This is the first in a series looking at black history through the lens of music in North Texas. First up? Gospel.
Home means many things to Tamela Mann.
It means Fort Worth, where she was born and grew up. It means her marriage, to actor-singer David Mann, a star in his own right. It means singing or acting and sometimes both at the same time. She has truly acted out her life in stages.
Many people were introduced to her talents when she appeared in producer-writer-director Tyler Perry's early plays. Fans learned more about her as she moved to movie and TV roles in Perry's productions. But it's on stage, singing, where she feels at home. It's on stage, singing, where the welcome has been the warmest.
"Acting is his thing and music is more so mine," she says. "Singing, I'm very confident about. It's my one sure thing. I'm just really excited about the outcome and the people receiving it. Of course, you're nervous when you're presenting something new, but I've gotten great response.
Last year was filled with promise. She was soaring with the single "Take Me to the King." Then she released One Way, which yielded another top single, "God Provides." The song is about how to face adversity. It's a balm for weary folks. It's hers.
"Kirk wrote and produced this song for me," she says. "He was going through some things. To me, it's the answer to 'Take Me to the King,' that after you're taking everything to him that He will provide for you. Same thing for me, some different things that I was going through in my life. Even with some of the things that are going on in the world, we have to just trust and believe that God will provide and that He will be there.
"You hope for that. I'm just hoping that people will get the message out of all the songs."
The response includes a Grammy nomination, her second, for "God Provides," meaning that this year might again hold the reward for the promise. She will share that stage Sunday night, Feb. 12, with close friend and the song's writer, cross-genre superstar (and Arlington resident) Kirk Franklin. They will perform in a Grammy mashup with Chance the Rapper.
"I've been knowing Kirk since he was 15 years old," she says, noting that he and her husband sang in chorus together in high school and later, she started singing with them. "We've been knowing each other for over 30 years. We're all doing what we love, we're all alive and well."
The duo also collaborated on what some might call her breakout song, the omnipresent "Take Me to the King." Gospel in North Texas is more than Franklin. She ticks off the names of luminaries who are natives or who have made this area home: Franklin; Myron Butler, who is her "main producer;" Crystal Aikin, Fred Hammond, Myron Williams, T.D. Jakes ...
"There is a lot of talent in the Dallas Fort Worth area," she says. "I even start locally with songwriters; I ask people if they ahve a song that they want to submit, to just give everybody opportunity here. ... I feel like I should start at home. Because love starts at home and then spreads abroad. And not just my physical home, I mean the area versus flying people in; employing people here, to help people in our area. That's my way of giving back. When we go, we can all go and move together."
Of course, that includes her husband and manager David Mann. They are getting ready to release a book called Divorce Is Not an Option: A BIblical Marriage in a Practical World. They live together, work together, love together.
"It's fun," she says. "It works. It's something that I always prayed for. I wanted a spouse in this walk of life, so it's not like I'm having to explain. So we both get to live in each other's worlds and get to support each other. We get to really share."
"Yes, he's my husband, my manager, my baby daddy and my boyfriend. He's still my boyfriend after 28 years of marriage," she continues. "We're just having a good time at growing and building it all together: our company (Tilly Mann Inc.), our family, our kids, this project, One Way."
Acknowledgement of what you could call her second act is bountiful. Count them: She won seven Stellar Awards and two GMA Dove Awards for 2012 album Best Days. Nine Stellar Award nominations, including artist of the year. Two NAACP Image Award nominations. That second Grammy nomination, for best gospel performance/song; the first was best gospel/contemporary Christian music performance for "Take Me to the King." She and her husband were chosen to host and perform during the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration in Houston. And songs that are on constant replay.
"I'm so excited," she says. "I just want to do more, just inspire more people."
And the cherry on top is that she gets to do a lot of it with her husband and at home, which is exactly where her heart is.
"I'm from Fort Worth. We're both from Fort Worth," she says. "I finished high school in Fort Worth." That would be O.D. Wyatt.
She talks about when she did an in-store appearance in her hometown and the people stayed for hours and hours past the scheduled time. It almost brought her to tears.
"I just count is a blessing. I don't take it for granted," she says. "I want to try to do things in my neighborhood, in my area, to let people know that I love home and I just want to honor it. I'm excited to be home-grown."
Just because her dreams are coming to pass through song doesn't mean she has forsaken her viewing audience. There's a sitcom, Mann & Wife, on Bounce TV. And the couple is in the middle of filming their reality show, It's a Mann's World. The series aired for two seasons on BET and will move to TV One for its third.
"The reality part of it is we were looking to bring good content, family content for the whole family that wasn't ratchet," she says, "I'm not knocking anybody but just to show that all of our family could sit down and reason and get an understanding and grow as a family. And that's what we were trying to show as the Mann family.
"It's so much negative and not enough positive [on TV]. We have to. I have six granddaughters. I don't want them to know that that's the only way life goes, that you gotta, you know, twerk in order to achieve. ... People are pushing faith away and just take the base, whatever the base may be."
Home is also family. The Mann's World Family Tour is scheduled for the spring and is still adding dates. The tour will feature Tamela, David, David Jr. and Tia, who are all involved in everything she does.
"We just want to thank everybody for all the support," she says, adding a "please" as she reminds fans to pick up her album at their local store.
Tamela Mann's expectations for this year, her life, this album, that song, are high. But they are measured.
"I'm just really grateful," she says. "It's been my dream. I'm in awe."
It seems all the accolades have found a home, too. Right there with her.