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Young vocalist on Grammy stage with gospel music’s Kirk Franklin

TEXARKANA, Ark. (BP)–Ashley Guilbert had little knowledge of gospel soul singer Kirk Franklin just a few months ago, let alone ever dream of performing with him. But now the 22-year-old Arkansan is singing backup for the popular artist, including a performance at the 41st Grammy Awards.
“I’ve always wanted to sing, but if anyone would have told me a few months ago that I would be singing at this year’s Grammys, I would have laughingly told them, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so,'” said Guilbert, a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark., whose father, Chuck, is the congregation’s minister of music.
Guilbert, who joined Franklin’s “The NuNation Tour” last November, will be performing at the Feb. 24 Grammys with One Nation Crew (1NC), a young hip-hop group who sing alongside the two-time Grammy winner. Their performance will include Franklin’s latest hit, “Lean On Me,” which has been nominated for song of the year. Franklin also has been nominated for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance, Best Rhythm and Blues Song and Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album.
Noting few Christian groups are invited to sing at the prestigious music event,
Guilbert said she hopes their presentation of “Lean On Me” will offer an evangelistic witness to viewers and other performers. The lyrics of the popular hit, she said, encourage “a critically ill patient, a homeless person and another who is searching for a long, lost father that they have someone to ‘lean on’ in friends, fellow Christians and Jesus.”
“Many people may not listen to a religious song about God or Jesus but they might listen to one like this that deals with problems facing our world today,” she said. “It is a song of encouragement and could make a difference.”
A love of music captured Guilbert at an early age. From the time she was 2, she was singing along with vocal tracts of her favorite Christian artists and at age 6 began performing with her brother at their home church. Throughout her teens, she performed and traveled with her youth choir and won a tri-state vocal contest sponsored by Sparrow Records.
But it was during a family concert in 1997 that Guilbert’s dream of becoming a professional vocalist began coming true. Unknown to her, a family member of Franklin’s manager attended the concert and was so impressed by Guilbert’s musical abilities that she purchased a video of the group and presented it to her brother.
Meanwhile, Guilbert was pursuing a music major at Ouachita Baptist University, where she was a member of the Ouachita Sounds. She also participated in the Miss Arkansas and Miss Texas pageants where she won honors as top vocalist and talent winner. “I knew God had a plan for me to sing; that was my top priority,” she recalled. “I didn’t know where I would be singing or when, but I knew God had a plan.”
Several months later, Guilbert recounted, Franklin approached his manager and inquired about adding “color” to NuNation, made up mostly of African American performers. In their search for a new vocalist, the duo viewed Guilbert’s video and Franklin remarked he had “never heard a white girl sing like that.”
The next day, Franklin’s manager contacted Guilbert and within one week she joined the NuNation tour. “It has happened so fast,” she exclaimed. “It will take a while for all of this to sink in.”
Since joining the tour, she has been part of performances with Franklin and popular artist CeCe Winans to sell-out crowds in Philadelphia, Washington and New York. She has also performed at the Motown Music’s Image Awards, the gospel Stellar Awards and Dove Awards.
Describing her musical career as a “ministry,” Guilbert said she hopes God will use her as a witness to the crowds who attend the NuNation concerts. “You never know how God will use you,” she said. “I may be the one person at a concert who can relate to a fan. I just know God may be able to use me to speak to them.”
Guilbert’s family and friends agree. “Ashley is a wonderful Christian young lady and she has characteristics of Christ that reach out and grab everyone,” said Wallace Edgar, Guilbert’s pastor at Trinity. “We are really excited to see how the Lord is going to open avenues to use her for his glory, like he used her here with us.”
“The circumstances surrounding her new career could have only been of God,” said Guilbert’s father, Chuck, who is minister of music at the Texarkana church. He noted God “laid all the pieces in place.”
Although her leap into a musical career has moved her into “a whole new world,” Guilbert said she is trying “to take it one day at a time. I owe it all to the Lord. I give him the glory.
“I know the Lord has me here for a purpose — to build me into what he wants me to be.”

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  • Stella Anderson