ATLANTA (AP) -- For Bobby Jones, keeping it real isn't just a slogan — he believes it's the reason behind the remarkable, three-decade run of his BET inspirational show, "Bobby Jones Gospel."
"When we were able to express ourselves as gospel artists and the people who were on camera responded to it, praising God and the freedom to thank Jesus, that was real television," said the 71-year-old Grammy winner. "Those were the breakthroughs."
"Bobby Jones Gospel," which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season, is part church, part gospel concert, part talk show. It provides a rare national platform for top gospel stars each Sunday while delivering a spiritual message.
"I've heard a lot say the show raises them up. They'll be having church at home first before actual church," gospel singer Vanessa Bell Armstrong said. "And for the ones who don't go to church, it's service for them. Bobby touches lives within them."
Jones reflected on his groundbreaking show in a recent interview.
The Associated Press: How has gospel music changed in 30 years on your show?
Bobby Jones: We've almost moved out of traditional gospel sound now. The base of the music for church folk is more like worship and praise, not relating all the bad times that we were going through. We're still going through bad times, but we are expressing it in a different way to God. We're praising God more now.
AP: How has the new generation of gospel artists benefited from the traditional artists?
Bobby Jones: It has created a new platform for artists of today. Those of us back in the traditional period wouldn't dare get the things they are getting today, the treatment, the crossover situation. We're jealous of that too, because they're reaping the benefits of what we started. But it's not a bad jealousy, it's the supportive type. We're glad to see what's happening.
AP: How much longer do you see yourself on the show?
Bobby Jones: For me, as long as I'm capable and keep the show attractive, I will be there as long as my health permits me to be there. When I think it is time for me to go away, that's what I'll do. I don't want to offend anybody for trying to be some place I don't need to be.
AP: When you do step away, what are your expectations for the show's future?
Bobby Jones: I think BET has a commitment to presenting that spiritual element of our culture. They do it so well. I pray that it will go on and I think it will.
AP: Do you still have the same worries now that you have from 30 years ago?
Bobby Jones: I still don't have the finances I feel that is necessary to produce a show. We're still limited. My choir don't get paid. BET brings them in to do the show and they do them for free for exposure. They are taking better care of me, but there's other aspects that need to be taken care of.
AP: Did having big names like Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams help keep the show popular?
Bobby Jones: They did. But it wasn't just the big names that were important. It was our praise to God. Yes, we do have a lot of artists that do sell a lot of records. But it's not what makes the show. It's the lyrical content that helps people get through the week. It's not about the individual. It's about the spirit of God.
AP: What do you think of the allegations that Bishop Eddie Long coerced young men into inappropriate sexual relationships?
Bobby Jones: My heart goes out to him. It can happen to any of us. I hated this for his kids, his family, his church people. That's a cross to bear. Here he is on every major network in the country saying "Gay pastor and boys." It makes people suspicious. ... But it's life. I think he'll overcome it. As a servant of God, he'll overcome it. I pray for him and hope it didn't happen.