Women Leaders in Gospel, Christian Music Bring Inspiring Night of Worship to Ryman Auditorium

When the Ryman Auditorium — then known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle — opened its doors on May 4, 1892, the brick building was designed as a gathering place for religious meetings, educational events and entertainment. The 131-year-old building has its origins in revival and worship, built after riverboat captain Thomas Ryman experienced a religious conversion from a revivalist from Georgia, Sam Jones. Ryman then determined to build a center for religious gatherings.

On Saturday (May 27), the building once again was home to worship and revival of spirit — this time, for the It’s Time Tour, led by a group of the leading female artists in Gospel and Christian music: Natalie Grant, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Tamela Mann, Naomi Raine and Katie Torwalt.

Each of the women offered powerful, transcending vocals that elevated the evening far beyond a mere concert, as the near-capacity audience stayed on its feet the majority of the time, raising their hands and joining in song as the ladies led songs such as Grant’s “Turn Your Eyes” (which she recorded with The Belonging Co.) and Cobbs Leonard’s “I’m Getting Ready.” The curation of the music lent itself to a free-flowing performance, with each of the women joining and exiting the stage throughout, for solo performances interspersed with group moments.

Cobbs Leonard noted to the audience to look around and take in the beauty of the diverse crowd that had gathered that evening, noting “different shapes, different sizes, different shades, different languages. There is one thing that we have in common — the blood of Jesus Christ that cleans us. Every night he has been doing something new and we expect nothing less tonight.”

“When we get to heaven, this is what it will look like,” Mann later told the crowd. “This is just the rehearsals.”

The 21-city tour launched in April in Miami and has visited cities including Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and Houston. The tour will wrap June 1 in Wyoming, Mich.

Each of the women leading that evening have stellar resumes: Since issuing her first album in 2010, Cobbs Leonard has earned three Billboard Music Awards, 15 Stellar awards, nine Dove Awards and a Grammy win. She released her latest album, HYMNS, in 2022. Grant is a nine-time Grammy winner with several top 10 Christian Airplay hits including “I Will Not Be Moved” and “King of the World.” Raine is a five-time Grammy winner making moves as both a solo artist (with her album Cover the Earth set to release in June) and with her work as part of Maverick City Music. Singer-actress Mann has taken home multiple honors, including Grammys, Dove Awards and Stellar Awards, while Torwalt is known for work as part of Jesus Culture and Kingsway.

And yet, even with the top-shelf lineup, it was notable that the women barely spoke their own names to the audience — instead, there was one name that was clearly and intentionally the center of the evening’s attention.

Cobbs was commanding and resonant on songs including her Grammy-winning “Break Every Chain,” while Mann was captivating and fiery on songs including “God Provides,” “Take Me to the King,” while Raine was at once compelling and understated as she adeptly led the audience through the Maverick City Music hits “Jireh,” “Promises” and “Jubilee.” Grant offered a trio of her hits, with “Greatness of God,” “My Weapon” and “Your Great Name,” while Torwalt offered songs including Jesus Culture’s “Prophesy Your Promise.”

One of the most powerful moments in the show came as each of the artists were seated center stage, and Cobbs Leonard momentarily shifted from the vertical worship songs that filled much of the evening, and offered the well-crafted story song “The Church I Grew Up In,” a tribute to her small, childhood church in Georgia, a place with “no fancy signs, one service time/ And the doors always unlocked … the first place I saw the hand of God.”

“I’m a PK (preacher’s kid). If you don’t know what that is, you ain’t one,” Cobbs Leonard said. “Then we have the PGKs — the pastor’s grandkids, where are y’all at? What would the world be without us? A mess. My father started pastoring when I was 10 years old and I’m from Georgia, a little small town. The building sat about 50 people, it wasn’t extravagant, but there was a power in that room. I saw miracles signs and wonders in that room. I saw families be healed in that room. I believe the same God that was in that building is in this room tonight.”

Knowing the diverse range of attendees, the setlist throughout the evening included radio hits, jubilant old-time gospel songs, modern classics such as Mann’s soul-lifting rendition of the MercyMe hit “I Can Only Imagine,” and a smattering of older church hymns including “In the Garden” and “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”

Taking in the moment and mindful that the crowd likely included a good number of people who make a living from work through the church, church ministries and the CCM and Gospel industries, Grant made it clear that evening could be a cleansing palette.

“I think because I’ve lived here so long … I’m proud to live in Nashville but there is a lot of professional Christianity in this town. There’s a lot of stuff that people slap Jesus on that have nothing to do with him. Some of you are remembering that you are going to have religion stripped away tonight … and you are going to go back to the simplicity of Jesus.”

Judging by the steady engagement of the audience throughout the evening, as they chanted, shouted, sang, stomped, clapped and rejoiced, the evening of worship music at the Ryman did take the audience back to a singular focus on Jesus.

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