A young man from Emporia, Virginia is one of the nation’s top ten gospel singers according to judges of the BET show Sunday Best – a program where gospel singers compete for a prize of $50,000 and a recording contract.
Marquis Harris was one of 20 people chosen from several thousand who auditioned for Sunday Best, and when the field narrowed to ten, Emporia – a city of 5,000 off I-95 near the North Carolina border -- organized a parade in his honor.
The 25-year-old has always loved gospel. As a kid, his church and its music were a refuge from bullies.
“When I was younger, I used to talk like this," he says in his best falsetto. "People actually took my stuff. They threw it in the trash. Somebody tried to put my head in the toilet. Somebody stabbed me in the back with a pencil. It was a lot, but God – along with my mom – really helped me pull through that time of hardship.”
Now – in the midst of a pandemic and a movement called Black Lives Matter – he hopes his songs will comfort others.
“God’s message is always needed, and I realize that gospel music is healing,” he explains.
He first auditioned for the show soon after graduating from high school – but he wasn’t picked.
“The maturity level, the development of my voice – it wasn’t my time,” he concludes.
This year he again went to Atlanta for a try-out, and a panel of judges instantly identified him as a finalist.
“It was like an automatic ‘Yes!’" he recalls. "I was like, ‘Huh?’ It was an amazing experience.”
The first two shows were recorded in Georgia, but then COVID hit, and the show shipped cameras, microphones and lights -- telling contestants to record themselves.
His mother, Sandra Seaborn, is not surprised by her son’s success.
“Seeing the gift that God had given him, I knew he would do something with it,” she explains.
And while she cheered loudly for him each week in front of the TV, she says it wasn’t about winning a competition.
“He has already won. You know what I’m saying? He is doing the thing that I believe God called him to do, and it’s more than just singing. It’s relaying a message that God cares.”
Marquis Harris agrees and proved the point when he was eliminated from competition on Sunday. The experience, he says, taught him a powerful lesson.
“No matter where you are, where you’re from, no matter how much money you have in your pocket, if you have the gift, then the sky is the limit for you.”
He’s still hoping for a career in music, and is investing in another creative endeavor -- fashion design. His company – Heavenly Robed -- offers custom-made clothing that he hopes will give clients comfort and confidence.
He’s also inspired others in this small southern town – like his 11-year-old niece, Te’Raya Davis.
“I’ve learned to never give up – to keep going and try my best," she says. "When he was on Sunday Best and I would watch him, I’d say, ‘I want to be like him – to go out in the world and show my gift.’”