‘I’ve Had People Call Me ‘H—s’ and ‘Harlots’: Erica Campbell Reflects on the Criticism She Faced Wearing ‘That White Dress’

Since the dawning of musical history, gospel singers have received pushback for being too secular in their art and in their lives.

For early acts like Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, André Crouch, The Clark Sisters and Walter Hawkins and his choir to Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker, Fred Hammond (Commissioned) and the Winans family, the church has struggled to see the parabolic expression of their music.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – OCTOBER 02: Singer Erica Campbell performs onstage during 2021 Praise In The Park at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on October 02, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

The sacred singing duo Mary Mary came on the scene with this type of ridicule, and has seemed to balance it with the grace of the Theotokos, one of the women in the Bible the group was named after.

Despite handling it with grace, Erica Campbell, one-half of the Grammy Award-winning Columbia Records’ recording act, has been frustrated with the judgment that comes with being a commercial Minister of Song.

While appearing on the “FAQ Podcast” featuring hosts Fuzzy and Quincy to promote her new single “Positive,” the singer brought up the infamous “white dress” that caused a little backlash across the Christian community and the unchurched community.

The host Fuzzy asked her if there were more opinions on the gospel side than on the secular side.

Campbell answered, “There are opinions on both sides. It is funny because gospel people come at you one way, but secular people come at you in a different way. The dig is different,” she said. “It’s like hateful. I’ve had people call me ‘hoes’ and ‘harlots,’” the “Shackles” chart-topper shared. 

Fuzzy responded, “They gave you a hard time for an outfit. She’s covered up.”

Campbell explained to the hosts that it “comes with the territory.” She added, “If you’re not ready for that, it can make you retreat and be like I can’t do this.”  

In December 2013, Campbell took to social media to announce her Grammy nomination for her song, “A Little More Jesus,” using a photograph of her in a white fitted turtleneck dress.

Immediately, she received backlash from church folk condemning her “sexy” outfit.

A Toast 2 Wealth, a gospel website, wrote, “The sexy attire takes any man or woman’s mind off God and onto other things that aren’t godly.”

At the time, Apostle Stacey Woods wrote on Facebook, “THIS IS NOT OKAY. Yes, you are a beautiful, curvy woman…but NO MA’AM YOU ARE SINGING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. Saints…smh COME ON.”

Still confused about why people would take offense to her dress, Fuzzy said it would have been different if the Stella Award winner showed up in a “mini skirt” or a “wobble wobble sundress.”

Fuzzy mystified his guest who asked, “What’s a wobble wobble dress?”

He explained it is a sundress that wobbles when a woman is walking in it. Campbell laughed, saying, “Oh yeah, wear those on vacation with my husband.”

“Had any R&B singer had that [on] they’d be like ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so covered up. It’s white…it’s a turtleneck,’ ” she stated.  

When asked “why” was the dress was such a big thing, Campbell replied, “Because Christianity has a problem with sexuality.” 

The comments on the podcast’s social media exploded with comments from those who agreed with the singer.

RobinArth wrote, “Erica got it right. Christianity has a problem with SEXUALITY! GURL, you look awesome and it’s past time that women stop walking in fear of the beauty that God adorned them with. I love your dress and have been trying to find one.”

“Like it’s your fault they turned on,” TasteItPhilly commented.

MissChoc wrote, “This is why so many people leave Christianity. It’s meant to be a safe place, not a judgment zone.”

Another social media user, AuthorVal, simply gave a compliment, “I’m confused… What’s wrong with the dress? It’s pretty.”

This is not the first time that Campbell addressed the “white dress controversy.”

A little over eight years ago, she said, “When we took the picture I felt beautiful, I felt confident, I felt sexy and I felt strong.”

“I thought I looked cute,” she says jokingly, “but it obviously offended some people, which was never my intention.”

“This is about confidence and realizing that God made you and that you are beautiful just the way you are,” she said before concluding her message with a note for the next generation, “I think that young girls shouldn’t only get sexy images from people who are not proclaiming Jesus. But I am. And I’m cute too.”

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