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Gospel Sensation Tasha Cobbs Leonard Has Several Reasons (For You) To Believe

Tasha Cobbs Leonard, photographed in 2020.
JD Barnes
Courtesy of the artist
Tasha Cobbs Leonard, photographed in 2020.

Natasha Cobbs Leonard began singing early, performing "I Believe Children Are Our Future" at a cousin's kindergarten graduation while she was still in grade school, though she had a longer road towards realizing the scope of her now-obvious gift. "After that, I literally did not sing lead in front of a crowd until I was 15 years old."

After a fellow youth choir member couldn't show up, Leonard performed "Now Behold the Lamb," by Kirk Franklin, for the crowd. "When I opened my eyes, people were crying, people were in worship ... and I looked at my parents like, 'Okay, there's something special here.' "

Gospel Sensation Tasha Cobbs Leonard Has Several Reasons (For You) To Believe

It's now decades later, a year after Billboard named Leonard "gospel artist of the decade" – but she says her father, who died several years ago, had a different vision for her.

"He loved gospel music, but he was really cultivating the communicator in me. The preacher, the teacher," she says. It was a role she grew into, and eventually Leonard and her husband were dreaming of founding a church. Last spring, they decided to take the plunge.

Rachel Martin, Morning Edition: "I mean, was that just a terrible coincidence, or... ?"

Tasha Cobbs Leonard: [Laughs] "We felt like, this is a moment where people really need God. And we felt the pull to launch a Bible study online, and put out a flyer saying 'Meet us on Zoom this Thursday, we're going to share some encouraging words with you' ... and here we are."

Leonard and her husband are now leading a blossoming, virtual (for the time being) church – something which, she says, directly inspired her Song Project piece.

"My husband and I, we're in the middle of making several decisions about life moving forward, and I just had this thought, 'But I have to keep believing.' All I have to depend on, to lean on, is my faith."

Rachel Martin, Morning Edition: There were so many low points, for so many, over the past year. Did you have one?

"Several. At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost a cousin. She was 21 years old, lived in New Jersey, and when COVID-19 hit so hard in that area, she was one of the ones that didn't make it.

"One of the hardest parts about those deaths is that they were alone. Family and friends weren't able to be there to hold their hands. Nobody was there to encourage them ... I can only imagine, had there been some physical touch, that maybe some of them would have been encouraged to keep breathing."

You referenced that particular lyric, "there's a reason for all these tears." Do you have a sense of what that reason is?

It's different for everyone. For me, my husband and I – we've gone through several things, with infertility, and it just became so heavy, so challenging. I found myself crying a lot. I literally had to stand up on stage at the Ryman Theatre and minister songs of worship about a God who's good. But during that time, it just didn't feel so good.

But now I see, through those tears, I'm able to speak to those people ... I can tell people, "You're going to smile again."

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Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.