WRITTEN BY: Brittiany Taylor
You can’t hear Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and not believe that God is real. It’s not just the words she sings, or how powerfully she sings them, it’s the passion that she and her 25 fellow worship leaders from around the world have when communing and creating music. This is the same fervor felt in her newest project, a documentary. The 6-part YouTube docuseries, which premieres October 6, details the making of Cobbs-Leonard’s latest work, Heart. Passion. Pursuit.
On Sept. 28, 2017, Gospel Goodies attended the Motown Gospel screening of the documentary at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Symphony Space in New York City. Tasha arrived, her tiredness overshadowed by her new bride glow and excitement at sharing her project with people outside of her camp for the first time. As the film started to play across the projection screen in a small theater holding about 150, it was evident that whatever else was on our minds before the screening was replaced with a spirit of focus that engulfed the entire room. Polite and passive watching was quickly replaced with emphatic “amens” and golf claps were replaced with spirited shouts of “Hallelujah.” Watching Tasha’s journey unfold, it was clear that this album, this project, even this event, was beautifully and masterfully created by not just the musicians credited on a black screen rolling at the end of the film, but a purposeful God. I mean, Tasha Cobbs-Leonard did have the largest streaming debut in Gospel music history with three million streams. Motown Gospel VP EJ Gaines introduced the docuseries, declaring that this project was “breathed on by God.” I would soon find out that this was not marketing speak, but a warning. Be prepared to be moved.
I feel like this is the point where I should be honest. I’m a lover of music. Good music, passionate music, music that moves me. I am not a lover of solely gospel music. That distinction is important, because a gospel lover loving Cobb-Leonard’s music is a given. It’s like a teacher loving books, or a lifeguard loving water. It’s par for the course. In my case, my ear isn’t pleased simply because it hears God’s words, but because it is engulfed with a vibration that I later feel in my heart to align those words as truth. If the music moves me to feel, to shiver, to act, I consider it a great piece. This is what watching the making of Heart. Passion. Pursuit did. The honesty, the vulnerability, the selflessness of all involved could be heard in each note, in each confessional style interview, and moved me literally to tears. In the middle of a packed theater I sat wiping my eyes as I watched new life be breathed into not only an album, but into the worship leaders themselves, into the music, into the musicians. I was starting to understand why Tasha’s pastor, William Murphy, gave her the nickname “Worship Bridge” 22 years ago.
While Tasha’s favorite song changes by the week, at the time of the screening it was “You Know My Name.” The song, a beautiful reminder that it is not who you are but whose you are, is quintessential Tasha Cobbs Leonard-smooth and direct. When asked what the song means to her, the Grammy award winning singer said, “No matter what you’ve done, what people say to you, what people labeled you, GOD knows my name.” Indeed, the audience – her congregation for the night – seemed to rank that song as a crowd favorite. For me, it was watching Kierra Sheard and Tasha Cobbs film “Your Spirit” that flooded my soul. You know that saying, ‘He may not be there when you ask Him, but He will be there right on time?’ Yeah, that.
The week of the screening Trump was in Alabama using words like “field” and “owners” to refer to mostly black men protesting the NFL while Puerto Rico was screaming for aid from their president after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Their pleas, our pleas to help our brothers and sisters were being ignored for 140 character wars on social media. In the news every day that week, there were stories that were driven by hate. Girls missing, kids killing because they were bullied, the looming threat of North Korea, and not to mention the daily personal trials. There’s work, bills, family, sickness, confusion, fear, and still, we go on, we smile, we survive, we thrive. While I sat, visually moved by the way this song (“Your Spirit”) came together, I heard Tasha say that she started not to do this record. It pushed her, challenged her voice, and she doesn’t like that. But she did it anyway because like the song says, “not by might, not by power, by your spirit God.” And did he breathe on the duo?!
Imagine if Tasha hadn’t done the song because it made her uncomfortable? Imagine if Tasha didn’t tap in her friend and sister in Christ, Kierra, to lend something extra to the song because she wanted all the praise instead of wanting to give the best praise? Imagine if that song hadn’t been on the album to provide comfort and guidance on a day I did not even know I needed it? This is what she meant by the spirit coming to breathe on us. Tasha unknowingly expounded on that feeling after the screening saying, “God will breathe on what you don’t understand.” This was the answer to everything troubling me that week. There’s nothing I can do to force love and light and truth and goodness into darkness. Instead you keep doing, speaking, living, breathing what’s right. There’s no show of force better than guided truth.
As the documentary ended and the lights were raised, there were more shouts of praise, more smiles, and more hands wiping away tears. Tasha took the stage and sat with Toya Beasley and discussed the making of the docuseries. I’m not sure there was a better moderator than the Radio 103.9 NY host. Beasley deviated from her prepared questions and let the vibe guide her conversation. Here, we learned how they recorded for a week, how her new husband pushed her when she was feeling lazy and told her to take a break when she was over exhausting herself, and how she will never apologize for having Nicki Minaj on her song, “I’m Getting Ready.” A friendship between the two started after Nicki tweeted out praise on Tasha’s BET Celebration of Gospel performance. Tasha was very aware of the rapper’s relationship with the Lord, and when Nicki told the world that she wanted to be on the album under one of Tasha’s Instagram posts, she knew the perfect song to compliment Nicki’s flow and ministry.
A song of victory and perseverance, “I’m Getting Ready” speaks promises overflow and serves as a gentle reminder that the Word isn’t that no weapon shall be formed, but that the weapon will not prosper. A message of promised overflow transcends age and genres, and Tasha knew that everyone deserved to be encouraged. Beyond blending genres, at the screening we heard from a mom who wasn’t a fan of Nicki Minaj or her daughter’s lifestyle. She told us all a story of how her daughter was “living in sin” and trying to guide her had put a strain on the relationship. When Tasha Cobb’s album came out, her daughter called her, knowing that her mother was a fan. “Mom, my girl and your girl have a song together,” she told her mom. When her mom found out it was Nicki Minaj she was shocked, and initially wasn’t a fan even though she hadn’t heard the song. But as my great-aunt’s old pastor used to shout to let us know a shift was coming, “but God!” Her daughter called to remind her mom that though she may not be living exactly how her mother may wish for her, she was still her daughter, and HIS daughter, and had not forgotten what she was taught. The two communicate a lot more after that phone call, and now the mother feels a little differently about Nicki Minaj.
That night, we witnessed something outside of ourselves. We watched worship leaders, musicians, songwriters, spouses, friends and parents come together to give the world the same gift that God had give them: Heart. Passion. Pursuit.