Marvin Sapp has been a staple in the genre of gospel for over 30 years. His body of work includes I Believe, Be Exalted, Thirsty, Here I Am, and a list of other chart-topping albums that focus on family, faith, and following the word of God. This Michigan-raised artist has been able to open up to listeners all across the world through his music for decades. Now, Sapp’s story is being told on the small screen, with the upcoming biopic Never Would Have Made It.
The film, titled after his 2008 single of the same name, will chronicle Sapp’s (played by Chaz Lamar Shepherd) upbringing, his struggles with drugs and alcohol, and his rise in the music industry. With a career spanning more than three decades, this prominent preacher has said and done almost all there is to do – so why the biopic now?
“I said this before that I didn’t search out for this; it kind of found me,” Sapp tells ESSENCE. “I don’t know if there is necessarily a ‘now’ reason for the biopic, other than people thought that my life story was intriguing. They thought that based on the things that I’ve had to come through to get to this particular place in life, this would be something that people needed to see from the standpoint of having gone through some really traumatic things as a young boy, and as a young man.”
“So, I really think that this story is going to help people to see that no matter how bad life has been, all of us have had ‘Never Would Have Made It’ moments in order to get to where we are today,” he adds.
As he continues to inspire others to push through times of turmoil, Sapp has decided to put some of his most personal moments in the movie. Throughout his life, the published author has battled with bouts of addiction and other obstacles, but it was these moments that allowed him to emerge a better man and human being.
One of the difficult things about biopics is that it forces the subject to be transparent in a sense. In this new age of “cancel culture,” sometimes the line between what to divulge and what to keep hidden has become blurred.
“I’m a strong believer in being translucent, and not necessarily transparent. Meaning that you want to tell your story, and you want to tell a story that’s believable, and you want to show aspects of your life that you feel can help people,” Sapp explains.
“I believe that in this biopic I’m absolutely showing aspects of who I am that people would never know,” he continues. “From drugs and alcohol as a teenager, to a sickness that I was diagnosed with that I thought I would never overcome. So, I was very transparent – but you’re not going to show everybody everything. So I tried to make sure that I gave people enough, but not all, because after this movie is done I need to be able to go back and do what I was doing before, and that’s preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my primary focus and goal.”
Bringing his story to life has been a humbling experience, Sapp says. From being approached by TV One and Swirl Films with the opportunity and involvement with the production process, down to choosing the actors in the film, the pastor of Chosen Vessel Church has taken in this entire experience and refuses to take this rare opportunity for granted.
“I’m the type of guy that never thought that my life would ever be on a film,” Sapp says, as he stares off into the distance. “I just never in my wildest imagination thought that the type of life that I’ve lived would resonate to the point that people would want to invest in telling my story. So, this to me is an honor, and I’m completely humbled by it. God did this, because it was definitely not in my plan.”
In sitting on top of the gospel charts for so many years, Sapp, who is also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., reflects on this longevity in this ever-changing music industry, and what his next steps may be. “I don’t know,” he says. “For 33 years I’ve been a Sony artist and I’ve finally decided to step out and own myself for a change, but I’ve enjoyed this process to be honest with you”
“I don’t really know what’s next,” he adds. “I’m a pastor at a thriving church in Fort Worth, Texas, that has at least 2,000 members now. I’m still a dad in every sense of the word; my daughters are finishing college, so I don’t know what’s next. But I do know that whatever it is, it has to be bigger than this because God is constantly blowing my mind. If he’s done this, he must be preparing for something greater. That’s just the way he does and how he functions; I’m just going to enjoy the ride.”
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As the founder and CEO of Elev8 Media and Entertainment, the Grammy Award-nominated pastor has not lost his passion for music as a solo artist, his priorities have just shifted a bit. He contemplated on what the future might hold, reminisced on his past, and how important it was for an established artist such as Fred Hammond to place him under his wing, and have the chance to learn from a gospel legend. Since Hammond gave him an opportunity so many years ago, Sapp feels that it is his duty to do the same for the artists that will follow.
Although he has flirted with the thought of retirement, Sapp will always be connected to the music in one way or another. “I don’t know if I’m going to go completely away, but I do know that I feel like a part of my assignment is to find young talent and cultivate it,” he says. Because in today’s industry, we don’t have the A&Rs like we did back when I was starting in this business. I believe that’s something that’s missing in this industry, something that’s needed.”
“So, when I joke about retirement I’m kind of feeling like, ‘Who’s next? Who can we pass the baton off to?’ I do believe very strongly that a part of my assignment is to help to raise and train up the next generations of artists in gospel music and hopefully leave a legacy just like Fred left a legacy by bringing me on.”
Never Would Have Made It: The Marvin Sapp Story, premieres Sunday, August 21 at 9p/8c only on TV One.