The singer, one of the most celebrated gospel singers of her generation, Leonard had as tough a year as any – and, with a new song and new ministry, she wants to help.



Time for a new installment of the MORNING EDITION Song Project. It's our series where we ask musicians to write an original song about the pandemic. Our guest today...


TASHA COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) There is power in the name Jesus.

My name is Natasha Cobbs Leonard. I am married to Kenneth Leonard. We pastor a church in Spartanburg, S.C. And that's pretty much it. I love to sing gospel. I love to inspire people.

MARTIN: And she certainly does


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) There is power in the name of Jesus.

MARTIN: She's been at it since she was really little.

COBBS LEONARD: Man, probably 6 years old, and I sang "I Believe The Children Are Our Future" at a kindergarten...

MARTIN: (Laughter) You did?

COBBS LEONARD: So maybe I was, like, 9 because I was singing at my cousin's kindergarten graduation.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK.

COBBS LEONARD: And after that, I literally did not sing lead in front of a crowd until I was 15 years old.

MARTIN: But one day, when someone from her youth choir didn't show up, Tasha had to cover.

COBBS LEONARD: And I had to end up singing the song "Now Behold The Lamb" by Kirk Franklin. And when I opened my eyes, people were crying, people were in worship. It was just such an amazing moment. And I looked at my parents like, OK, there's something special here (laughter). And from that moment until this one, I have been leading worship.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) I hear the chains, I hear the chains falling. Now one more time...

MARTIN: Last year, Billboard magazine named Tasha Cobbs Leonard gospel artist of the decade, but Tasha says her father, the late Bishop Fritz Cobbs, had a different vision for her.

COBBS LEONARD: (Laughter) He loved gospel music. But my father actually - he was really cultivating the communicator in me, the preacher, teacher.

MARTIN: And over time, Tasha came to embrace that vision for herself. She and her husband dreamed of starting their own church. And last spring, as the pandemic was raging and everyone else was scaling back, they decided to take the plunge.

I mean, was that just a horrible coincidence that was the time frame you had - you were just going to stick to it or did you start it because of the pandemic?

COBBS LEONARD: We felt like this is a moment where people really need God. And we felt the pull to just launch, like, a Bible study online. And so we put out a flyer saying, hey, guys, meet us on Zoom this Thursday. We're going to share some encouraging words with you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And here we are.

MARTIN: The lead pastors of a blossoming virtual - for now - church. They call it The Purpose Place. And that's a pretty good segue way to the song Tarsha wrote for us because to start a new venture in the middle of a pandemic, you really do got to believe.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) I just gotta believe there is goodness around the corner and something better is in store for me.

MARTIN: The song is called "You Gotta Believe." And the more we talked, the more Tasha revealed how much she, too, needed to hear this message.

COBBS LEONARD: My husband and I, we were in the middle of making several decisions about life moving forward. And I just had this thought, man, but I got to keep believing. All I have to depend on and to lean on is my faith.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) That it's going to work out like I knew it would.

You know, I thought about seven years ago when I lost my father, you know, this is the most devastating thing. It was unexpected, heartbreaking, but I think so supernatural about the peace that my family and I felt because of our faith. There's a lyric in the song that says, you know, there has to be a reason for these tears and an answer to these prayers. I just got to believe.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) There's a rainbow behind the clouds, sun is bursting out. This can't be the end.

MARTIN: For so many of us, there were so many low points over the past 12 months. Did you have one?

COBBS LEONARD: Yeah, I mean, several. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually lost a cousin. She was 31 years old. She lived in New Jersey. And when COVID-19 hit so hard in that area, she was actually one of the ones who didn't make it, you know. And one of the hardest parts about those deaths was that they were alone. Family and friends weren't able to be there to hold their hands. You know, nobody was there to encourage them, you know, like this song and say, keep breathing, keep believing. And there's actually a line in the song that says, I got to keep breathing. I got to keep believing. I can only imagine had there been some type of physical touch that we spoke about, that maybe some of them may have been encouraged to just keep breathing, you know? So my thought with my cousin, even now when I think about it, is, man, if someone could have just held her hand, you know? So that was very hard for my family. And she was just so young, 31 years old.

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm sorry.

COBBS LEONARD: So, yeah, we're still going through the grief.

MARTIN: You referenced earlier that particular lyric in the song where you sing that there's a reason for all these tears. Do you feel like you have a sense of what that reason is yet?

COBBS LEONARD: It's different for everyone. And it kind of depends on where you are in life. For me, you know, I was just kind of sharing - my husband and I, we've gone through several things with infertility, you know, we - and this is something that I'll share more. So I guess I'll share it here now first. And my husband and I went through a season of infertility just trying to have a child. And it just became so heavy, so challenging. I found myself crying a lot. And I literally had to stand up on the stage at the Ryman Theater and minister songs of worship about a God who's good. But during that time, it just didn't feel so good, you know? But now I see through those tears I'm able to speak to other people and tell them, I know you're crying right now, but there's a brighter day coming. I know this is very, very hard right now. And you may have experienced loss. I've - unfortunately, I've gone through loss with my father, with my cousin. And I can tell people, you're going to smile again.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) And if I keep breathing, and if I keep believing, it's going to work out like I knew it would.

MARTIN: Tasha Cobbs Leonard - her song for the MORNING EDITION Song Project is called "You Gotta Believe." It was so, so good to talk with you, Tasha. Thank you.

COBBS LEONARD: You too. Thank you.


COBBS LEONARD: (Singing) Just believe. You gotta believe. Just believe. You gotta believe.

MARTIN: You can hear the song in full at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.