For South Jersey's Tye Tribbett, happy birthday, happy gospel Grammys

Tribbett with his Grammys, for best gospel song, best gospel album, "Greater Than."
Tribbett with his Grammys, for best gospel song, best gospel album, "Greater Than." (KELVIN LEACH)
Posted: January 29, 2014

Tye Tribbett celebrated his birthday at the Grammy Awards.

And by the time the pre-telecast portion of the ceremony was over on Sunday, the South Jersey gospel singer had taken home two trophies: He won best gospel song for "If He Did It Before . . . Same God" and best gospel album for his energized 2013 live release, Greater Than.

"What an amazingly happy birthday it was!" says Tribbett, now 38, sounding ecstatic as he talked on the phone while driving on a sunny Southern California afternoon.

The awards show, telecast on CBS and dominated by the helmeted French dance-music duo Daft Punk, pulled in 28.5 million viewers, its second-largest audience in two decades.

Tribbett, a singer and bandleader who was raised in Camden and lives in nearby Moorestown, had been nominated before, but never won.

"I was nominated once each for three different projects. This time, it was three times for one project, so I was like, 'If I could just get one, I'll be a happy camper.' Little did I know . . . ."

Tribbett was backstage Sunday talking with Tasha Cobbs, who had beaten him in the best gospel/contemporary Christian music performance category with her song "Break Every Chain."

"She had just lost her father seven days ago, and her speech was very moving," Tribbett says. "She made it through, but then she really broke down on me. So, we were hugging and crying, and then I hear my name announced, and I was like: 'Whoa! I'll be right back. We can continue hugging and crying right after this.'

"I had nothing prepared," he says. "I just got up there, and was like 'Um, um, yeah.' . . . It was funny, I felt like I connected with the audience. They were all laughing with me, because I was like, 'Oh, my, ahhhh!'

"I'm very excited. I'm very grateful. And the weather is good out here. I think I'm most excited about the weather. I'm sorry, Philly. I know you're all cold back home."

Greater Than was recorded live in churches in Miami and Los Angeles, and the rousing momentum of Tribbett's performance surely helped sway Grammy voters in the rough-edged singer's favor.

"The churches were packed, people really came out to support us," says Tribbett, whose mother is the gospel DJ Neicy Tribbett, formerly with WDAS but now on the air in New York and in a syndicated show with gospel singer Hezekiah Walker.

Tribbett, who has 166,000 Twitter followers, credits "the power of social media" for bringing people out. "The energy of the audience was undeniable. It gave us further confirmation that these were good songs."

Tribbett comes back East to play the Prudential Hall in Newark, N.J., on Thursday with Walker, and he headlines the Howard Theatre in Washington on Friday. He has a busy 2014 in front of him. He'll be touring with Walker and Kirk Franklin, and wants to get into TV and Broadway production. He also has plans for a book "about how we view the culture, and how we manage ourselves in the culture as a young believer."

For now, though, he's trying to make sense of what it means to be a Grammy winner.

"No, no, no! I can't answer that question," he says, at first. "The Grammys are so overwhelming. It's more not for me, but for people's posture or view towards me. It's like getting more respected. Like getting your Ph.D. Now you have letters before your name."

"I'm not looking to be changing, or different. That's not me at all. But people's view of me is probably on a different level now. I appreciate that, because now my words, my voice, my music have just a little bit more potency, a little more relevance and importance. And I love that, because I have something to say, and I want it to be heard and respected."


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