Mary Mary Bringing Sister Act to Nairobi

Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of  Mary Mary. PHOTO | COURTESY
Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary. PHOTO | COURTESY 

The year 2000 witnessed a breakthrough moment in contemporary gospel music when the duo Mary Mary released their debut single Shackles (Praise You).

The song with a bouncy R&B groove became a hit across the world, crossed over into the mainstream charts and propelled the sisters, Erica and Tina Campbell to superstar status.

They became the poster girls of new gospel not just with their urban sound combining hip-hop, R&B and gospel, but also with their glamorous personal image.

The chart-topping sister act will headline the first African edition of the Gospel Sessions organised by French satellite TV network Trace Gospel on May 27 at the Ngong Racecourse Waterfront, Nairobi. Since their debut a decade and a half ago, Mary Mary has released seven albums and won a host of music industry honours, including four Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards and seven Dove Awards.

Named in honour of Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the group was one of the most successful contemporary gospel groups of the 2000s. They say God gave them music to tell his truth creatively, when and wherever they can.

The daughters of a Pentecostal pastor grew up singing in the church choir where their mother was choir director. Erica, the older sister by two years, was the star soloist but Tina was initially too shy to sing and could only record herself singing in the bathroom. They began their career touring as backup singers for R&B acts including Brandy.

Huge hit

Their Grammy-winning album debut album Thankful in 2000 was followed by “Incredible” in 2002. The self-titled Mary Mary came out three years later featuring the hit singles Heaven, The Real Party and Yesterday. Even their festive project A Mary Mary Christmas in 2006 won the group plaudits.

Separately they scored a huge hit with Thank you recorded together with fellow gospel star Kirk Franklin from the soundtrack to the film Kingdom Come in 2001.

The 2008 album The Sound was a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts in the US propelled by the success of the single God In Me.

Mary Mary has also found success with their own reality television show that premiered in 2012 and follows the sisters as they navigate career, children and life’s challenges. Erica presents her own syndicated radio show.

The sisters have also released solo albums with Erica’s Help topping the Billboard Gospel Charts in 2014. The album won the Grammy for Best Gospel Album at the 57th ceremony of the awards in 2015. Tina’s solo album “Its Personal also hit the US pop and gospel charts in 2015. The sisters who first struck the charts in their 20s are now mothers juggling between their careers and their family commitments. 

Trace Gospel

The Trace Gospel Sessions will also feature two other international acts, Jessica Dorsey from the island of Martinique and Carol Bertogal from the UK Dorsey has grown in stature since her debut in 2009 to become among the most successful gospel singers in the French Christian music market.

Her female band Shared Voice plays a mix of gospel and Caribbean rhythms while audiences around the world have been wowed by her unique voice.

She has also adopted contemporary American gospel hits like “I can hear the angels” by Donald Lawrence and ‘Well Alright” by Cece Winans, into French.

She has shared the same stage with gospel heavyweights like Kirk Franklin, Tramaine Hawkins, Richard Smallwood and Joann Pickens.

Dorsey has used her music to promote organisations working on improving the lives of youth and people living with disabilities.

Arts academy

Carol Bertogal is a singer and songwriter who has performed across Europe and runs a Creative Arts academy based in London. The Trace Gospel Live Sessions will also feature several top Kenyan gospel performers, including Kambua, Jimmy Gait Willy Paul, Ivlyn Mutua and Joyce Omondi.

Trace Gospel is the newest music channel by the French satellite network and is the first thematic channel exclusively dedicated to different subgenres of gospel: urban, worship, African and traditional gospel.

Tickets are on sale online via