Entertainer/Producer Mari White
Mari White is not only a beautiful woman, she’s an accomplished entertainer and producer. She got her start in modeling, but won rave reviews this summer in a New York production of “All American Girls,” a play about the first female African American baseball league. Her latest project is a reality show called “Mari White Presents the Newsboys,” which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the popular Christian band that happens to feature her good friend and veteran dc Talk member, Michael Tait, on lead vocals. It’s scheduled to premiere in October on multiple networks, including JCTV, NRB, Total Living Network, Miracle Channel, LegacyTV, Cornerstone Television, and FamilyNet. UrbanFaith talked to White about the show and about how she lives out her faith in the entertainment business. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: Your professional credits include film, hosting, theater, TV, and modeling. How did you get into the entertainment business?
Mari White: I started in my late teens to pursue modeling and acting. I grew up very shy and very quiet and I thought that it would be fun to push those boundaries and make myself more outgoing and make myself be comfortable speaking in front of people and around a lot of people. So I did it more as a therapeutic type of thing, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable journeys of my life up to this point. I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about other people. The modeling seems like it would be fun, but you also have to recognize, it’s just a visual. I was able to recognize the pros and cons of being in the modeling industry as a woman and as a woman of God.
What are some of those pros and cons?
There are always opportunities where, as a woman, you’re booked for jobs that you may not feel completely comfortable with. Along with experience and along with age, you start to realize there are things that you don’t have to do. You don’t have to compromise. Same thing with acting. There are roles that you don’t have to accept. If I feel like it’s a quality project and there’s a bigger meaning behind it, then it’s something that I would pursue. All the work that I’ve done, I’m proud of and I feel like it recognizes different sides of a woman. You can absolutely be a woman of God and still be in the entertainment industry as long as you know who you are.
What kinds of faith challenges have you experienced?
Being in the entertainment industry is a great opportunity to rely on God because you never know what the next week or the next month will be. You may book a lot of work or you may not book any work. When you do book work, it still takes a while for the checks to come in. It’s not consistent. Every day is an exciting opportunity to see what’s going to happen.
Newsboys performing in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where their reality show trailer was filmed.
How did you come to produce a show about the Newsboys?
I met the group a few years ago with the new lead singer, Michael Tait, and I had the pleasure of attending one of their live shows. I had seen many other groups perform before and always enjoyed this type of music, but I was blown away at how they performed. Without all the bells and whistles and the gadgets and smoke, they were amazing. Then when I did see them with all the bells and whistles, it was just that much more fantastic. The thing that caught my attention the most was the fact that there was so much history behind the Newsboys and also [Michael’s earlier group] dc Talk. Once I started to see these guys, and meet their wives, their families, and their friends, I recognized that they actually practice what they preach off the stage. That was something that I felt really needed to be seen: positive men for young people and for adults. It’s something that you don’t see on television that much.
How did you meet the band?
I used to host a Christian music television show based out of New York and I had the opportunity to meet multiple bands and performers in Contemporary Christian Music. I had the pleasure of meeting Duncan Phillips and Michael Tait of the Newsboys when the change had just happened with the band. While I was interviewing them, I felt bad because I wasn’t that knowledgeable about what was going on. They were sweethearts and they caught me up to speed during the interview. It was at that moment that I thought, “Wow, these guys are different.” In fact, something had happened with our transportation to pick them up from where they were performing, and they said, “No problem, we’re in Manhattan. We’ll just walk it.” They ended up walking like 14 blocks to our studio. That was the first thing that impressed me. I thought that was really down to earth and sweet and nice of them to do so. In the interview we had a blast. We just kept talking and talking. Ever since then, we all became friends. Their wives and I are friends. It’s such a great group of people, from the management to the label to the members, everyone is truly great.
What is your goal for the show?
I want to create a new type of Christian entertainment. I want to create entertainment that’s going to be fun, informational, and spiritual for everyone. Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of new and fresh family friendly, faith-based programming. The production value of the show is equal to any young adult program on any mainstream secular network. I feel like if you want to reach a faith based audience, a young audience, or even a new audience, you’ve got to be able to be on the same level of everything else that’s out there.
To watch the trailer for “Mari White Presents the Newsboys,” go to Newsboysshow.com.
Michael Tait is lead singer of The Newsboys. He and the Grammy-nominated band performed an electric set at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, last month. Best known as a member of the pioneering Christian rock/rap group dc Talk, Tait’s career in the Christian music industry has been defined by stretching the boundaries of art, faith, and culture. Urban Faith News & Religion editor Christine A. Scheller caught up with Tait as he prepared to take the stage. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Urban Faith: Congratulations on the success of Born Again, your first CD with The Newsboys.
Michael Tait: Thanks. After 44 weeks, we dropped off and then were number one again, so it’s mind-blowing.
Urban Faith: You’ve played with cross-cultural bands pretty much your whole career, right?
Michael Tait: Oh yeah. I call it “living integration.” I want people to see that the beauty of the human race is found in the diversity of the human race. We are God’s bouquet. We could have all white flowers or red, but man, wouldn’t it be pretty to see a bouquet of different flowers, different styles? That to me is the beauty of it.
Urban Faith: You did a lot to promote racial reconciliation when you were with dc Talk. Are you guys still involved with race and justice issues?
Michael Tait: Obviously, dc Talk is disbanded for the moment, or as we say, ‘double-parked in the city’ … but my heart’s always been for racial reconciliation because I grew up in the inner city of D.C. and my dad’s heart was for it.
Urban Faith: My editor wrote a book called Reconciliation Blues about his experience as a black person in the evangelical world. What are your thoughts on that experience?
Michael Tait: It’s funny you should mention that because the other day the band was like, “Tait, you’re like the only black guy in Christian rock.” It’s true. We have Kirk Franklin, who’s my friend, but that’s gospel. In CCM, as broad as it is, I’m the only little spot in that whole conglomeration.
Urban Faith: Did you grow up listening to rock music?
Michael Tait: I grew up listening to Oingo Boingo, U2, and Duran Duran, but also Kool & the Gang, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson. My friends gave me a hard time, but I was like 12 or 13 and I was like, “Forget you guys, man.” In other words, I’m not going to be pigeonholed. I like basketball and soul food, but I also like tennis and sushi — and rock ‘n’ roll.
ROCKIN' DIVERSITY: Tait onstage with the Newsboys at the Will Graham Jersey Shore Celebration.
Urban Faith: In an interview with the Gospel Music Channel, you talked about your sister who died of AIDS after a history of drug abuse and your brother who is in prison for drug offenses. In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander talks about the war against drugs as a backlash against the civil rights movement. Do you think structural racism has impacted your own family in this regard?
Michael Tait: Speaking directly, in a real tangible way, no. We weren’t put down or put in jail because of our color, nor did we become victims of HIV because of our color. But I think down the line, in the very nature of racism, most African Americans have been affected by it. Is it an excuse? No, it’s a fact. Should we stop and throw in the towel. No way. I’m not doing that. I want to climb higher. Not everybody has that drive.
The sad part is, because of the system and racism, a lot of families are broken up. That was the whole nature of racism in the beginning, to tear apart families. It’s still going on. That’s the part that’s so bad, because then little Johnny and Stevie and Bernard are alone at home. Mom is working two jobs and dad can’t be found because the world says he’s not worth anything. He’s looked down upon. He feels inferior to others. It’s a stinky mess, so sometimes it’s hard to grasp what to do, but all you can do is take one day at a time and do one act at a time.
Urban Faith: Some Christians have been identified with the “birther movement” that cast dispersions on President Obama’s birth. Would it happen if he wasn’t black?
Michael Tait: I think the bigger issue here is that many of us are not happy with what’s happening in our country under his leadership. That’s going to make us say, “Hey, by the way, you’re not even da da da.”
Urban Faith: Are you speaking of yourself or in general?
Michael Tait: Yes, myself. I’m not satisfied with Obama’s current direction for our country. … The scariest part about it is I’m a Republican, and I’m not sure I see anyone coming up that I can even vote for next time. Who knows, [Obama] might get four more years.
Urban Faith: Another personal question for you. I read somewhere that you have a supermodel in your life.
Michael Tait: Yes, her name is Mari. We met in New York and started dating about a year ago. I’m going to pop the question one of these days.
Urban Faith: In your interview with the Gospel Music Network, you said, “I get lost in church. I can be jaded, go on cruise control. I know the Christian clichés and phrases to say to capture the audience.” That’s a spiritual dilemma. How do you keep going?
Michael Tait: I think it’s mind over matter. … The more real I get every night and the more I get into the Word in my personal life, the more it stays fresh. Otherwise it becomes karaoke. … Also, I look at the crowds and the people. Every state’s different and every situation is different. It’s like God inspires me and fills me in that moment for that work and I feel it every night. So I can say the same thing and God uses it because his Word never comes back void.