Interviews

Marvin Sapp Has Been Preparing for Disneyland’s Celebrate Gospel All His Life

Throughout the year, guests of all ages are invited to celebrate the powerful stories, rich history and vibrant songs of Black heritage with a variety of uplifting experiences at Disneyland Resort. At Disneyland Park customers can meet Asha from Wish outside The Royal Hall in Fantasyland, or see Tiana, while exploring the streets of New Orleans Square or say hi to Ariel, from the live-action film The Little Mermaid.

They can hear the best band on Buena Vista Street, Five & Dime, cross paths with Black Panther, train with Black Panther’s loyal bodyguards in The Warriors of Wakanda: The Disciplines of the Dora Milaje or encounter Sam Wilson – Captain America at Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure Park.

For more than 30 years after being introduced to gospel music fans as a member of the legendary group Commissioned, Marvin Sapp is still making chart-topping, relevant hits that are a part of every gospel music lover’s playlist. His vibrant songs, powerful stories and rich history of Black culture with a variety of uplifting experiences the whole family can enjoy.

This is why it was important for this year’s Black History Month the park come alive with the joyous sounds of praise and gospel music that speaks to the soul with the return of Celebrate Gospel. As a beloved annual event that brings together award-winning musical artists and community choirs from across Southern California, each performing with their own distinctive style. On February 17th, Sapp will headline a concert that will bring the house down.

In honor of Celebrate Gospel, The Koalition spoke to Sapp to learn more about the importance of the concert, why he’s been preparation for this concert his whole life, the meaning of gospel and more.

“I’ve been preparing for this all my life. I’ve been going to Disney twice a year for the last almost 30 years. Disneyworld has been everything to me. I go to Disney because being in that environment gives me vision. I look at the things that nobody else pays attention to. For example, when you go on the Disney lot one of the things you will see that many people don’t notice is they always have plaques on the wooden fences that have statements from Walt Disney. [They’re filled with] things he used to say. I go through, and I look at all of those things and I may take pictures and then I sit in the environment. Honestly, I would go to Disney for a week, and I never rode a ride, but I would sit in the atmosphere and watch the excitement of people. Or I would sit and watch the parades, or the different shows and all of them have messaging that if you pay attention to, it’s always positive and uplifting. It may not be a sermon, but it is always an illustrated message. I love Disney just for the premise and purpose of how it ignites a fire on the inside of me and I take that fire that’s ignited on the inside of me back to my local church and that’s just a transparent and honest moment about how I view Disney. So, when I say to you that, ‘I’ve been preparing for this all of my life,’ I’m not making [it] up. I’m really really excited about being a part of something so major.”

The song selection for Celebrate Gospel will be a mix of everything. “Believe it or not, that’s the easiest part. You sing your hits; you sing the songs people enjoy. I make sure when we put together our show, we put together songs people have been blessed by. Songs they have been ministered to and you get tons of testimonies on all your social media platforms. You know exactly what people want to hear and you just go into the best of your ability [and] give them what they desire, give them what they like.”

As the recipient of 24 Stellar Awards, 2 Soul Train Music Awards, 2 BET Awards, 4 Dove Awards and 8 BMI Songwriter’s Awards, and he’s also 13-time Grammy nominee—among numerous other accolades. His massive crossover hit, Never Would Have Made It, spent 47 weeks at the top of the radio airplay chart and remains one of the longest running #1 songs of any genre.

“My music has literally transcended. I can sing Never Would Have Made It in the church and then sing [it] in an arena the same way because people expect it that way. I know people are going to come with a different mentality and mindset, [but] the show is what’s going to make the difference. The lights and the colors all of the things, the LED screens, all of the things that may be a part of the production aspect of it is what’s going to make it different. [However, for] my band, my singers, we do what we do, and we do it at a level of excellence. It’s going to be an exciting moment. I’m looking so forward to it. I’m honored Disney decided to choose me to be a part of something so amazing. I’m just looking forward to leaving it all on the stage and giving my best.”

Sapp is right about his music transcendent. After the success of Never Would Have Made It, he would be named Billboard’s Top Male Gospel Artist in 2015. In 2019 he was named one of Billboard’s Top 10 Gospel Artists and his greatest hits project, The Very Best of Marvin Sapp, was one of Billboard’s Top 10 Gospel Albums. Sapp released his 15th album, Substance, in 2022, which landed him his seventh consecutive #1 album debut on Billboard’s gospel sales chart and his sixth #1 song on gospel radio.

Substance was the first project I’ve done on my own personal label. I spent 30 years [with] Sony. I was really really excited because this gave me an opportunity to work with young writers and to give them an opportunity they probably wouldn’t normally have, because a lot of the writers I work with had never written for anybody else. It was just fun to have them to be a part of the process and to use my platform, for the sake of a better word, as a springboard for them. The message in Substance is a message that empowers and equips. I was really excited to be able to put it out. We had two number one singles [on] Billboard off that record, which I’m absolutely proud of. I’m grateful these new writers got the opportunity to be a part of that process.”

Disneyland Resort strives to create a culture of inclusion, so cast members and guests feel seen through music, food, holidays, experiences and the celebration of annual heritage months. Sapp sees this opportunity as a way to spread the good news of the gospel with people around the world in an environment they feel seen.

“The gospel is really just the good news of Jesus Christ, and I don’t know if the definition necessarily evolves as you grow. I think the genre of music literally speaks for itself. Our goal, whenever we share, is to ensure we give a message that is positive and uplifting, but most importantly, points people to Christ. That’s been my assignment for over 30 years, and I’ve had a ton of fun doing it.”

“What I love about gospel music so much, especially now, is that it has a level of diversity for years. There was either contemporary or there was a traditional gospel, but now we have so many different spectrums of thought. When it comes to the gospel music genre having African beats [to] hip-hop gospel [to] gospel rap, I love the diversity of it. I really do. This all happened over the last 30 years, so I’m like, ‘Wow,’ to be a part of the shift and the change but the most important part is that no matter how [the] lyrical content changes, no matter how the beat and or the rhythm [sounds] or what instrumentation they use, at the end of the day it’s all about Jesus. That to me, is the most important aspect of what God’s music is all about.”

Celebrate Gospel returns to the Fantasyland Theatre at Disneyland Park for two days, headlined by Sapp on Feb. 17 and Tasha Cobbs Leonard on Feb. 24. The event takes place from 2:30 p.m. through 7 p.m. on both days, with community choirs performing throughout the afternoon and concluding in the evening with a performance by the headlining artist.

A variety of ticket options and special offers throughout the year make it possible for many guests to visit Disneyland Resort. For visits in early 2024, families can get greater value with a special offer on theme park tickets for children ages 3-9. Valid between now and March 10, 2024 (no blockout dates, subject to park reservation availability), child tickets can be purchased for as low as $50 per child, per day. More information is available on Disneyland.com

Eligible Southern California residents can take advantage of a limited-time ticket offer for visits now through June 2, 2024, subject to park reservation availability. The three-day ticket can be spread out on separate dates and upgrading to a Park Hopper ticket or adding Disney Genie+ service are available at the time of purchase. With the special offer, eligible guests planning to attend one or both Celebrate Gospel concerts can save and visit again before June 2.

To learn more about Sapp and Celebrate Gospel check out our full interview in the video above.

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