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Kim Burrell was in her mid-20s when she recorded the seminal gospel album Everlasting Life and made us fall in love with her inimitable voice. Her velvet rasp has always made her sound wise beyond her years and even matronly. But judging from the photo gracing the front of her new website, Kim looks like she’s ready to reclaim her youth. Though respectful and artistic… is that a hint of lace and fishnet I see? And do they really expect us not to notice that artillery of pearls cascading over her more than ample bosom?

She’s Kim Burrell, a figurehead in gospel music and a paragon of virtue. Though she’s a mother, I assure you her son was an immaculate conception. (Shutup. That’s what I’m telling myself and I’ll hear of nothing else.) But this picture… this picture is more couture than it is COGIC. It’s less preacher’s wife and more Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Let’s call a spade a spade. This picture is SEXY. Which gives me pause to ask, “Wait a minute… she’s Kim Burrell. Can she DO that?”

When you visit her new website www.backstagewithkim.com, you’re greeted with a fanfare-ious snippet of Kim declaring she’s “living the new life, enjoying the new world.” It sounds like it was snatched right from between two scenes in the movie Dreamgirls. The all-too-brief blurbs on the site promise acting roles, a reality series, an international tour, endorsement deals, and something sure to elicit gasps of shock as well as squeals of elation: her first secular album.

Though I’m not offended, I am surprised. Kim Burrell has always been an artist who’s held a strong stance of taking the gospel to the world and being in it but not of it. Back when she started, most new artists would be clamoring to collaborate with the likes of Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliott, and Harry Connick, Jr. However, in Kim’s case, they were clamoring to collaborate with her.

Let’s hope that Kim can also be an exception to the rule with her intentional foray into secular music. In the mid-80’s, Tramaine Hawkins and The Clark Sisters both suffered severe punishment from the gospel community for having similar ambitions. When their respective singles “Fall Down (Spirit of Love)” and “You Brought The Sunshine” caught fire on disco dance floors, their denominations’ jurisdictions promptly called the fire department to have the songs (and the artists) stomped out. For bringing the secular in contact with the sacred, both artists were called to the carpet where they thoroughly caught hell.

Thankfully it’s a new day though. BeBe & CeCe Winans wrote the book on gospel hits with lyrics ambidextrous enough to slide onto R&B playlists with the right sound. It’s been more than a decade since Kirk Franklin & God’s Property blithely crossed that velvet rope into the secular club & radio airplay. Because of these and other gospel martyrs (whose careers almost died trying to take the gospel to folks that actually needed it), Mary Mary are able to minister on camera with skin-tight pants and womanly curves without being tagged with a scarlet letter or burned at the stake.

If you haven’t seen Kim Burrell recently, you may be shocked to discover that she’s shed more than 100 pounds and just beams about it in a new photo that reveals her newly svelte figure. When did this all happen?

In November, Kim Burrell spoke on TBN about being recently informed by her doctor that she had suffered multiple heart attacks while on tour. This forced her to reevaluate her health priorities and the slimmer, radiant Kim Burrell that we see now is the result of her life changes.

For those of you who miss the old Kim Burrell, still have Everlasting Life on repeat 12 years later, and are wondering when she will return, God help you. We may never see a repeat of the old again. But this new Kim Burrell reminds me of the old one and looks like she’s got some new and better things up her sleeve. Or garter belt. Either way, I’ll be buying her album and supporting her endeavors on both sides of the church walls.

Does any one have an objection?

Written by Mark Chappelle Coston for Elev8.com.

Add him on MySpace or follow @MarkChappelle on Twitter.

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