According to Billboard.biz, Motown Records and EMI Gospel have entered into a 50-50 joint venture partnership to create Motown Gospel. The new label launches officially tonight (April 2) with a press reception and showcase at Los Angeles’ Arc Theater featuring performances by roster artists Smokie Norful, Tasha Cobbs, Tye Tribbett and Kierra Sheard.
The EMI Gospel team will still handle day-to-day operations and will report to Capitol Christian Music Group president/CEO Bill Hearn.
Plans are also in place to staff up on the A&R front at the new joint venture. The first such appointment is Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Aaron Lindsey as VP of A&R. His production credits include the Marvin Sapp No. 1 gospel crossover hit “Never Would Have Made It.” The first new signing to Motown Gospel is fellow Grammy winner CeCe Winans, with a new album slated for early 2014. Rounding out the label’s 2013 release slate are new albums by Tribbett (“Greater Than,” June 4), Sheard (late summer/early fall) and Norful (fall). The Motown Gospel roster also includes VaShawn Mitchell and Anita Wilson.
Universal Music Group East Coast Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss tells Billboard.biz the idea for the joint venture grew out of a conversation last November with Hearn while Weiss was in Nashville for the Country Music Awards. Universal’s acquisition of EMI had also just occurred.
“This is a great opportunity to create a fresh, new approach to gospel,” Weiss says. “We’re taking the pre-existing roster of the already strong EMI Gospel and will hopefully become a magnet for the best gospel talents in the world. And they will have access to the Island Def Jam promotion/marketing machinery, offering broader urban AC crossover potential and further opportunities and synergy between Motown Gospel artists and the Motown and Island Def Jam urban roster.”
“It’s going to provide a much stronger and experienced platform for our artists,” Hearn adds. “This initiative gives us the ability to serve our artists on a much broader level than we’ve been able to up to this point.”
The Christian/Gospel genre sold 22.9 million albums in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen Christian SoundScan. The genre posted only a 3.4% decline in sales compared to 2011, a light drop-off given how other genres fell pretty hard (i.e., Latin down 17.6% and jazz down 26.2%). Almost as many Christian/gospel albums were sold in 2012 as rap albums (24.2 million). And Christian/gospel digital song sales rose 6.5% compared to 2011, totaling 34.4 million.
Tonight’s free showcase, presented in association with One Church International, begins at 6 p.m.