It was the typical behind-the-scenes stuff of awards shows—a small security detail watching everyone's every move, journalists huddling near the media area, carping about limited access and hoping for a decent seat in the press rooms. Performers arrive, a marching band passes by outside.

There are so many elegant black folks here—men dressed beyond the nines, women in full-length fur, dropping names of designers (Girl, who is that dress? And those shoes?). And such careful coiffure—braided, locked, 'froed, lyed, dyed, and friedthat a newcomer might wonder if she's at a church convention or a fashion show. The answer, on both accounts, is yes.

But it's big business too. New artists will be introduced to a loyal audience; old ones will be rediscovered. Album sales will pick up. Hands will be shaken, cards exchanged, business deals done.

These are the Stellar Awards, the biggest night in gospel music. Held each January, the Stellars are part awards show, part church convention, and part big-time networking opportunity. It's a big celebration of the business of gospel music, and especially so this year, with the 20th anniversary of the awards show. Everybody got an overview of the profound and rapid mainstreaming of gospel music over the last two decades.

An Industry Within an Industry

Once upon a time, most gospel music was sold at mom-and-pop record stores, at churches, at tables at the back of local concerts. A gospel fan heard his favorite artists on the radio, at local churches, and occasionally at concerts. A gospel artist might live on small freewill offerings split with host churches or benefit from big-money concerts in large urban cities. A few of the best-known artists—million-sellers like ...

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