River Festival

May 30, 2014

Gospel performer Tamela Mann uses gift of song to ‘uplift others’

Tamela Mann knows some of us are going through hard times, and she hopes her music can help lift people up. “I want people to feel like we can make it, regardless of our circumstances,” she said.

Tamela Mann knows some of us are going through hard times, and she hopes her music can help lift people up. “I want people to feel like we can make it, regardless of our circumstances,” she said.

Mann, the award-winning gospel singer also known for her role as Cora Simmons in Tyler Perry’s series of Madea plays and movies, is bringing her message of hope to the Wichita Riverfest on Monday. The concert at Kennedy Plaza will also feature choirs from Wichita-area churches.

Among the crowd will be one of Mann’s biggest fans, Carla Clement of Wichita. “There are so many things about her music that resonate with me,” said Clement, a technical assistant for Wichita Public Schools. “She’s a woman that loves the Lord, and she’s passionate about singing his goodness she’s a powerful singer and delivers a powerful message through her songs.”

Mann, 47, began singing at the age of 8, when she found a home in her church choir. It helped get her through challenging times.

“Growing up, my mother was very poor and was on public assistance programs. I knew what it was like to struggle,” she said. “I found singing to be a good way to transcend the troubles and let the Lord work through me in a positive way.”

Singing would become part of Mann’s ticket out of poverty.

After high school, she signed on with Kirk Franklin’s urban contemporary gospel choir The Family. She sang on five of his albums, which helped launch her career in theater. Her stage skills caught the eye of writer and producer Tyler Perry, who cast her in his 2000 play “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.” That led to the development of her Cora Simmons character, which she has portrayed in multiple plays and movies such as “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea Goes to Jail” and “Madea’s Big Happy Family.”

The Madea franchise is among Hollywood’s most successful, and Mann was able to build on her character’s likability in a series spin-off. She and her husband, David Mann, co-starred in the sitcom “Meet the Browns,” which ran from 2009 to 2011 on TBS.

Though acting gave her a wider audience, Mann said singing has always been her true passion. “Singing is my first love. I’m passionate about acting, too, but I always know where my singing is going. It’s the gift given to me by God that I always know how to use to uplift others.”

She has released four studio albums, including her most recent, 2012’s “Best Days.” Her music has garnered her Stellar and Dove awards as well as Grammy and NAACP Image Award nominations. Mann said that for her, singing is all about bringing a message of love, kindness and hope.

It’s a mantra that comes from her deep faith, and one she aims to make accessible to all.

“A lot of times when people are in need, or when they’re in pain, or when they’re going through trying times like we’ve been going through with the recession, a lot of us just really lean on our faith,” Mann said. “The gospel community really comes in because the gospel is encouraging and inspiring. It’s a home and a foundation to us.”

Although Mann has performed in Wichita in the past, this will be her first time performing as part of Riverfest. Her husband will be joining her for the trip and will be on site during the event.

“I’m excited to be coming to this festival because I know it’s going to be powerful and it will unite people. Gospel and community go together because it brings us all together,” Mann said. “When you’re talking about gospel music, that’s spreading the good news, and it’s giving back to your community. Once you come together as a whole with music and church, it’s like one big gumbo. We all come together and add in our little flavor and our own taste.”

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