Encore: From Mary Mary, 'Something Big'

With their uplifting lyrics and blend of different genres, award-winning duo Mary Mary has reigned over the modern gospel scene for more than a decade. In this encore broadcast, host Michel Martin speaks with sisters Erica and Tina Campbell about faith, music and the inspiration behind their latest album Something Big.

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TONY COX, HOST:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Today, we have in store for you a sweet and soulful encore musical performance and chat. Mary Mary has reigned over the gospel charts for the past 10 years, yet their sound has crossed over many genres, including jazz, hip-hop, R&B and pop. They have won three Grammy awards, two American Music awards and an NAACP Image award.

Their first hit "Shackles" brought the duo big success in 2000, but it was the 2008 record-breaking hit "God in Me" that propelled sisters Erica and Tina Campbell to international fame. Their most recent album is called "Something Big." Earlier this year, they joined TELL ME MORE's Michel Martin in our performance Studio 4A.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Welcome, ladies.

ERICA CAMPBELL: Thank you.

TINA CAMPBELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CAMPBELL: Thanks, everybody. Hey.

MARTIN: Certainly, your passion for gospel music is no coincidence. Some people would say it was ordained.

CAMPBELL: Right.

MARTIN: Would you agree with that? Is it true that you weren't allowed, really, to listen to anything other than gospel?

CAMPBELL: That's right.

CAMPBELL: Not really. Well...

CAMPBELL: No, girl. That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAMPBELL: You know, we couldn't listen to - mommy and daddy wasn't having it. Now, that was inside of our home. You know, we were in the neighborhood and schools and...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Right, right, right.

CAMPBELL: ...and, you know, wherever we were out and about, there was exposure to music. But as far as what we could listen to in our home, our parents were of the mindset of we don't know what the content of this entire record is or if we're listening to the radio station, we don't know if the first one is right, the second and third one, not so appropriate for your age and for what we want you to be exposed to.

So they were just, like, no secular music. Like, mom, Michael Jackson's a good person. He's got good - why can't we listen to Michael Jackson? Why can't we listen to Whitney? Why can't we listen to - but they weren't having it. So it was gospel. That's what we listened to primarily in the home.

CAMPBELL: And the cool thing about it was the music that we did have was so amazing to us. I didn't feel cheated or slighted. It wasn't boring. It wasn't - it was cool. It was funky. You know, it made us feel alive. And so in that respect, we were born to do this, because we started singing from a very young age and, you know, Tina used to be behind the couch saying, I'm making up a song.

She didn't call herself a songwriter, because we didn't know what that was. We just knew we created music from the time we were little girls. And so now I know that I was being created to be who I am. So I'm excited about being in this place.

MARTIN: Well, Erica, I was going to ask you about that. Tina, I want to ask you about this as well. Was there a moment when you said: Yes, I am a singer. Yes, I am an artist.

CAMPBELL: For me? When I was a little girl.

CAMPBELL: Five years old.

CAMPBELL: Five years old. I always wanted to sing. We went to Christian school. Everybody else had to read a scripture at the presentation. I always had to sing. On Easter, when everybody sang the, you know, did a speech, I sang a song. Around the bed, my parents would call me, and I would sing. And Tina just - I don't think she really wanted to at first.

CAMPBELL: No. No. I didn't want to do it.

MARTIN: Really? What did you want to do? You wanted to be a radio host, of course.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Because she can really talk.

CAMPBELL: Well, you know, I'm a perfectionist. I was very self-conscious. So I was totally comfortable having fun and being the life of the party. But when it came time to do something serious and I knew I wanted to be completely perfect, I did not like to be in the eye of the public. So I did everything in the public until I was about 16 - like Erica referenced earlier, that I'd be behind the couch, you know, recording a song.

That was my first studio: a little recorder. And I'd be singing some Clark Sisters song and seeing how I sounded, and I'd play it back to me. And then one day, they found it and played it, and I was like, I'm never singing again. Because I didn't want to be critiqued. But I think at about 16, I started to realize I had a gift. And I think I was actually into my 20s when I got really comfortable and was like, you know what? I was born for this.

I don't have to do it in any particular way, like any particular person that I admire or look up to. God has given me a gift. I just have to use it to the best of my ability and perfect it. So it came a little ways after I kind of started realizing that I had a gift to sing at 16.

MARTIN: Well, no pressure or anything, but we'd love to hear something.

CAMPBELL: Ah.

MARTIN: What do you think? From the new album.

CAMPBELL: There's a song called "Survive" that we'd love to sing for you. This song is basically speaking to those people who have overcome scenarios. You know, there are just so many songs out there that talk about the hardships and the things that we go through, but there are a lot of people that are overcoming...

CAMPBELL: Yeah.

CAMPBELL: ...that are triumphing through these things, that are victorious through it all, that had bad times but they are moving towards good times and that's what their focus is. So the song "Survive" is kind of directed towards the survivors, those who are moving forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURVIVE")

MARY MARY: (Singing) Any day now is what I kept telling myself on the last mile, on the road to somewhere. But along the way, I got stopped by the wind and the rain, and to my surprise and it moved my hand, and it shook my heart, blew my mind. I had to cry so many nights. I've had to hold on for my life. But all I can say now is that I survived. I survived. I survived. Ooh-ooh I, I survived. I survived. I survived.

(Singing) Oh, I know I had a lot on me. Truth be told, it almost broke me but I'm so glad I survived. I survived. I survived. Oh-oh, I know you've heard this message before, before. I want to tell you once more it's alright. Alright, you'll survive. You will. I know the road you're on might seem long, but I encourage you to hold on. It's alright. Hold on. You'll survive. You will survive.

(Singing) Oh, yeah. I do believe you will. Through it all, I can see that I, I survived. I survived. I survived. Oh, I made it through, yeah. I survived. I survived. I survived. I survived. Oh, I knew I had a lot on me. Truth be told, it almost broke me but I'm so glad I survived. I survived. I survived.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: That might have to be our new anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We've been through some things around here. Haven't we all? Yes. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. With us today for a special performance and conversation is Grammy Award-winning gospel duo Mary Mary, Erica and Tina Campbell. They're telling us about their new album, "Something Big," and anything else on their minds. Do you ever get on each other's nerves?

CAMPBELL: Oh, yeah.

CAMPBELL: Absolutely.

CAMPBELL: This morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAMPBELL: On our way here we had nice good old argument.

CAMPBELL: Yeah.

MARTIN: What was it about?

CAMPBELL: What was it about?

CAMPBELL: Time.

CAMPBELL: Oh, bless her heart.

MARTIN: Oh, somebody likes to be on time. Somebody likes to be a little less on time?

CAMPBELL: It's - no.

MARTIN: No?

CAMPBELL: It's - don't give yourself that much credit, Erica. Well, the thing is...

CAMPBELL: Give yourself the credit.

CAMPBELL: Well, you know, it's really silly stuff. Like, I'm like, Erica, you can't say anything to me about running behind. You're five minutes behind and I'm eight minutes behind.

CAMPBELL: Fifteen.

CAMPBELL: We're both behind. So we've both got a problem. Say we got to do better. No, but we have our feuds about, you know, it could be petty things. It could song choice. It could be an administrative issue. It could be a creative issue. It could be all of those things. Sometimes it's simple stuff that I would not dare mention, because it be like: Are they really that petty and shallow?

But we're sisters. And, you know, you can just be who you are when you're with your family.

CAMPBELL: Right.

CAMPBELL: So we have those kinds of conflicts. However, nobody has Erica's best interests, I think, in business more than I do. That's my sister. That's my blood. I love her with my life, and so there's nothing that would overshadow that. So we have our conflict and sometimes we want to quit the group. We quit Mary Mary every - like at least six times a year.

MARTIN: Really?

CAMPBELL: But we come back.

CAMPBELL: We always come back. Because we realize that what we have together, it works. It's effective and it's something that I feel like we were born to do. And it'll be more effective this way, together. However, we have our little conflicts but we understand we've got to get over that and press on because we have something big here.

You know, plus, we're still family. We can't break the family up. You've got to come to the family reunion and the family functions just like I do. So I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAMPBELL: So I mean this is going to mess up the taco party, like we got to stop all of that.

CAMPBELL: That's right.

MARTIN: Something big. That's right. You do have something big. Speaking of which, where did the idea for this album come from, "Something Big," the title, the concept?

CAMPBELL: I think initially it came from the mindset where we are now. At the beginning of the year, we made a lot of changes: new management, new publicist, new way of thinking, new way of seeing myself. I think we had - the last few years have really felt - I felt my value, I saw my value in a lot of the fans, and the stories, and the tweets and the Facebook messages.

And it's like I had no idea that it was doing that much. And it's not that I'm so big, but it's God is so big. So the song "Something Big" is talking about he took the worst of me and helped me get myself together. He's the greatest man in history - can't nobody do it better.

You know, we're talk lot about a great people in history, but I think Jesus has the best reputation of them all. So that's what "Something Big" is about.

MARTIN: All right. And it is. It feels big. It feels like a story. It feels like a journey. There is one piece we're hoping we can get you to sing, which is "Walking," which I think a lot of people will - is that on your dance card today or...

CAMPBELL: Oh, we could do that. We could do that for you.

MARTIN: You can do "Walking"? Okay.

CAMPBELL: "Walking," I love that song. Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WALKING")

CAMPBELL: That's Vindell back there, y'all.

MARY: (Singing) Hear we go now. Tell me what you see when I pass by. A shadow, a cloud or a light in the sky? Now, am I getting it wrong or am I getting it right? All I can take is one, one step at a time. Look at me. I'm trying every day. I fall down, make mistakes. Get back up, try again. Next time that you see me, I'm walking.

(Singing) I'm walking, I'm walking, I am walking. I'm walking. I'm walking. I'm walking. I'm walking. I'm walking. What does my life say about me? Can anyone see does it show I rock with the greatest? I can't get back the time I spent. Use the rest of it to show all the world how I made it. I put one foot in front of the other. I'm walking. I'm walking. Yes, I do. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: That's not a bad anthem for us either, is it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know what a lot of people were asking me: Why Mary Mary? You're not Mary. You're not Mary.

CAMPBELL: Well, yeah. Our mother wanted to - she loved the name Mary so she named the two of us Mary, and the rest of our five siblings...

CAMPBELL: Eh. Wrong. No, it's two Marys in the Bible. There's Mary, the mother of Christ, considered perfect by most. And then there is Mary Magdalene, who was just, let's say, very imperfect. But once she met Jesus, his love changed her life - not condemnation, not I'm right, you're wrong, follow me, none of that, just his love.

It changed her life. So we tell people, just through introducing our name, it doesn't matter who you are, what you've done - what your experience have been, we can all be changed by the power of the love of Jesus.

MARTIN: You know what I wanted to talk to you, though, about being perfect and the need to be perfect. There are a couple of songs on the album that I think sing to the opposition that you sometimes get when you try to witness your own values, in the face of a culture that doesn't always adhere to them.

CAMPBELL: Right. Yeah.

MARTIN: I would like to ask about that, is: Do you feel a need to sort of present perfection in public as a witness?

CAMPBELL: Never, absolutely not.

CAMPBELL: I never feel the need to be perfect. There's an artist named Natalie Grant. And, you know, we're doing a tour called "Women of Faith," and she sings this song that moves me every single night. She says there is no such thing as perfect people...

CAMPBELL: We should sing it. We should sing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PERFECT PEOPLE")

MARY: (Singing) There's no such thing as perfect people. There's no such thing as a perfect life. So come as you are, broken and scarred. Lift up your heart and be amazed and be changed by a perfect God.

CAMPBELL: We try our very best to be excellent at everything that we are. But we definitely are very verbal, very open about: I could get this wrong; if I fall, I will get back up and I will say I'm sorry, I made a mistake; I scraped my knee, I don't intend to do that again.

MARTIN: Well, what's next for you two? You've done so much. You've done so much. You've touched so many people.

CAMPBELL: Taking over the world.

MARTIN: Well, there you go.

CAMPBELL: Yes, we're going to take over the world.

More people, more music, more inspiration, more love, more change, more giving more, more transformation.

CAMPBELL: And I'd like to say kind of in the words of Oprah, but paraphrased: You really do help yourself when you help others. And we found that to be so. When we started off with the album titled "Something Big," we didn't know all that it would evolve into. But we knew that that was something that was just kind - it was put in our hearts, in our heads, in our minds. We're like "Something Big" is not just the name of the song.

CAMPBELL: Right.

CAMPBELL: It is a movement. And so we've had a campaign with all of our fans, friends, followers, and we have encouraged them to do something big. And now, a part of - an extension of that something big campaign is the I Survived Movement.

We've got a video that we will be making soon with the song. And it's basically a tribute to all of the people who have recently survived all of the natural disasters that's going on in America and around the world. And a lot of times we focus on the sadness, but you don't see as much footage of people rebuilding.

People who are alive continuing to live and showing it through their actions of living, of thriving, of keeping it moving, and so we've got a video that we'll be shooting for the song "I Survived." And now we're pushing our fans and followers to tell us what have you survived, you know. And so it'll just be a wonderful time to celebrate overcoming and triumphing and surviving. So we're really, really excited about that.

MARTIN: Mary Mary, thank you so much for joining us.

CAMPBELL: Thank you for having us.

CAMPBELL: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) What should we play? What do you want us to play?

CAMPBELL: Would you like us to sing?

MARTIN: We would love it.

CAMPBELL: Sure.

MARTIN: We didn't want to be greedy. But we do.

CAMPBELL: We hadn't really planned this, but this is the song that started it all. You know, we went into a garage and recorded this song and never knew that this song would be a number one or a top-five smash around the world, Christian, non-Christian, faith-based, mainstream, hip-hop, pop charts, everything. And so we hope that it moves you like it moves us.

MARTIN: "Shackles."

CAMPBELL: It's "Shackles."

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CAMPBELL: The song that started it all.

MARTIN: And who's accompanying you? Would you just tell us who's accompanying you. I'm sorry, he's not on mic. Who's accompanying you?

CAMPBELL: Vindell.

CAMPBELL: Vindell Smith.

CAMPBELL: Vindell Smith.

MARTIN: Vindell Smith, thank you for joining us.

CAMPBELL: Amazing guitarist.

MARTIN: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHACKLES")

MARY: (Singing) In the corners of my mind, I just can't seem to find a reason to believe that I can break free. Because you see I have been down so long that like all hope is gone. But as I lift my hands, I understand that I should praise you through my circumstance. Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance. I just want to praise you. I'm going to praise you.

COX: You've been listening to a special encore performance chat. The Grammy Award-winning gospel duo Mary Mary joined Michel Martin in our studios in Washington earlier this year for that performance. And that's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHACKLES")

MARY: (Singing) Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance. So I can dance. I just want to praise you. I'm going to praise you. Been through the fire and the rain, bound in every kind of way. But God has broken every chain, so let me go right now. So I can dance. So I can dance. I just want to praise you. I just want to praise you. I just want to praise you.

(Singing) Ooh-ooh, yeah. Hey, yeah. You broke the chains, now I can lift my hands. I can lift my hands. And I'm going to praise you. I'm going to praise you. I'm going to praise you. Hey, yeah.

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