On Friday night, some soul got injected into the Super Bowl during the 15th annual “Super Bowl Gospel Celebration,” where faith and football came together at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
While Patti LaBelle was the headline act on the bill, the star of the night was Amityville native Donnie McClurkin. Any time his name was even mentioned, the crowd would roar in anticipation of his arrival.
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“The NFL players refer to him as Uncle Donnie. They’ve adopted him in their heart,” said Melanie Few-Harrison, founder & Executive Producer of the event, on the red carpet. “Donnie’s here every year and has always been a big support. We all just love him.”
McClurkin takes pride in the endearment bestowed upon him by the athletes. “We have the God connection between us,” he said backstage. “Ninety-nine percent of these players are from church background like me.”
From the minute he arrived McClurkin took command of the stage. He debuted his new single, “We Are Victorious” off his upcoming album, “Duets,” which drops in late March.
Tossing off his suit jacket, McClurkin had the crowd on its feet dancing, singing and clapping to a song that was released just over a week ago. “God has given us a victory,” he shouted. “Remember, there’s only one savior!”
The gridiron met gospel when the 40-man strong NFL Players Choir performed the uplifting number, “It’s Time to Make a Change” in uniform blue and white robes.
“I sing gospel songs and scriptures going up to the line of scrimmage. I need that constant reminder because we are playing a dangerous game,” said Jason Avant, receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles and second Tenor in the NFL Players Choir, just before the show. “If I can keep God’s word on my mind, it makes me full of faith in times of fear when the game is on the line.”
“American Idol” season 12 winner Candice Glover performed two duets with LaBelle, “If Only You Knew” and “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is).” LaBelle then spoke about the importance of passing on God’s blessings, closing her set with “When You’ve Been Blessed.”
After heartfelt and rousing performances by Mary Mary, Natalie Grant and Tamela Mann, the focus came back on McClurkin who returned to the stage for the finale.
Joined by rappers Doug E. Fresh and Papa San, McClurkin sang “Victory Chant (Hail Jesus)” with some help from Kierra Sheard. “Get your dance on people,” commanded McClurkin who brought the energy back up and had the entire house shaking from side-to-side.
Things got so heated McClurkin pulled up the Rev. Jesse Jackson on stage to preach before ending the show with his song “Stand.”
“The civil rights movement is the producer of the Super Bowl,” said Jackson to the crowd. “We brought the cotton curtain down and broke down the barriers! So the Super Bowl belongs to us.”