By Robert M. Marovich

Christmas spirit filled the air when the McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour: Homecoming Edition hit Houston, Texas, on December 2.

On this, the fifth and final stop on its 16th annual outing, the ICGT became the Holiday Experience. Lonnie Hunter hosted the special holiday-themed program, which featured appearances by Anthony Hamilton, Donald Lawrence, Smokie Norful, Kierra Sheard-Kelly, Samoht, Notkarltonbanks, and Jekalyn Carr.

This was the third consecutive year Carr has been part of the ICGT. “Each time it has been amazing,” she told JGM via videoconference, but this year was “one for the books because of the incorporation of the Black excellence of the HBCU.”

Indeed, for Carr, the most memorable part of the holiday show was watching performances by the Mississippi Valley State University’s band, the Mean Green Marching Machine, and the University Choir, grand prize winners of McDonald’s HBCU (Historic Black Colleges and Universities) Exhibition. GRAMMY® nominated gospel hip-hop artist and previous ICGT performer Sir the Baptist teamed with McDonald’s to inaugurate the HBCU Exhibition this year.

The Mississippi Valley State musicians were in the midst of a rehearsal on campus November 18 when they were informed they won. The surprised and beyond-excited musicians were presented with a life-size check of $75,000 to support their music program and an invitation to appear on the December 2 Holiday Experience program. The three runners-up each received $10,000 awards.

Carr relished meeting the HBCU Exhibition winners and taking photos with them during rehearsals. “It was so exciting to see young people filled with joy and also to see the purpose on their lives,” she said. “It was a beautiful experience.”

She also recognized a little of her own experience in theirs. “I was that person who was doing their best to move towards purpose and destiny,” she said. “I was like them. IGCT has really inspired them.”

The year has been full but rewarding for Jekalyn Carr. She counts among the year’s highlights performing at an Atlanta Hawks basketball game, being the youngest gospel artist to co-host the Stellar Awards two consecutive years in a row, participating for the third time with the ICGT, and learning that her single, “My Portion,” was named the number two song on the year’s gospel airplay chart. “I consider it an honor to live out my purpose,” she said, “and that people are being inspired by it.”

A singing and ministry schedule that, outside of holidays, keeps Carr on the gospel highway three to four days a week can be grueling, but she puts it all in perspective. “Anybody who is working a vision, anybody who’s moving towards greatness is going to have challenges,” she acknowledges. “We have our moments, but at the end of the day, you cannot allow the moment to have you. There are people depending on you. You cannot afford to give up.”

She continued: “None of us who are on the front lines are exempt from challenges. We all have issues, we all go through things. It’s a matter of getting back up and pushing forward towards destiny.”

Christmas gives Carr a rare break from the road. It also happens to be her favorite holiday. “I’m busy throughout the year and this is the time that I have to go back home and to be with my family,” she said. “We eat good, we play games, and we do Christmas karaoke.”

While she doesn’t have one particular favorite Christmas memory (“every year we create new memories”), Carr has favorite holiday traditions, and Christmas karaoke is foremost among them. Lest you think Carr is unbeatable at karaoke, she is quick to remind that “I come from a singing family. Everybody in my family can sing! There are some who sing better than me! I’m talking about little cousins—everybody can sing!” Incidentally, when it comes to Christmas songs, Carr’s top three favorites are 3) her new single “Great Christmas,” 2) “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and 1) “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Besides karaoke, Carr looks forward to Christmas treats such as pecan pie and baked mac and cheese. The theme of her family’s Christmas gathering this year is to dress up as their favorite celebrity. Most importantly, she said, it’s a treasured time “to sit down and reflect on the year, and for everyone to express how grateful they are for one another.”

The 16th annual Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour Holiday Experience will air on REVOLT TV on Saturday, December 17, at 8:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, and be available to stream on the REVOLT TV YouTube channel on Sunday, December 18, at 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT.  As in the past, the ICGT raises funds to support the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“You will get to hear gospel artists singing Christmas songs,” Carr said. “You’ll also get some church, and all that Black excellence on one stage.”

Besides enjoying the wonderful talent, Carr wants viewers “to come away with what the tour is called: inspiration. I want people to be inspired and encouraged. So many artists were there to give us faith, inspiration, and hope. I want everyone to feel like they can move forward, toward their destiny.”

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Written by : Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.