and such an important part of Sunday mornings for so many people. HSTS celebrates this like no other event does. It also offers a level of production and sophistication that is unprecedented for local choirs. For them to be able to share their gifts with a huge audience in a packed arena on a beautiful stage while working with a top-of-the-line production company is as good as it gets!”

Adds Adams, “There isn’t another choir competition that has its mass following. The venues are the same that rock, pop and huge mainstream artists perform in. People still love choirs!”

Erica Campbell of Mary Mary, Fred Hammond, Bishop Hezekiah Walker and CeCe Winans are among those on the judges’ panel. Look for VaShawn Mitchell to judge in Detroit and Los Angeles.  “A winning choir should possess great voices, precision choreography, anointed voices and that special thing that usually can’t be put into words,” explains Campbell. “The wow factor is in the face and body language. It’s a level of professionalism that goes beyond your song or your moves. If we could totally identify it, people would try to bottle it and sell it.”

If you’re looking for a blessing, get ready to receive one. “With every past winner’s performance, the crowd completely lost it in a good way,” says Lawrence. “In each city, in each event, each finale, the choir that inspires the audience the most and fills the arena with energy is most likely going to be your winner.” Make plans to see the tour in a city near you. Other stops include Washington, D.C., Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles. The finale is slated for Sunday, November 4, at Barclays Center in New York City.

Inspirational Advice For How Sweet the Sound Hopefuls


“Always pray before a performance. It keeps you focused. Love what you are doing. If you are enjoying yourself, we will also.” —Yolanda Adams

“Express the emotion behind the song you’re singing. Let God use your choir to inspire the audience.”—Donald Lawrence

“Know your song, be well rehearsed and pray for God to be with you.” —Erica Campbell

“Be prepared, and be polished.” —CeCe Winans

“Remember, you are part of setting the tone/mood of an event/service. Always pay attention to the director.” —VaShawn Mitchell

“Be unified and focused.” —Bishop Hezekiah Walker


“Don’t break down if you mess up. Don’t try to single yourself out. You are part of a unit. Don’t panic. These will be the largest crowds some of the choirs have ever performed in front of. Relax and enjoy the moment. A lot of choirs tried out and didn’t make it, so thank God you did.” —Yolanda Adams

“Don’t be intimidated by the size of this production. You’re still here to simply share your gift. Don’t leave out the emotion. The audience has to feel and believe what you’re singing to them. And don’t focus on one element too much, meaning, don’t let choreography take away from your vocals.” —Donald Lawrence

“Don’t be overconfident, cocky or look sloppy.” —Erica Campbell

“Don’t forget your No. 1 priority is to draw people to God and not ourselves. And don’t sing out of tune!” —CeCe Winans

“Don’t forget to enjoy the process, and don’t get caught up in competing.” —VaShawn Mitchell

“Don’t get so caught up in the moment that you lose focus of your purpose. Don’t come unprepared, and don’t be afraid of your listening audience.” —Bishop Hezekiah Walker

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Margena A. Christian is Senior Writer for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter at @MargenaXan.