Gospel Superfest at Schuster Center
to be broadcast nationwide

Gospel Superfest host Wendy Raquel-Robinson

By Matt Clevenger

History is in the making downtown, as the Schuster Center prepares for its first appearance on live national television on Saturday, February 10, hosting the Gospel Superfest program during its first time filming in Dayton.

“This is the first national television show to originate from the Schuster Center,” Gospel Superfest creator and executive producer Dr. Bobby Cartwright, Jr. says. “Not only is it a first for the Gospel Superfest to come to Dayton, but it’s a first for the Schuster Center as far as a live television event. We’re excited about that, and we’re very excited to share the beauty of the Schuster Center with the television audience around the world.”

Broadcast internationally on both cable and network TV, the Gospel Superfest is an utterly unique spectacle onstage, combining more than 25 different choirs and gospel artists with the high-energy flair and presentation of big-budget shows like “Soul Train” and “The Voice”. “It’s an entertainment show with an inspirational edge to it,” Cartwright says. “It has a lot of bells and whistles; it’s like “Soul Train”-meets-gospel, so the presentation is very high-energy, upscale, a lot of lights. We’re building a special stage for the Schuster Center, so it’s really a big spectacle that people won’t expect until they get there. It’s definitely going to be a night they won’t forget anytime soon.”

This year’s Gospel Superfest features 25 separate acts, ranging from choirs and solo artists to TV personalities, including Erica Campbell, Ricky Dillard, James Fortune, Keith Leek and the Howard University Gospel Choir. The program will be hosted by Wendy Raquel Robinson. “She’s played in a lot of different movies,” Cartwright says. “She played the role of Tasha Mack on the BET series “The Game”, and she also played the principal on the old “Steve Harvey Show” on the WB network; her character was Regina Grier.”

“It’s over 300 performers,” Cartwright says of the shows eclectic lineup, “so you’ll see 25 acts, but out of those 25 acts you’ll have 5 choirs,, and the average choir will have about 40 to 60 voices.”

“We’re using a lot of Dayton talent,” he says, “like we’ve got the background singers who will be backing some of the stars. They’re all from Dayton, and the Gospel Music Workshop of America, we’re doing a special number with them; the Dayton chapter and the Cincinnati chapter are combining together. Dayton’s own Shirley Murdock will be performing as well; we’re doing our best to reach out to the Dayton scene and make sure we have the community involved.”

Cartwright has personal connections to the Dayton area. a native Daytonian, he got the idea for the first Gospel Superfest after producing a smaller version at Dayton’s Memorial Hall.

“I was born and raised here,” he says. “I went to Dunbar High School, and studied music at Kentucky State University. Gospel Superfest spawned from an event I produced in Dayton called Winterfest ’98 at Memorial Hall. Since then we’ve produced 17 festivals across the country; three of those in New York City, four in Atlanta, and two were in Chicago, Illinois, We also spent a couple years in Baltimore, so the show has traveled over the years. This is the first time it has been taped for television in Dayton, Ohio, so we’re very, very excited to bring the show home for 2018.”

Televised since its inception, the Gospel Superfest has grown over the years to become the most successful TV program in gospel music history. “It’s the most widely distributed television property in the history of black gospel music,” Cartwright says, “and we have the documentation to back that statement up. There’s no television entity in gospel music that has had a footprint equivalent to the Gospel Superfest, so the Dayton fans will be seen all over the country and all over the world.”

“It’s in its 18th season in domestic syndication,” he says. “The shows that we tape at the Schuster will air locally on WHIO, and they will also air on the TV1 Network.”

Setting up a show of this magnitude is no easy job, and preparations are already under way at the Schuster Center. Audience members should be aware that they are likely to be filmed along with the acts appearing onstage. “We’ll probably have 2,100 people in the audience when we tape on February 10,” Cartwright says. “The Schuster seats 2,300, but we have to eliminate some seats for camera positions. We’re reconstructing the whole stage area, and building platforms. There are cameras and cranes in there. It’s going to be amazing. Not only are the acts being recorded for television, but the people, the fans, are being recorded too. It’s going to be a great show.”

“This is a first for Dayton to host something like this,” he says. “It’s a lot of moving parts to put together the Gospel Superfest, and they’re coming from all over the country to make it all happen. It’s a major undertaking, and something that if you live here and love gospel music, or you love music period, you’ll want to be there to experience this.”

The Gospel Superfest will be held Saturday, February 10 at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 1 W. Second Street in Dayton. Doors open at 5 p.m., show starts at 6 p.m. More information can be found online at gospelsuperfest.com, facebook.com/gospelsuperfest, or ticketcenterstage.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattClevenger@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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