Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Plant City pastor to showcase his brand of gospel and hip-hop at Strawberry Festival

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Pastor Calvin Callins stands tall in the pulpit at Greater New Hope Annointed Ministries in Plant City.

In a YouTube video, you can see Callins — pacing back and forth in a gray three-piece suit, perfectly accented with a black dress shirt and black pocket square — deliver a spirited sermon.

A big sermon.

Gripping the microphone, piano and organ chords softly playing in the background, he preaches the word. His voice rises in pitch and volume as he emphasizes the most important points of his message. He grabs the attention of his congregation in a huge way.

Yet this Plant City native, so large in his voice and command, still has friends and family call him by his nickname: Pee-Wee.

Back in the early 1990s, "Pee-Wee" Callins starred in football and basketball at Plant City High School, earning all-state honors even though he was generously listed at 5 feet 6 inches on the Raiders' roster.

"I think I used to be taller in high school," Callins said with a laugh this week.

Now he's "Pastor Pee-Wee," and even though he played before big crowds in high school, once shared the stage with gospel greats like Kirk Franklin and Shirley Casear and preaches every Sunday at New Hope, his biggest performance ever may be this Saturday night.

That's the backdrop when a hometown guy brings his considerable gospel singing talents and his choir to the Florida Strawberry Festival.

"I'm always nervous," Callins said. "I'm nervous every Sunday I stand up to preach. Every time I minister I'm nervous because I know it's not me, but it's God working through me. I expect him to get all the glory.

"This is the first time, other than high school graduation, people outside of my church will hear me sing again. This is going to be pretty nervous. I've had old coaches, old teachers who sent messages to let me know they're going to be there. People have seen me in grocery store and told me they're going to be there."

For more than a decade, Pastor Arthur T. Jones and the choir from Tampa's Bible-Based Fellowship staged a Saturday night gospel show at the festival.

Health challenges prevented Jones, a nationally known recording act, from performing last year. Months after the festival, he passed away.

In the wake of Jones' death, the festival turned to Callins.

"This is a wonderful testimony for our community and a great opportunity to fellowship with others," said Florida Strawberry Festival General Manager Paul Davis. "Pastor Callins is such a well-respected man in our area, and we are confident that he will be able to carry on the success of this event."

Callins is well aware of the huge shoes he will be filling, but it helps that he grew up in a gospel-singing family. In fact, he loved the music so much he shunned athletic scholarship offers after high school to move to Atlanta and pursue a music career in 1992.

During that pursuit, Callins, 41, got a chance to perform in shows with greats such as Franklin, Caesar, and others. He says he also came close to signing a deal with Sony.

"With my grandparents raising me in the church — teaching me how to sing and learn music — it made me disciplined in my music and in my life.

"Singing was the way I got my relief. That's what I loved to do. It let me recognize that I had a gift in me that could touch the lives of people all over the world."

When his grandparents fell ill, Callins returned to Plant City. He's continued singing and recording, including a 1994 album and a 2009 trip to Italy to perform with Dontavies Boatwright, a well-known former contestant on Sunday Best, BET's gospel version of American Idol, who died in 2012.

He's also worked to establish New Hope while taking an active role in the community. He's served on a number of boards and, until last year, handled announcing duties at Plant City football games. (He stepped down to watch his daughter Calaydria cheer at the games.)

So what can the crowd expect Saturday? Callins' wife Tondria says he's handling the preshow nerves well, and she's excited about the opportunity.

He's very versatile," Tondria said. "What I love about my husband is that he can relate to the older audience with traditional gospel, but he can also reach the younger hip-hop audience.

"He knows how to perform across all ages."

To his credit, Callins said even with the nerves, he's thrilled about the opportunity to perform in his hometown.

"I'm excited, in a good way."

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