By Jamel Smith
January 17, 2021
The morning of Grammy nominations is always a thrilling experience for fans and artists alike. It is even more riveting for artists who do not expect their weeks of rigorous campaigning to end in such triumph. For gospel music newcomer Melvin Crispell III, his moment of triumph came on a November morning when he was greeted with a lone message from a contact: “Congratulations on the Grammy nomination!” Shortly after, another Ding! hit his phone: “Congratulations!” Then another. As the growing wave of congratulatory messages began to flood his phone, his new reality started to settle in.
At 23 years old, Crispell garnered his first Grammy nomination– a moment that instantly overwhelmed him with emotion. “I was a complete and total wreck,” Crispell said. “I had to go out to my car and cry for thirty minutes.”
Crispell is nominated for Best Gospel Performance/Song with his hit, “Wonderful Is Your Name,” a song of great meaning to the gospel community at large and even greater meaning to Crispell. The Grammy-nominated song was written by his late father and legendary gospel musician, Melvin Crispell Jr.
These moments are often preceded by an underside of blood, sweat, and tears. For Crispell, his journey began even before his existence, at a concert in New York, where his parents were introduced to each other through a friend of his father. His father, world-renowned musician and composer Melvin Crispell Jr. composed and played on a string of gospel hits (Hezekiah Walker’s “Jesus Is My Help,” “Wonderful Is Your Name,” and James Hall’s “Caught Up” and “He Took My Place”). His mother, Tunesha Crispell was a celebrated gospel singer in New York and abroad.
Crispell comes from a family of love, support, and a lot of music. His earliest musical memories spread across continents. At three years old, Crispell traveled to Japan with his parents where he assisted them in teaching music to Japanese toddler students. In later years, he and his family moved to Charlotte, where he spent his youth in local church and community choirs. He even sang behind his mother during her stint as a solo recording artist.
Crispell looks back on those moments with love and appreciation for his parents: “I remember those moments because I felt so a part. I felt loved. And I felt like my parents trusted me enough to help them.”
According to Crispell, his parents used every moment to show him that he had the potential to be great. Unfortunately, his parents would not get to see that potential fully manifest in person. Melvin and Tunesha Crispell Jr. sadly passed away in 2014 and 2016, respectively, but not without grooming their legacy to continue in their stead. Three years later, Melvin Crispell III carried the Crispell legacy onto the national stage with his meteoric debut on BET’s Sunday Best in 2019.
In its ninth season, Crispell debuted his dynamic voice into the homes of millions and won the Gospel-based music competition. This life-changing decision came after multiple rounds of rejection, and Crispell grappled with his own self-doubt. “I did not want to audition at all. I turned it down three times in the span of 2-3 weeks,” he said. “[My parents] were already in the industry and didn’t want me to experience some of the darker side to the gospel industry.”
Luckily, for the rest of us, Crispell was finally encouraged by a family member to “step out on faith” and audition for a spot on the show. And as they say, “the rest is history.”
Following his Sunday Best win, Crispell’s focus was to satisfy the qualifications of his contract with the show. He traveled to Texas and recorded his four-song EP Prologue III, released in 2019. Shortly after, he began working on his full-length debut album I’ve Got a Testimony, released in 2020. Unfortunately, his experience was tainted by the widespread restrictions of the pandemic.
“Typically, I would go to my label’s headquarters and plan out everything, but we didn’t have that. We had to work around it,” he said. In his tried-and-true attitude of perseverance, he and his team continued the recording process and created a record worthy of a Grammy nomination.
Crispell has been forged into a man of faith and perseverance. Losing both parents by the age of 18 is hard for anyone to handle, let alone an only child. Despite his trauma, he remains hopeful and uses his journey to inspire others to withstand life’s woes long enough to come out on the other side. “Just to know everything God has allowed me to go through: me having to grow up faster, having to face different challenges on my own, not really knowing which steps to take as a young man…God has a plan for me,” he said.
In many ways, Crispell was also taught perseverance through his father’s example with his own career. “My dad had some challenges with his music before he passed,” he said. “Being able to [record “Wonderful Is Your Name”] for him took me to a different place.” In a picturesque full-circle moment, his first award nomination honors his father’s legacy, as well as his own. The weight of such a moment still moves him. “To be able to keep my family’s legacy alive is insane. I am tearing up now thinking about it,” he said. “Carrying my parents with me everywhere I go helps me build a name for myself.”