For Grammy-winning gospel star — and Madea’s onscreen daughter — Tamela Mann, the title of her new album, Overcomer, out today, is a true-life testimony.
“My journey the last five years has been a little trying for me,” Mann tells ESSENCE. “I decided to go ahead and do [double] knee replacement surgery. For 10 years, I was working in pain. Then the other thing that I dealt with is menopause. That took me for a loop, with my emotions going up and down. Also, I decided to do the health and wellness thing with losing some weight, trying to just get my body right. I lost 55 pounds. So it’s a work in progress in overcoming these challenges.”
The 55-year-old singer-actress has also been doing the work as an artist, using the pandemic lockdown to unlock her talents as a songwriter, which are newly displayed on Overcomer. “When I was talking to some of the producers, they were like, ‘Mama Mann, what do you want to talk about this time?’” says Mann, who used songwriting as an outlet during the tough time. “I just really threw myself into it, I think because I had so much time on my hands after surgery and [during] COVID. I just really started enjoying myself and feeling free. These songs came from my heart and from my soul.”
You can hear her baring her soul on tracks like “He Did It for Me,” “Healer” and the single “Help Me,” featuring the Fellas. “I started writing about God being a healer,” says Mann. “We all need a touch from the Lord. We all have things that we need to overcome and conquer. We try to just do everything on our own, but we need to incorporate God back in our lives to just help give us some guidance.”
From the rock-edged title track to the reggae-fied “Hello God,” which features both Wyclef Jean and Kirk Franklin, Overcomer also showcases the powerhouse pipes that helped Mann win a BET Award, an NAACP Image Award, and multiple Dove and Stellar Awards.
While Mann has been pulling more creative weight as an artist, she has been steady shedding pounds over about two years. “Basically, I’ve been overweight my whole life, and it’s just [about] trying to change the pattern of what I’m used to doing,” she says. “I just changed the way that I was eating. I kinda cut back on my carbohydrates — like, if I did have mashed potatoes, I wouldn’t try to do a whole lot of bread … and take in more vegetables. And do better with snacks, ’cause I’m a snacker.”
In addition to changing her eating habits, Mann got into a new exercise stride. “I started walking. I was up to, like, four miles a day,” she says. “I would do the treadmill some days and do the elliptical — things like that — and water aerobics.”
The physical stress of exercising paled in comparison to the emotional toll of going through menopause,” Mann says. “Some days I could be in a happy mood, then all of a sudden I’m sad, I start crying. When we were growing up, you’d hear people say ‘She’s going through the change,’ but ain’t nobody explain what the change was. But it really is a big change that your body actually goes through, so dealing with that with my family was tough. It was me trying to understand me and them trying to understand me.”
By her side through it all has been her husband of 33 years, actor-comedian David Mann. The two started singing with Kirk Franklin and the Family in 1990 before becoming regulars in Tyler Perry’s Madea universe, and they’re still playing father (Mr. Brown) and daughter (Cora) on the BET+ series Assisted Living.
The spouses have a mutual understanding about living that show-biz life. “We do support each other in each other’s lane,” says Mann, whose husband executive-produced Overcomer with her. “When I’m singing, he’s standing on the side or in the front singing every word with me and pushing me home. We push each other home. We share the light. We’re not jealous of each other having the light.”
They don’t let each other get too caught up in the spotlight either. “We put God and our marriage first, and everything else falls in place,” says Mann. “I’m not willing to [put] work over my family. My family means everything to me, and I dare not put anything else before them.”
When it comes to her career, though, there’s no doubt where Mann’s heart lies: “To me, the acting part is icing on the cake. Singing is my first love, what I love the most.”