"Good Enough 'Cause God Said So"
Not long ago, sisters Erica and Tina Atkins—better known as the R&B duo Mary Mary—had such low self-esteem, you never would've guessed they were headed for the big time.
Neither would they.
Erica was so self-conscious she went four years without singing a solo. She'd botched a song in front of a large group at church, and was so embarrassed she vowed never to sing solo again.
"I was devastated," Erica says. "I sang in the church choir, but I would not sing solo. My mom tried to get me to, but I would just cry."
And it wasn't just her singing. Erica says she was "insecure all around. I never thought I was cute enough. I never thought my clothes were nice enough. I never felt like I was really in the in-crowd. I didn't like anything about myself, and I carried those insecurities all through high school and beyond."
Tina's self-confidence wasn't much better.
"I was a chubby kid," she says. "And when you're a fat kid, everybody talks about you, and they don't realize how much it bruises you inside."
Tina found that out the hard way—after making some critical remarks herself. In middle school, she says "a really chubby guy" had a crush on her. "He just annoyed me to death," Tina says, "but I didn't want him to like me."
So she made a crack about his weight. Some girls nearby—"cool girls, the kind you look up to," says Tina—heard the remark, and one said, "I don't know why you're talking, because you're fat yourself!"
"She broke me down so bad," says Tina, the memory still painful. "When she said that, I was like, Well, I am scum. That stuck with me. A hundred years later, I'll still remember that."
Lotsa love at home
Despite those painful experiences, Erica and Tina found lots of love and affirmation at home, where Dad was a pastor and Mom a real woman of God. Their parents encouraged them through those difficult years, and the girls kept growing in their faith and, gradually, in their confidence. Erica started singing solos again, and both girls' voices got better and better.
Eventually, they did back-up vocals for major R&B artists—Erica for Brian McKnight and Brandy, Tina for Kenny Latimore and Eric Benet. It wasn't long before a record producer decided Erica and Tina should sing together, and so Mary Mary was born. They named the duo after the Bible's Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus—both of whom were "very instrumental in Jesus' ministry," says Erica. "The whole purpose behind Mary Mary is telling people about Jesus and his love."
That purpose and message reached millions around the world through their first CD, Thankful, especially their smash hit, "Shackles." Thankful not only reached the whole planet—one of Tina's greatest thrills was seeing 72,000 people at a Christian festival in Holland singing along to "Shackles"—but it's also reached across color lines.
"We wanted to make music everybody could understand," Tina says. "We've seen blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos and others in our audience. I love that because music should unify people, and Christ is all about unity."