The name evokes an appeal to above, a spiritual call, a joyful noise – which
is why singer/songwriters Erica and Tina Atkins chose "Mary Mary"
as their performance moniker. Mary Mary's music – sometimes
co-written and all produced by hot R&B/hip-hop producer Warryn
Campbell (whose work has appeared on albums by Brandy,
Boyz II Men, Shanice,
Dru Hill, and others) – is contemporary and caring, funky and
faithful, surprising, soulful and deeply spiritual.
were thinking about the Marys in the Bible, and there are two specifically: Mary Magdalene, who was delivered from evil spirits and of
course Mary, Mother of Jesus, both of whom were very instrumental in His
ministries," explains Erica, the slightly older and more laid-back
of the 20something siblings. "It's all about Jesus and telling
people who He is and of His love. That's the whole purpose behind Mary Mary."
With voices steeped in soulful intensity, melodies
that soar engagingly above the beats, and affirming lyrics that combine
traditional gospel concepts with rhythmic immediacy, these young women
create the straightforward message of God's love consistently through
every bumping track.
Mary Mary celebrate spiritual redemption and
unshakable faith so powerfully that sitting still is not an option.
At a time when other gospel artists have already made
strides into secular arenas with ever-more contemporary R&B tracks, Mary
Mary have carried the art of creating modern praise music into a new
category of creativity, honesty, originality, and soulfulness. It's
these qualities that have made the sisters sought after as songwriters
by such other artists as Yolanda Adams,
Woody of Dru Hill, and 702.
"I think one of the misconceptions about gospel
music is that it's dreary or sad, or 'Oh Lord, help me' – something
that brings you down," says the outgoing, animated Tina.
"That's not me. I'm living in a natural world – first natural,
then spiritual, my heart is still the same. It's just my relationship
with God is always there. Being thankful or talking about joy just goes
to the music that I hear and that's how I write these songs."
Born to gospel-singing parents amid five other sisters
and a brother, Erica and Tina were raised in a strict churchgoing family
in Inglewood, California, where gospel music – the Clark Sisters,
Commissioned, the Winans, Shirley Caesar,
John P. Kee, Rev. Milton Brunson, Hezekiah Walker – was the only music allowed in the household. The Atkins' kids soon comprised most of the
church choir's soprano section, but Erica and Tina's vocal talents
earned them coveted soloist spots. After singing with the popular
"Bobby Jones Gospel" program on BET with their siblings, the
two middle sisters realized that "music was completely in our
In 1995 they were recruited as part of the cast of the
Michael Matthews traveling gospel show "Mama I'm Sorry," doing
up to eight performances a week in a variety of U.S. cities in an
extremely competitive atmosphere among the singers. Their talents earned
them slots in a second Matthews play, "Sneaky," and they
toured for more than a year, honing their stage presentation as well as
strengthening their voices.
Through attempts to complete college, hold down jobs
(Erica was a courtesy clerk at local Boyd's Market while Tina was a
makeup artist at Nordstrom's), and pay rent on their apartment, music
kept calling. Individually, they went on tour singing backup for major
recording artists: Erica for Brian McKnight,
Brandy, Terry Ellis, and Ray J; Tina for Kenny Lattimore,
and even the pilot for a Kirk Franklin
TV show. But some of the secular songs they performed made the sisters
uneasy. All along, the two had been writing their own songs, separately
and together, enlisting each other and family members to put the tunes
on cassette tape.
A chance meeting with producer Warryn Campbell around
1996 was the key event that brought Mary Mary into existence. A
"church boy" himself who was impressed with the women's
songwriting skills, Campbell collaborated on tunes with them and brought
the new material, as well as the sisters' own originals, to his
publisher, EMI Music. Executives were so enthused that Erica and Tina
landed their own publishing contracts, and a tune they wrote and
performed on with Robin S., "Dance," was quickly added to the
best-selling "Dr. Dolittle" soundtrack.
Producers of the inspirational soundtrack to "The
Prince Of Egypt" clamored for their work, and their "Let Go,
Let God," was included on the album. Another composition,
"What More Can He Do," was recorded by Las Vegas femme trio
702. Mary Mary felt they had truly been blessed when one of their
idols, Yolanda Adams, recorded two of
their songs, "Time To Change" and "Yeah," for an
The circulation of Mary Mary's songs throughout
the recording industry brought offers of record deals from several
labels. With a clear conception of how they wanted to be marketed to a
broad audience, Mary Mary chose to sign with Columbia Records. As
such, the pair is the first gospel duo to be signed to the label. A
major part of their self-concept is dictated by their religious beliefs,
which means they define themselves as strictly gospel – and not just
inspirational – artists.
"Inspirational music makes me feel good, like I
can go on, I can make it, I can do whatever I put my mind to. But the
gospel tells you about what God can do, it tells you the good news of
Jesus," explains Erica. "Because our music is so hip-hop and
has an urban feel, a lot of people think, 'Oh it's inspirational, it's
contemporary.' It can be. But listen to what I'm saying [in the song].
The songs that we write tell the message of Christ specifically."
This devotion to the core mission of their startling
song-craft is what makes Mary Mary's music and personal presence
so continually refreshing, a devotion sometimes lacking in the sounds
and lifestyles of other artists. It's a devotion that informs the
uplifting, upbeat spirit of Thankful. So clap your hands and be prepared
for a transformation to joy.
Awards include --
- Best Gospel Album ("Thankful")
-- Soul Train Music Awards, 2001
Hit songs include --
- God In Me
- Shackles (Praise You)
- In The Morning
- I Sings
- Get Up
- Go Get It
Other notable songs include --
- What a Friend
- Hold On
- God Bless
- God Has Smiled on Me
- I Got
Mary Mary may be available for your next special event!
.Urban Contemporary Gospel.
.Adult Contemporary R&B.
..90s, ..00s, ..10s
Born: ..in California
Apr 29, 1972
Born: ..in California
May 1, 1975
Raised: ..in California
Based: ..in California
..in Los Angeles