Donnie McClurkin talks church, fame, and relationships

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever
Shaundria Williams contributed to this feature

Donnie McClurkinThis is the first of a two-part feature with pastor and singer Donnie McClurkin.

Donnie McClurkin is a giant in gospel music.  From his early days of recording with New York Restoration Choir to his solo albums that have achieved gold and platinum status, the singer/songwriter/musician is among the most gifted male vocalists of our time.  Yet, while McClurkin’s singing virtuosity is unmatched and draws audiences of thousands, the multiple Grammy winner spends more time these days discussing another calling that is dear to his heart: being a pastor.
For ten years, Donnie McClurkin has also been known as Pastor McClurkin, shepherd of the flock of Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport, NY.  It is a calling that he fully embraces, and he recently spoke with us about a vision to which he is wholeheartedly devoted.  McClurkin’s music reaches across cultures, denominations, and generations; he envisions the same impact for his church and churches across the globe as well.
“What I see the Lord doing is tear[ing] down all of these divisive walls–tear[ing] down the walls of culture and race, tear[ing] down the walls of denomination, tear[ing] down all of these walls and teach[ing] us how to function with one another…that’s what I see God doing in the ministry he’s given me and the ministry of a few others,” McClurkin explains.  “There’s no victory, there’s no power, there’s no real accomplishment in the division,” he continues.  “Jesus said the house that’s divided against itself cannot stand–so why did we turn around and start dividing the house?”
The pastor’s passion for unity over traditionalism, oneness over denominationalism, is glaring.
“With denominations…we have made [the church as a whole] everything that God said He did not want it to be,” he asserts.  McClurkin is confident that when churches align with the purposes of God, they will experience unity that will cause the gospel to be preached freely with its effects far reaching.
“[God] never ordained the gospel to be preached in the church,” he declares.  “He ordained the gospel to be preached in all the world, on the streets where the people are.”
If McClurkin comes across emphatically, it’s because he is all about the people.  Everyday people.  Commoners.  Persons from every walk of life and upbringing.  He himself carefully avoids the trappings of fame in order to be an effective servant among the people that he leads.  This down-to-earthiness, he believes, allows him to strengthen relationships with his members, all the while pointing them to Jesus rather than himself.
“My church doesn’t see me as ‘Donnie McClurkin’; they see me as Pastor.  My church doesn’t really hear me in concert because I do very few concerts in New York [where the church is].”  McClurkin recalls the time one of his young members became aware of his renown.  “One of the 17 year-olds came to me two years ago…and he said, ‘Dog, Pastor, I didn’t know you rolled like that!’ And that’s the key–that I make sure that I am not an icon to them, [but that] I’m a servant to them.”
McClurkin has often spoken of leaving the music industry.  The tone in which he speaks on the subject even nowadays enigmatically suggests that a superb vocalist, with both gospel and mainstream success, is a misfit for the business and ready to bow out.  When McClurkin considers the next ten years for instance, he remarks, “I see me being iconically spoken about and never found musically, because I’ve hung up my musical ‘cape.'”  Accordingly, McClurkin looks forward to devoting himself entirely to his pastoral duties and to developing ministries across the country.  Not finished with his thoughts on being iconic, he grapples with the notion again, this time further emphasizing his need to relate to people from all walks of life.
“In the music world people serve you–it’s about visibility,” he expounds.  “How many people have your CD, how many awards do you win, how many platforms of great renown can you stand on, how global is your ministry, how commercial is your appeal.”  Then he elaborates on his personal convictions.
“See, I’ve never been iconic. I don’t like the hoopla; so I travel without an entourage.  I don’t believe in all this security stuff; I don’t like the stuff….I like to sit behind the scenes, and I like to serve.”  Sensing that he still hasn’t qualified his aversion to fame, McClurkin opens up even more about his disinterest in the fortune, glitz, and bling that so frequently accompany celebrity status.
“I don’t receive a salary from my church–never have in ten years, not a red Abraham Lincoln penny.  I don’t have a car–forget about driving a luxury car–I don’t even have a car.  I don’t live in a gated community; I live in the ‘hood in Lakeview, where people throw beer cans over in my yard!  ‘Why Donnie?’ Because that’s where the people live, and if I’m a servant, I’ve got to live where the people are.  I can’t drive around in a Bentley and see people taking the bus to church….It may be lawful, but it’s not expedient to me,” he says flatly with a biblical reference to 1 Corinthians 10:23.
Dog, Pastor, we didn’t know you rolled like that!  This is McClurkin’s point precisely.
“As a minister, you can’t serve me; I gotta serve you!”  In pastoring, he says, “It’s gotta be ‘how low can you go and how high can you lift somebody else?'”

Next week, Donnie McClurkin talks to GMF about McDonald’s GospelFest and what he really thinks about competition in gospel music.

Nightingales' Joseph "JoJo" Wallace to be honored with musical celebration

The Sensational Nightingales were one of the fiercest quartet-styled groups of gospel’s golden age, and he’s been singing and playing professionally with them since 1946, just as that era in gospel music history was budding.  On Saturday, June 11th, quartet legend Brother Joseph “JoJo” Wallace, who is still a lead singer and guitarist for the internationally known quartet will be celebrated for his 65 years of ministry with the group.
“An Evening with Brother Joseph Wallace and Friends” takes place at Durham, NC’s Union Baptist Church on 904 N. Roxboro Street and starts at 3:00 PM.  Tributes by The Sensational Nightingales, Darrell and Ricky Luster, John K. Thorpe, New Hope Person Baptist Church Male Chorus under the direction of Libra Nicole Boyd, The Hillian Sisters,  Billy Warden, Evangelist Carolyn Satterfield and others are planned.  A couple of surprise musical guests are also expected to pay tribute.
The event is free and everyone is invited; a freewill offering will be received.  Proceeds go to The Joseph Wallace Scholarship Fund.

Top: Pictured in the circa 1954-55 photo are, clockwise from top:  Willie “Bill” Woodruff, Carl Coates, Joseph “JoJo” Wallace, Ernest James, and Julius “June” Cheeks.   GMF thanks Opal Nations for verifying this caption.

Bottom:  Brother Joseph “JoJo” Wallace ministers in concert with The Sensational Nightingales.

Sizzlin’ This Week (5/23/11) – “I Hear the Sound”

“I Hear the Sound”
Maurette Brown Clark
From the upcoming CD, The Sound of Victory (Summer 2011)

Maurette Brown Clark’s new single, “I Hear the Sound” has been heating up radio and is now available on iTunes.

The energetic praise song is from her soon-to-come fourth project entitled The Sound of Victory, which was recorded live in Norfolk, VA on AIR Gospel/Malaco and features a DVD component.

Encouraging lyrics and a contagious melody make “I Hear the Sound” the perfect soundtrack for your victory party.

“Back To You” – Dorinda Clark-Cole

“Back To You”
Dorinda Clark-Cole
From the upcoming CD to be released late summer 2011

This is not your mama’s Dorinda Clark-Cole.

You–and your mama–have come to know her as the jazzy, churchy one.  Her new single “Back To You” is fresh and her riffs are indeed jazzy; but this track is definitely not churchy.  Nevertheless, such a departure from the Clark-Cole blueprint demonstrates what fans have known all along: this sister can sing anything, and rest assured it will be packed with punch, passion, and power.

Vocally, the legendary Clark sister skillfully sprinkles in some R&B flavor while remaining true to her signature stylings.  It’s obvious that “Back To You” is intentionally urban and deliberately Dorinda.

Generations of Clark-Cole fans should truly expect the forthcoming full-length project to have a little something on it for everybody–and their mama.

North Carolina adds its name to roster of recording mass choirs

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever  

In a time when many choirs are taking a back seat to church praise teams and ensembles, North Carolina Community Mass Choir (NCCMC) is emerging as a fresh voice in its subgenre.   NCCMC (not to be confused with the North Carolina Mass Choir of the early 1990’s), may not be on your radar like Mississippi and Georgia Mass, but it certainly has an impressive team of singers and industry notables at its helm, starting with its visionary Dr. Thomas L. Walker. 

Walker is the pastor of Rocky Mount’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.  He is also a notable gospel singer, perhaps best known for his circa 1980 smash hit album One Day At A Time, which earned gold record status.  It was he who formed the choir in 2008 to sing for the National Black Caucus, at the request of Congressman G.K. Butterfield.  NCCMC was under the musical direction of James Bellamy and award-winning songwriter and super-producer Ray Braswell, Jr. (Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson & the Spiritual Voices, F.C. Barnes, Ministree, and others).  According to Braswell, who is the choir’s current president, NCCMC had a different moniker at that time.

“The choir was originally named The Promise Choir until leadership changed and I sought after reconstruction for the choir’s growth,” comments Braswell.  “Then I met with Malaco’s producer and artist, Darrell Luster of Durham, and great songwriter, Brian Foster of Henderson.”  

Darrell Luster, formerly of Charles Johnson & The Revivers and The Sensational Nightingales, is the choir’s CEO and primary lead vocalist.  Foster, who is also a musician and leader of the praise and worship group Josiah, is the vice president. Since its founding, NCCMC has performed on Bobby Jones Gospel, and has provided vocals on projects by The Sensational Nightingales (Live in Rocky Mount), Darrell Luster & F.C. Barnes (“He Won’t Change”), and Lil’ Blair & The Fantastic Heirs.  

More recently, the 30+ member choir completed its own debut recording, and according to Braswell, there is something on it for gospel music lovers of all kinds.

“We are taking choir music back to the roots to bring back the traditional sound,” he says.  “Our CD is full of traditional, praise & worship, and contemporary music, so it’s not just for the seasoned saints. It’s definitely for all listeners.”  

NCCMC is currently seeking additional voices as it preps for the upcoming CD release and a DVD recording. Braswell invites interested singers to choir auditions on Saturday, May 28, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rocky Mount.  Click the flyer above for details.

Sizzlin’ This Week (5/16/11) – “Say Yeah”

“Say Yeah”
Bobby Perry and RAIN
From the CD, Conquerors (2011)

A lead guitar and its rock-like distortion effects kick off “Say Yeah” by Bobby Perry and RAIN (Royal Agents Influencing Nations).

Bobby Perry, pastor of The Kingdom Church in Massachusetts and a bishop in the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America, Inc., along with RAIN, a roster of talented and highly skilled singers (many of whom are Berklee alumni) reach across cultures with relevant lyrics and multi-genre musical elements to create this foot-stomper of a praise.

“Say Yeah” is from the group’s sophomore project, Conquerors, which was released Tuesday, May 10th.

“Something to Live For” – LaShun Pace

“Something to Live For”
LaShun Pace
From the upcoming CD, Reborn (Available June 28, 2011)

LaShun Pace is coming off of a four-year hiatus to bring us Reborn, which drops Tuesday, June 28th.  Her single, “Something to Live For,” makes me not want to wait.

The tune, which has the Pace Sisters’ sound all over it, is Pace’s personal testimony, I suspect.  After all, the lyrics are telling: “I was ready to give up, throw in the towel. Sickness in the body made me so tired; even when I heard God’s word, I found it heavy to receive. I believed death was best for me, but the power of God arrested me and said I’ve got to live and declare His healing to the nations!”

After sharing from her personal experience, the powerhouse (whom Dr. Bobby Jones once compared to Mahalia Jackson) commands all who are faced with the temptation to call it quits to live and not die, for they have “something to live for!”

Gospel music documentary features legends, hits theaters June 3

Rejoice and Shout gospel music documentary

Rejoice and Shout is a new gospel music documentary that opens in theaters June 3rd.  The San Francisco International Film Festival calls it “the most thoroughly researched and exhaustive film about African-American gospel music ever committed to film.”

The documentary features interviews from Smokey Robinson, Ira Tucker, Anthony Heilbut and Mavis Staples among others, and a lot of footage from pioneers and legends including Rosetta Tharpe, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Staples Singers, and Andrae Crouch.

If you are a gospel music enthusiast, the Rejoice and Shout trailer is sure to whet your appetite.

Sizzlin' This Week (5/9/11) – "We Cry Out"

“We Cry Out”
Wil E. Coleman
From the CD, The Necessity Project: A Night of Worship & Giving (2010)
I had the privilege of hearing Wil E. Coleman for the first time in 2009.  He was a featured guest at the live recording for a Pelham, NC ensemble called Visionz of Priase.  His was one of the memorable performances of the evening–for his sheer talent, sincere worship, and earnest delivery.
A year and a half later, toward the close of 2010, the youth pastor and minister of music at New Jerusalem Cathedral & Monument of Praise Ministries released The Necessity Project: A Night of Worship & Giving, a 15 track project that features “We Cry Out” (which is also available as a single).  Coleman invites us to come to God with an open heart and yielded spirit, crying out for more of Him: our Father, our Savior, our Healer, our Ruler. 
How deeply we rely on God as our Everything in times like these!

Sizzlin’ This Week is the GMF editor’s gospel music pick of the week from her personal playlist.  Every style. Every era.

“Holy is Our God” – James Fortune & FIYA featuring Tye Tribbett

“Holy is Our God”
James Fortune & FIYA ft. Tye Tribbett

James Fortune recently told his Twitter followers that “Holy is Our God” was one of his favorites from his last album Encore.  Just prior to that tweet, the four-time ASCAP award-winning songwriter tweeted the link to a version of the worship anthem that features him with gospel sensation and ultra hyper performer Tye Tribbett.
This version of “Holy is Our God” offers us, as usual, Fortune’s passionately emotional delivery.  Enter Tye Tribbett about two minutes in to take the song to higher heights, exclaiming over FIYA’s escalating refrains that his worship belongs to the Father.  You can take a listen at Tweet My Song.
The beginning of this week, Fortune was working on music with his group for a CD that’s scheduled to drop January 15, 2012.