She’s been called the Queen of Gospel Music, but Vicki Mack Lataillade isn’t a singer, vocal arranger or musician of particular note. One thing’s for certain: She’s the most successful African American woman ever to head a record company, and one of the most influential people in the history of contemporary gospel music.
Vicki Mack Lataillade is an entrepreneur, and a nurturer of talent, and everyone who’s ever purchased or enjoyed a gospel CD owes her some sort of debt. As the founder of Gospo Centric Records, she brought Kirk Franklin (among others) into the spotlight, eventually generating over $100 million and bringing gospel into the commercial mainstream, where it became a serious retail contender alongside other genres of music.
She and her husband and business partner, Carl Lataillade, sold the label to Sony/BMG several years ago and launched several new projects. Among these is Soulaughable, a series for the Word Network that features family-friendly comedians and soul-stirring contemporary music.
Season Two of Soulaughable begins taping this weekend, with a quartet of live performances at the Trustees Theater.
That’s right, you can be in the audience of a coast-to-coast TV show! Tickets are required, but they’re free.
“It was actually my husband’s idea,” Vicki Mack Lataillade said by phone last week, on her way to the office in Los Angeles. “We had just sold our company, and he said ‘Let’s use comedy as a platform, because there’s not a lot of great clean comedy out there in the urban community.’
“We decided we wanted to do it live, and Jeremiah Bosgang, our original partner, had written for Saturday Night Live, In Living Colour and Martin.’We got it on the Word Network, and the volume of phone calls was extremely high. And they’re on Direct TV, with a 40 million home capacity.”
The music, she explained, will be “faith-based music that has an edge to it.” Actor Flex Alexander (of Snakes on a Plane and the UPN series One on One) will emcee the shows.
“We’re not the first to do this format,” Lataillade said, “but what I think what’s going to be really special about ours is the level of the comics. Mike Washington has opened for the longest time for Cheryl Underwood, who’s a big comic, not clean, but he’s maintained being clean opening for someone like her. Most of the people we have are veterans in this.
“Ours are what we call clean, or family, comics. Everybody’s not going to be talking about the church, or God. Some of them are faith-based, but we’re pushing more on the avenue of clean and family-based. We’re going to have one or two on there who are just beginning to go from what they were to clean. We want people who are maintaining being clean in their shows throughout. It’s a real trend.”
Vicki Mack Lataillade was born in San Mateo, Calif. (her mother was the mayor for more than 10 years) and originally set her sites on a career in TV news. When she started working aggressively in the music business, recorded gospel music was usually badly arranged, badly recorded and badly packaged. For much of the ‘80s, she worked with both Light and Sparrow Records, helping to break such acts as the Winans, Commissioned (Fred Hammond), Richard Smallwood, Tramaine Hawkins, Andrae Crouch and Vicki Winans.
With a $6,000 loan from her father, recently retired from the post office, Lataillade started Gospo Centric in 1993, smack in the middle of the rap explosion. Church people, she knew, were pretending such music didn’t exist. Her idea was to make gospel look better, sound better, and compete in a tough marketplace.
It wasn’t easy. “Oh gosh, I went through so much stuff when I started,” Lataillade laughed. “We had people say we were going to hell! My husband and I put up our house two or three times; we got beat up a lot.
“And on the secular side, people were trying to take over the company. I had to have security guards. It was a mess. It was very, very difficult.”
Things, of course, got better. And better. “I think we did it way more than I anticipated,” she added. “Because the secular companies got into it, because the kind of market share we were getting.
“Now, people are dancing and hip hopping onstage, and nobody says anything about it if you’re singing faith-based. You used to get beat up about it if you used secular and gospel artists together.”
The Lataillades recently bought a majority share in Central South Distribution, which has been the No. 1 faith-based music distribution company in the world for a decade.
Once again, she’s a pioneer. “This is an area that’s been difficult for people of color to get into,” Lataillade said. “Number one, because there just aren’t that many. But even secular artists – Jay-Z, Puffy – don’t own their own major distribution company.”
The couple also retained ownership of Lilly Mack Publishing (which includes Kirk Franklin’s music, among others), the Word Network’s “Lilly Mack Sing-a-Long” and other properties. They’ll soon launch a new record label, Squeekey.
And it almost didn’t happen. While a student at UCLA in the late 1970s, Lataillade received a job offer, as a nanny for Diana Ross’ children while the singer was performing in Nevada. “I was supposed to go to Vegas to be with the children,” Lataillade laughed. “She already had people with them, but she wanted a student, I think, to give them another flavor or something.”
At the same time, RCA Records offered her an internship, which she accepted, making her the first African American woman to hold the position.
She’s never regretted turning down the diva of Motown. “I never really got the chance to work with her,” Lataillade said, “because the other opportunity had come up.”
And now you know what happened as a result.
‘Soulaughable’ live tapings
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14; Noon, 3 p.m., 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15
Tickets: Free (tickets are required)
Locations: Tickets available at the Trustees Theater Box Office, Lester’s Florist, Bible Unlimited in Garden City, and the Armstrong Center at Armstrong Atlantic State University
Phone: (912) 525-5050