Hillsong, 'American Idol' Star, 'Passion' Actor Help Kick Off GMA Music Week

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Gospel Music Association Music Week is gaining momentum after showcases and worship events featuring some of the biggest names in Christian music delighted thousands Sunday.

The day kicked off with some 500 attendees gathering for the morning chapel service led by Ross Parsley, senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and New Life Worship, which featured worship leader Jared Anderson and The Desperation Band.

A Sunday Evening Worship Service at the Ryman Auditorium was later led by Hillsong United, Australia's No. 1 modern worship band. The night was hosted by Michael W. Smith, with Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel appearing as a special surprise guest.

The GMA Music Week, which kicked off on Saturday, is expected to entertain some 3,000 people with genre-specific programming such as seminars, workshops and showcases.

Throughout the week, the GMA will offer programming specifically targeted to artists and industry professionals with black gospel and urban music affiliations.

"GMA Music Week is a time for the entire Christian/Gospel music industry to gather together to listen to new music; to learn new ways of doing business; to renew the passion for our music; and to connect with more than 3,000 fellow industry peers," commented John W. Styll, president and CEO of the GMA. "We hope that the targeted opportunities we have provided will give an added incentive for increased participation from the black gospel and urban community."

In addition to the morning and evening services Sunday, another highlight was the songwriter showcase, hosted by former American Idol contender Mandisa Hundley and popular Christian artist Mark Schultz. Songwriters who performed at the showcase included Sanctus Real, Chris Tomlin, Ian Eskelin, and Mark Hall from Casting Crowns.

On Saturday, performing rights organization BMI, which recognizes the writers and publishers of the most performed Christian songs on radio and television, presented awards for 25 songs in five categories – Christian rock, contemporary Christian, inspirational, urban gospel and Southern gospel.

During the BMI Christian Music Awards, Casting Crowns' "Voice of Truth" was awarded song of the year, and Mark Hall – the group's frontman – earned songwriter of the year honors.

Hall won for his compositions "Lifesong," "Praise You in this Storm" and "Voice of Truth."

GMA Music Week will conclude Wednesday with the Dove Awards – also dubbed as the GMA Music Awards – which is known as Christian music's "biggest night of the year." The annual awards show will be hosted by gospel sensations Brian Littrell, Natalie Grant, and Donnie McClurkin this year at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.

TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Mandisa, Take 6, The Crabb Family, MercyMe and Chris Tomlin are among the first performers announced for the Dove Awards, while Michael W Smith, Brenda Lee and Bob & Larry from VeggieTales are among those slated as presenters.

Christian Post reporter Eric Young contributed to this report.