It’s been nearly 25 years since a question gospel artist Kirk Franklin asked himself a question that instantly changed the landscape of gospel music.
“I said, ‘what would happen if I mixed the music I like with the God I love?” Franklin made his confession before the crowd who came to see him Wednesday at Peabody Opera House – where he was joined by Ledisi and rising gospel artist Major for the Rebel Soul Saint Tour.
With the show Franklin is once again entering unchartered territory for gospel by sharing a stage with a secular artist.
Based on the size of the crowd, it’s a concept the saints aren’t quite ready to embrace – but that didn’t make the show any less phenomenal.
Things kicked off with new artist Major. He performed along to tracks and a guitarist was his lone accompaniment. Even with the small scale of his set, Major gave a performance that proves him one to watch in the next crop of rising gospel stars. He riffed on the universal church song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and transitioned into his own selection “Honest” before closing the show by handing out flowers during his “Why I Love You” finale.
Franklin and Ledisi came out together to open the headlining performances with Franklin’s hit “Brighter Day,” but parted ways to come back and forth to the stage to perform their selections separately.
Each time Franklin took the stage, the response was overwhelming. For Ledisi, not so much. Her performance was stellar – and she is one of the best vocalists of this generation. It’s a shame the audience didn’t seem comfortable enough to give her the reaction she deserved when the most controversial thing about her portion of the show was her outfit.
“Y’all are just going to have to forgive me for my booty shorts,” Ledisi said. “I wouldn’t wear something like this to church – and we are not at church, so it’s okay. I have to be 100 percent me.”
She was true to herself, but left her more sultry material off the set list.
Except for “Pieces of Me,” “Higher Than This,” and “I Blame You,” Ledisi experimented with lesser known selections – including “Knockin’” and “Add to Me.”
After a quick joke about Ledisi’s legs carried on with the show with medleys from his musical catalog. The grouping that featured his early hits “Why We Sing,” “Silver and Gold” and “Melodies From Heaven,” “Now Behold the compelled the crowd to sing along.
Later in the show, Ledisi shot back by calling him her little big brother.
They have an undeniable chemistry when on stage together, though they didn’t share it much. She joined in with “Love” as Franklin played the tune on piano.
For the more upbeat portion of medleys, Franklin mixed in the music of popular hip-hop and R&B to his inspirational melodies – including Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Junior Mafia’s “Player’s Anthem.”
Towards the end of the concert, Franklin asked his fans how they felt about him teaming up with Ledisi.
“I’ve been coming to St. Louis a long time,” Franklin said. “And one thing I know about St. Louis is that y’all tell the truth. What did you think about this show tonight?”
The response was a rousing applause. He gave Ledisi a thumbs up – and she was touched by the gesture of Franklin asking for the approval of the audience and their positive response.
The moment seemed to make the crowd more receptive when Ledisi came back for her “If You Don’t Mind” finale –a song that was written by and features Franklin.
Franklin closed the show with “Smile” and all was well.
The faith-based crowd and the mainstream music lovers who may not have been on board with checking out the unlikely billing of Franklin and Ledisi Wednesday night should have cast their reservations aside – because the missed a wonderful night of spirit-filled music and classic soul.