The last 36 months of life have been bittersweet for gospel singer Marvin Sapp.

“You would think when you’re at the height of your career and breaking every record known to man, the enemy would subside and let you enjoy it,” Sapp said.

But that didn’t happen. In the span of 90 days, Sapp’s father and spiritual mentor passed away.

MARVIN SAPP (Photos by Gail Manker)

After recovering from that blow, “my wife, who I had met in third grade and planned on spending the rest of my life with, the most important person in my life besides Jesus Christ, was diagnosed with cancer and was struggling with this debilitating disease,” he said. “The Lord decided to take her home three years ago on Sept. 9. I was at the top of my game. At 43 I was in love and I was happy. At 49 I was planning on retiring.”

The distraught singer was at loose ends.

“I never saw myself in this place. I was ready to quit. I had written a letter to leave my church and I was going to leave my record company,” Sapp said.

But six months after his wife went to be with the Lord, Sapp began to perform again, at the urging of his record company.

He attended a conference in Atlanta with more than 200 pastors. The conference changed his life and perspective.

“I knew God was speaking to me through that conference.” He ran to Walmart and brought a Casio keyboard and wrote the words, “I’m so glad I made it through…I never lost faith in you…I’m still alive.”

That song turned into the hit, “My Testimony.”

Sapp performed it, and numerous other songs including “Never Would’ve Made It,” “God Favors Me,” and “Praise Him in Advance,” at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall on June 3 when he made Pittsburgh a stop on his “I Win” tour.

Audience members were treated to a night of uplifting music.

The evening started off with some of Pittsburgh’s most talented gospel artists performing.

Penn Hills High School graduate and Fountain of Life Church member Imani Wilkerson got the crowd ready for the main act. Following Wilkerson was Melvin “Melle Mell” Jones, whose infectious gospel rap taught the audience the importance of salvation and loving one another during these troubled times.

Travis Malloy took the stage with powerful renditions of “How Great is Our God” and a gospel version of the Gap Band’s “Outstanding.”

Marvin’s brother, Henry Sapp offered clean and brutally honest comic relief during the concert. Topics during his act included the breath mint and dance ministry.

“I’m sick of people standing next to me using big words like hallelujah and you’re breath stinks. You can’t taste that? It’s in your stomach. We got to get that breath demon at the door. If every time on your birthday no one wants to eat your cake after you blow out the candles, your breath stinks,” Henry Sapp said as part of his routine.

After the audience got their laugh on, Sapp hit the stage to take the audience on a musical, spiritual journey through the trials and triumphs in his life.

Listeners first became familiar with Sapp’s angelic voice when he recorded with the group Commissioned during the 1990s. In 1996, the Grand Rapids native decided to try his hand at a solo singing career. He made waves with his first hits “Never Would’ve Made It” from his “Thirsty” album in 2007.

The song peaked at no. 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Gospel Songs, and No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard Hot R & B /Hip Hop Songs chart.

Sapp’s “Here I Am” album, which was released in 2009, spawned the hit “The Best in Me,” which was co-written by Israel Houghton. Sapp has become the all-time highest charting gospel artist in Billboard’s 54-year history of tracking album sales because he sold 76,000 copies of “Here I Am,” during its first week of release.

His latest effort, “I Win,” is clearly a testament to the struggles he has endured and how he overcame them with God’s grace.

“I Win was released in April and reached No. 1 on the gospel charts with the help of the single, “My Testimony.”

When he isn’t performing, preaching or writing, Sapp enjoys spending time with his three children.

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