BET’s ‘Sunday Best’ winner Thigpen brings praise, worship to JSU
By L.A. WARREN
After graduating with a mass communications degree from Jackson State University, Dathan Thigpen has spent part of his professional life reporting the news, having worked for local television stations in the capital city. Today, however, he is the news. The talented Jackson native, who now lives in Atlanta, catapulted to fame after being crowned the winner of BET’s Season 8 all-star “Sunday Best.” Emotions ran high for the grand-prize winner in a contest in which millions of votes were cast.
Through thunderous applause and with confetti raining down, an emotional Thigpen thanked his family, JSU alma mater and his fans for their support. Winning on a national stage was also an epiphany. That’s because the impassioned singer, who venerates God and edifies believers through his lyrics, clearly realizes that his mission is to further spread the Gospel around the globe. In fact, his music ministry has already taken him to far-flung places such as Bulgaria, Poland, Spain and South America. For besting the competition, he earned a cash prize and a national recording contract with Grammy Award-winning artist Kirk Franklin. In late October, he returned to JSU for a climactic ending to the university’s weeklong football homecoming festivities, performing a high-impact duet with Grammy-winning singer Tye Tribbett in a concert that rocked the Lee E. Williams Athletic and Assembly Center.
Deciding to return to his JSU roots for such a special performance was as natural as breathing because “I bleed blue and white,” said Thigpen of the colors of the university and where his family has a long history. He also served as an adjunct professor in JSU’s mass communications department and declares that he still desires to teach. After moving to Atlanta to pursue an acting and television career, he appeared in “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Neighbors from Hell” and “Scary Movie 5.” His notable musical collaborations include working with professional performers Lalah Hathaway, Fred Hammond and Angie Stone.
He speaks admirably about the city that gave him his start and the family that pushed him to greatness.
“My mom attended JSU. My grandmother was Miss Jackson State College. My uncle was in the Sonic Boom (marching band),” he said.
Other siblings and relatives are also alums. “It means the world to me that the university would rally to support me.” Using his clout, he helped a Jackson choir composed of many JSU students earn an appearance on “Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots,” a prime-time television soap opera. As for his musical career, he was inspired by his talented parents – his mother directed the Mississippi Mass Choir and was nominated for a Grammy. This led Thigpen to minor in music and perform with the legendary JSU Sonic Boom and Mississippi Mass Choir.
So, just how much has life changed for the devout new “rock star” of Gospel?
“Not much personally,” he said, while trying to adjust to the adulation of adoring fans who instantly recognize him when he goes to the grocery store or mall. Although being in the spotlight has its pros and cons, he’s unyielding. “I still feel that I’m in control,” said Thigpen, even when people ask questions about his estranged marriage. Despite having been separated from his wife “for some time now,” he said his focus beyond ministry is his family and two sons.
The singer says it’s important for him to stay grounded because he wants to fulfill God’s mission. “This journey is truly a walk of allowing Him to lead me to do what he wants me to do. People are hurting and need a message of hope.”
Thigpen knows just how it feels to hurt and have your faith tested.
“My mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer almost two years ago. After suffering, she was blessed with complete healing sometime last year. No remission. No cancer. I believe that God is a healer. It means the world to me that God would think enough of me to honor my request to heal my mother. I rebuked cancer. If I sing that God is a healer, I’m obligated to believe in his power,” said the singer, who turned 35 in October.
For young and old with ambitions similar to his, he said, “Keep pushing. You can do anything you want to do and become whatever you want to be.” Particularly, he urged young people to not be discouraged, recounting that he was fired by WAPT-TV because he refused to work on his off day after having signed a contract to perform a concert. Thigpen said he received word that because he didn’t show up for work, he was fired. Undaunted, and to the surprise of this colleagues, he went to his job the next day. He continued to work for the next three months. He was terminated only after he took home the company van after a long camera shoot. Although he returned to work the following day with the vehicle, he said the manager falsely accused him of stealing it.
Oddly, in poetic-justice fashion, Thigpen said the very station that fired him for pursuing his passion ended up reporting on his eventual successes when he won the BET competition.
“The moral of this story is that every successful person I’ve heard about who’s pursued dreams said the best thing they’ve done is never give up,” Thigpen said. “The sky is the limit. We have a current president who proved that. Even Oprah proved that.”