It is a tale of an overcomer. Mitchell’s journey to success began when he was a teenager working as the assistant music director of St. Mark Baptist. At the age of 20, he later joined Bishop Larry D. Trotter’s Sweet Holy Spirit Church as the youngest Minister of Music to serve in that church’s history. He served there for nearly a decade.
As a singer and songwriter, Mitchell has many credits to his name. In 2010, he released Triumphant which became to date his best-selling album. “Nobody Greater,” became a mega-hit single soaring to the top of the charts and getting Mitchell numerous awards and nominations. In 2011, Mitchell received 11 Stellar Award nominations, the most received by any artist that year, and took home 6 awards. He was also nominated twice for a Grammy Award and GMA Dove Award for both the album and single.
Billboard magazine declared “Nobody Greater” the #1 Most Played Gospel Song of 2011 and Mitchell was named Billboard’s #1 Gospel Radio Artist of 2011 and Triumphant was among the Top 5 Gospel Albums of 2011. The single held the #1 position for nine consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart and crossed-over to the Urban Contemporary Adult charts. He has also been featured on popular magazines such as Essence. Mitchell also had the privilege of having the street where he grew up named after him, “VaShawn Mitchell Street.”
Mitchell was born in a small suburb of Chicago, IL called Harvey to a mother who was just 15 years old. Mitchell did not live with his parents but was raised by his grandparents, who have been a strong pillar of support for him.
Mitchell has seen the benefits of having been raised by strong support systems which include his grandparents, two aunts and four uncles, and neighbours. “I do believe that, if I was raised by teenagers, maybe things would be different,” he says with a chuckle.
After giving birth, Mitchell’s mother was sent down south to live with her aunt. As for his father, Mitchell did not know who he was and it would remain that way until 2012. At the age of 35, Mitchell met his father for the first time.
“It was kind of funny because talking to him on the phone was like talking to myself,” he said. “Both of us were very nonchalant in our conversation and tone but agreed to meet.”
“A part of me wanted to meet him and confront him regarding why he wasn’t there and all the built up anger that I thought was over.”
But the conversation didn’t quite go that way, because when Mitchell met up with his father, he revealed his cancer diagnosis, leaving Mitchell with the realization that he didn’t have much time left with his father. He made a conscious decision not to focus on the past.
“Realistically he was 15 or 16 and how could I judge him for not being a father when he was a child,” says Mitchell. “We did have a conversation regarding why it took so long for him to reach out. He was extremely apologetic. ”
They left that day with an agreement to continue getting to know each other. “I would like to say I have a growing relationship with my father,” he said. “We call and check on each other and try to connect and communicate when time permits.”
As a result of meeting his father, Mitchell was introduced to some of his siblings. He says he can’t see where the relationship with his father is heading but thanks God for their meeting and believes it was the true healing he needed regarding growing up fatherless. “I love spicy food, hot sauce and all that only to find out his family is from New Orleans,” he says with a laugh.
As for his relationship with his mother, Mitchell has nothing but praise for her. “My mom came around as I got older,” he said. “My mom is my strength. She has overcome drug and alcohol abuse and been clean for over 20 years.”
Mitchell says he and his mother talk regularly and he tries to provide support when needed or asked, “As the oldest son should, to make her life easier.” Mitchell does add that when he was younger, he never understood why his mother couldn’t raise him as she did his little brother and sister; but over time, he realized that it was all in God’s plan for his life. He says his mother was always there for him even though his grandparents raised him, and describes the day she came out of rehab as a rebirth experience, not only for her but the whole family.
Mitchell isn’t bitter but grateful for the path his life has taken. He is even more grateful for the lessons he learned in his earlier years that would completely change the course of his life. Although ministering music at church, Mitchell was getting into trouble and had his own run in with the law.
“We got caught one day. I was driving the car. My license was suspended. I thought I was going to get off. I said ‘oh it’s going to be okay,’” he said. “But because of what others had in the car, I ended up getting fourteen days in the county jail.”
It was then, in jail, that Mitchell had an epiphany moment. “I believe it was the turning point in my life because that was the time I sat down and realized that if I was going to do this for [ministry] God, I had to live the life,” he said.
Mitchell hasn’t looked back since.
Mitchell says people from broken homes should not let those circumstances hold them back from accomplishing things.
“It’s always possible. I believe that life is like a roller coaster, sometimes up, sometimes down,” he said. “But it’s important that we learn from our mistakes, learn from our failures so that it won’t affect our future.”
Mitchell encourages those who are bitter about their parents, whether it’s an absent father or mother, to focus on what they have, not what they think they’ve lost. “Realize that sometimes we don’t understand God’s plan but it’s not for us to understand but to see beyond, the true story and testimony,” he said. “Forgive and move forward to enjoy the rest, is the best policy. Living in what could have been is never a good place.”
Mitchell enjoys working with young people. He began the Norman Youth Art Foundation named after his grandfather in 2012. His desire is to build, grow and serve as a light in the urban communities that may not have traditional fathers but need father figures.
“One thing that allowed me to stay on track were mentors who were constantly on me, showing me another way, telling me I could do it if I could just stick to it,” he said.
He wants the Norman Youth Art Foundation to be a place where young men can see not only the basketball and football players, but other men and women who are doing something of note in the community.
“We all care. We care so much that we put our success on the line for the next generation to be successful as well,” he said. Mitchell who is a spokesperson for Big Brother, Big Sister says he is involved because “It’s about mentoring kids, showing them a better way. They are really true to their craft, and that is raising the next generation through one kid at a time.”
He says Black men should take their parental role seriously and get involved in their children's lives. “It may not look like what people think responsibility should look like, you might not be married and you might not be living together but you can still be responsible.”
Mitchell recently released his new CD Unstoppable on November 10, 2014 which he says is about us seeing ourselves as God sees us.
“The Lord’s prayer that we learn, the part that sticks out to me is, on earth as it is in heaven, which means that heaven has a glimpse of who we are and it’s just waiting to manifest on earth,” he said.
He says he wants anyone who listens, to use this music as a tool when they feel like they can’t make it. And for them to understand that there is someone watching over us.
“There’s someone who cares for us and that person is God,” he said. “It is really a simple message but a great message at the same time, which I hope will inspire, uplift and encourage people.”
For more information on VaShawn Mitchell visit: www.vashawnmitchell.com.