In 1995, the pair were cast in the Michael Matthews gospel show, "Mama I'm Sorry," and followed it up with performances in another Matthews show, "Sneaky," touring the country performing before audiences who truly appreciated their vocal skills. While holding down day jobs--Erica at a local supermarket, Tina at a major department store--to pay the rent and complete college, the sisters found themselves constantly drawn to work in music. Erica began doing background singing on the road with Brian McKnight, Brandy, Terry Ellis and Ray-J while Tina sang with Eric Benet and Kenny Lattimore. While secular music helped pay the bills, Erica and Tina's deeply-held personal beliefs found even greater expression in the inspirational songs they began writing together.
In 1996, the pair met producer Warryn Campbell, who had also grown up steeped in the tradition of great gospel music. Suitably impressed, Campbell started writing with the sisters and took the material along with the pair's original demos to EMI Music. As a result, Erica and Tina found themselves with their own publishing deal: "Dance," a tune they wrote and performed with Robin S., was added to the best-selling soundtrack for the film, "Dr. Dolittle." Further opportunities to showcase their songwriting skills came with the inclusion of the song "Let Go, Let God" in the inspirational soundtrack for "The Prince Of Egypt" and a recording by girl group 702 of another Atkins' original "What More Can He Do." When gospel great Yolanda Adams, one of Mary Mary's musical inspirations, recorded two songs--"Time To Change" and "Yeah"-- for her platinum album Mountain High Valley Low, the sisters felt they had been truly blessed.
It was only a matter of time before the sisters' songwriting and vocal talents led to a major record deal. In 1999, the pair signed with Columbia Records and became one of the first gospel duos to be signed with the label. As Mary Mary, the duo's musical direction was clear: "Gospel tells you about what God can do, it tells you the good news of Jesus," says Erica. "Because our music is so hip-hop and has an urban feel, a lot of people think, 'Oh it's inspirational, it's contemporary.' It can be. But listen to what we're saying in our songs which tell the message of Christ specifically."