Interviews

Tasha Cobbs Leonard Wants People to Experience the Black Church at Disneyland’s Celebrate Gospel

What is Celebrate Gospel? Just one of the most extravagant soulful events. 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.

A pastor’s daughter born and raised in Georgia, Tasha Cobbs Leonard first emerged to widespread acclaim with her breakout 2013 release, Grace, which garnered a Grammy Award, 3 Dove Awards and 3 Stellar Awards on the strength of its chart-topping, platinum-selling lead single, “Break Every Chain.”

In the years that followed, Leonard would go on to establish herself as one of her genre’s most celebrated voices, racking up more than 2 billion streams across platforms and landing 3 more #1 singles and 5 #1 albums. Billboard named Leonard the Top Gospel Artist of the Decade, while NPR declared her a “gospel sensation,” and Forbes hailed her as “by far one of the most successful contemporary gospel artists of our time.”

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 27th, Leanord will headline a concert that will bring the house down.

In honor of Celebrate Gospel, The Koalition spoke to Leonard to learn more about the importance of the concert, how her faith helps her navigate her life, the success of her 2022 album HYMNS, her forthcoming book Do It Anyway: Don’t Give Up Before It Gets Good which is set to release this spring from WaterBrook and more.

In order to know Leonard, you must first know the song Break Every Chain. First recorded in 2009, originally written and performed by Will Reagan and the United Pursuit Band, it is credited for saving Lenoard’s life. “I was in the middle of my season of depression. [I was just in a] very heavy dark space and one night I popped in an album and the song Break Every Chain came on and it saved my life. I listened to it for days at a time until I allowed the Lord to break those chains off of my life. Though that song is how I was introduced to the world it was also how I was set free to do what I do now. People ask me all the time, ‘Do you ever get tired of singing Break Every Chain?’ I think because I’ve had personal experience with the song and it’s not just a melody to me, it is a message I’ve lived out, I’m able to present it to no matter who it is because the song lives is alive to me. It’s something that’s living and breathing in the lyrics. The content of the lyrics speaks volumes about my personal testimony. So, when I sing, it’s me telling my testimony to those who hear it.”

For Leonard, “The definition of gospel is just the good news of Jesus Christ. We get to tell the good news through music. I tell people all the time, one of the things that’s different about gospel music as it pertains to every other genre is that we have an opportunity to sing about someone else. I get to tell the goodness of God through my gift which is singing and music. “[It’s great to have this concert] at Disneyland [because] we have so many people who will be coming by who will hear the music [and] hear the message. Someone will wake up that morning and say, ‘Hey I’m just going to take my kids, we’re going to have a good time. They may walk by and hear the song Break Every Chain or walk by and hear Never Would Have Made It. It’s an opportunity to have a different platform outside of the four walls of our churches. It’s an opportunity to go out into the hedges and the highways to tell people about the good news of Jesus. This is absolutely an amazing opportunity not just for the culture of gospel [but] the culture of the black church. People will have an opportunity to experience that outside of movies and outside of what you see on television. It’s a true and authentic experience.”

What’s more important than singing about the good news of Jesus Christ is showing others the spirit of Christ by restoring hope to those who feel abandoned by God or just need a reminder He exist. “My husband and I, we’re pastors in South Carolina at a place called The Purpose Place. Our mission and our vision is to restore hope to the community by being the hands and feet of Jesus. I think it can be easy to become comfortable and complacent in our four walls of our churches, but it is also our assignment by God that we go out and we represent him well. It requires us to go into places where people may not ever come to our churches. I love to go to Target. I go in Target, and I could be checking out and I can feel Holy Spirit telling me, ‘Hey, cover the person behind you, take care of their ticket.’ Just that one thing I did one day, this guy literally broke down crying saying, ‘Why would you do this? Why would you do this? There’s no way God loves me.’ I was like, ‘Oh yes he loves you, and this is one example as to how he’s showing his love towards you.’ So, beyond the songs, beyond our Sunday morning services, it is all of our responsibilities to go out and represent Christ in the way we live. The true gospel is telling the good news of who he is through our lives.”

In 2022, the Grammy, Billboard Music, Stellar, and Dove Award-winning musician and songwriter released HYMNS via Motown Gospel. Captured in front of a live audience of more than 3,000 at The Greenwood Oasis on the campus of New Life Southeast in Chicago, the record is a larger-than-life reimagining of classic hymns of love and grace, one that speaks to our modern world even as it reaches far beyond it.

“I recorded the album HYMNS based off of 15 hymns I loved. When I was a kid, I grew up on hymns and songs like What A Friend We Have in Jesus, Amazing Grace or Glory Glory Hallelujah. They really taught scripture for kids like me who grew up in the church. You would learn all of these songs and unbeknownst to you were also learning scripture through the lyrics of the songs. I wanted to make sure I utilize the platform God had given me to also do that for the generation coming up. So, I took some of those hymns, we rewrote them, and we put melodies to them. I wanted to it to be something I could present to this next generation to say, ‘Here’s some content you can put into your speaker system or whatever you’re listening to.’ I’m so old at this point, whatever you’re listening to ‘…it teaches you not just a pretty song but also the word of God.’ That’s a gift I wanted to leave to the next generation as others who have gone before me left for me. I like to think of these songs as hymns from the future. “They’re meant to live on for generations, to reach people I’ll never meet, to spread the gospel for years and years to come.”

The hymn that would sum up Celebrate Gospel for her is the lyrics to Amazing Grace. “That’s not just for the performance, that’s the story of my life. It’s only by the grace of God, he would choose someone like me to represent him. Anytime I think of what he’s entrusted me with, being able to represent him around the world to people of all nations, and all cultures is nothing but an amazing grace that he would save a wretch like me to represent him in such a significant way. Not just for this performance but my life, anytime I get on a platform or take a microphone it is the amazing grace of God that gives me that opportunity.”

While deciding what song to perform for Celebrate Gospel event may be a heavy task for some, Leonard isn’t worried because she has a secret weapon. “In different spaces, in different regions, there are people who want to hear certain songs, so I have an advantage and a privilege within my house and his name is Kenneth Leonard, my husband, he’s also my producer. He does all of the hard work when it comes to making sure the setlist covers all of the songs everybody would want to hear. I believe our presentation at this concert series is going to be just what the doctor ordered. I think everybody’s going to want it. Of course we can’t sing it for eight minutes, but I think I what I found is if you get three minutes going straight in for the one song you came to hear everybody’s going to leave feeling fulfilled and happy with Tasha. People have the same expectation to experience God in the same way and I don’t if I’m at Disney, if I’m at my church, if I’m in the White House, if I’m standing on a corner, I’m going to present the Gospel the way that God has given it to me. Sometimes that could mean hands lifted with tears running down my face or sometimes it could mean jumping for joy. We’re going to experience the same thing at Disney as we would experience in our churches, and I think that’s what people are expecting.”

In addition to headlining Celebrate Gospel, Leonard has a new book set to release in 2024 titled Do It Anyway: Don’t Give Up Before It Gets Good which features a foreword by author and media personality Sarah Jakes Roberts. In the book, she writes about how faith helped guide her throughout her life, from her early days as an aspiring singer to personal experiences that will resonate with many readers, such as infertility, depression and weight loss.

Do It Anyway is my first book offering. It’s just a compilation of memoirs throughout my life where I’ve come against some resistance or some hard situations and tough seasons. The last lesson my father taught me before he went to be with the Lord was for me to get up and do it anyway. In the face of fear, in the face of adversity, you can do whatever God has called you to do. I’m super super excited for people to read these stories. [Readers will] start from when I was a kid, some [from when I was a] 5-year-old, a15-year-old, in high school, different seasons in my life. I went back through all of the seasons where God has shown himself faithful, when I committed to doing what he told me to do and that’s what I want people to leave after reading this book. I want people to believe you can do what God called you to do, no matter how hard it seems…and it’s going to get really hard sometimes but even in those hard seasons you can get up and do it anyway.”

[I’ve learned] so many things in writing this book, just listening and reading back through all of the chapters. Of course, you have to read it over and over and over and even in writing, it’s rehashing and rehearsing all of these seasons of my life. It was just an inspiration to me that I did this. In writing the book, I was literally encouraging myself to do it anyway. During the season when I started writing the book, my husband and I had not completed building out our new athletic wear [and] sneaker store we have. In the middle of writing the book we were trying to close on the building, we were trying to build it out, get all of our inventory. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but here I am writing this compilation of memoirs that says, ‘This is the person you are. You get up and you do it anyway and so every day I was encouraging myself through writing this book, saying, ‘This is hard, but you’ve done hard things before, you’re going to do this as well.'”

“We [also] have a song called Do It Anyway that was inspired by writing this book. It comes from this same creative space in my brain. All of my creative juices were just flowing and even writing the different chapters you have your creative songwriting brain that’s picking up too. I could easily write a song to those people who may be facing a season of fear in their lives, and this could be encouraging for them. So, we wrote Do It Anyway and my good friend Naomi Rain [and I are] going to release a single that I’m super excited.”‘

Celebrate Gospel returns to the Fantasyland Theatre at Disneyland Park for two days, headlined by 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 Leonard and Celebrate Gospel check out our full interview in the video above.

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