A great many people recognize Tamela Mann as Cora Simmons, the daughter of gun-toting Madea and hapless Leroy Brown in Tyler Perry's plays, movies and the Meet the Browns sitcom on TBS.
But what far fewer people know is that Mann began singing gospel music in her church in Texas when she was 8 years old. Since then, no matter how many acting roles she snags, including playing the best friend of the late Whitney Houston in the upcoming film Sparkle, singing gospel is her passion.
"It is a drive in me," Mann said in a phone interview last week. "I don't get tired of it. When I'm hoarse, it hurts that I can't give my all. It is almost like a depression when I am not in full voice. I want to leave it all in the pulpit or on the floor of the church. I feel like God has been so good to me and is so worthy of praise."
Mann and her husband of 24 years, David Mann, who plays her comedic father in the Tyler Perry productions, will be in Lexington on June 30 for a concert at Consolidated Baptist Church.
The couple became friends when they were members of The Family, the vocal ensemble led by multi-Grammy winner Kirk Franklin in the early 1990s. David Mann will sign autographs at his wife's Lexington performance, but he is not scheduled to sing.
Tamela Mann's appearance is the result of a collaboration of a group of women who had helped one another present other local events, but who hadn't worked together on something this big.
A couple of them had worked with the Roots & Heritage Festival, and some had worked on the "Lift Every Voice" mass choir concert in February in celebration of Black History Month.
"That became our driving point," Nicole Johnson of Lexington said about the concert in February. "We decided to work together and get things done in our city on another level. We don't want to keep traveling to Louisville or Cincinnati to see quality acts. Why not have them here?"
In May, Karen Brown, Rebekah Pyant, Kim Clark, Jeanne Mabson-Sweat and Johnson formed "Women in Worship of Lexington," and joined with Varanise Booker, head of the Lexington Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. Their goal was to find a Christian musician who would be available for a summer concert.
That was a big order. But the women had a great deal of power on their side.
"God has truly been in the picture from day one," Mabson-Sweat said.
She was the first to think of Mann, whom she remembered singing Now Behold the Lamb on an album for Franklin.
Tamela Mann happened to have a free date in June, so the women scurried around to find a venue that would be big enough to host her. They found it at Consolidated Baptist.
Tamela Mann said she favors concerts in smaller cities.
"I think Lexington is just as important as any other city," she said. "The hunger is greater there. In smaller cities, they are grateful that God is still breathing on them and not that they have arrived. I think it is very important that we don't get so high-minded. A soul is a soul."
The next obstacle was gathering enough women for a 100-voice mass choir to accompany Mann. Facebook and word of mouth helped with that. About 73 women showed up for the first rehearsal. The choir now numbers 107.
"One of our biggest goals is to cross denominational and racial lines," Mabson-Sweat said. "There are so many different denominations in that choir. We are looking to change lives."
Tamela Mann won the 2011 Dove Award for traditional Gospel album of the year for her last album, The Master Plan, which topped the gospel charts for nearly a year.
Mann's latest album, Best Days, will debut Aug. 14. The first single from the album, Take Me to the King, which was written and produced by Franklin, is available now.
In addition to the music, the couple recorded 10 episodes of a cooking/reality show called Hanging with the Manns, which doesn't yet have a network.
"I am believing and waiting on my phone to ring," Tamela Mann said. "We did it on our own. We go out and do some crazy adventures and then come home and base the cooking on what we did. My prayer is for the right deal."
The show features healthy foods and down-home cooking, she said. At one time, David Mann was diagnosed with diabetes. With diet and exercise, he is no longer considered diabetic, but he talks with groups about lifestyle changes, she said.
Women in Worship plans to present similar events in the future. With more than half of the 1,000 available seats already sold, they say the collaboration is working.
"Two heads are better than one, and if you get four or five together, that is even better," Johnson said. "We don't plan to stop with this event."
And Mann has no plans to stop singing about her love of God. "A lot of people are not churchgoers," she said. "I get to introduce my Lord and Savior to them. Whenever they call me, I'm going."