Born on November 9, 1959, in Long Island, NY; son of Donald and Frances McClurkin. Addresses: Management--Sierra Management, 1035 Bates Ct., Hendersonville, TN 37075, phone: (615) 822-5308. Booking--The Alliance Agency, phone: (615) 824-0753, fax: (615) 824-2983, website: http://www.theallianceagency.com. Website--Donnie McClurkin Official Website: http://www.donniemcclurkin.com.
As one of the most prominent figures on the contemporary gospel scene, Donnie McClurkin understands the transformative power of music. For McClurkin, gospel music has provided a sonic pulpit from which to preach and teach his spiritual beliefs. He told Essence magazine, "Through my music, I stress that what's important is your relationship with God. It's not about how often you go to church." It is with this belief that the singer, songwriter, and minister has made some of the most influential music of his generation.
Although he was raised within a religious family, McClurkin's strong commitment to the church is also connected to his troubled childhood. Donnie McClurkin was born in Long Island, New York, on November 9, 1959, to Frances and Donald McClurkin Sr., who had nine other children. McClurkin sought emotional and spiritual refuge in the Amityville Gospel Tabernacle after being sexually abused by a family member at a young age. He became a devoted member, and found that the church helped him deal with his traumatic experience.
Music quickly became another means for McClurkin to negotiate his personal struggles. While attending church services at Bethel Tabernacle in Jamaica, New York, a ten-year-old McClurkin had the opportunity to listen to and meet gospel legend Andráe Crouch. The meeting encouraged McClurkin to develop his own talent and to use music as a release from his troubled world. "What I couldn't verbalize," he told Ebony magazine, "I could express musically. It was an escape. When you sang, you left everything. You entered a place that was literally divine."
McClurkin's decision to devote himself to the church enabled the young artist to focus almost entirely on gospel music. He learned to play the piano and began to form musical groups, most notably the McClurkin Singers, which was comprised of four of his sisters and four close friends. McClurkin would rent sound systems and bring his groups to the city's most dangerous and deprived neighborhoods to perform, as a way of spreading his gospel message. McClurkin quickly gained a reputation as a rising star on the local gospel music scene.
In 1983 McClurkin met the Rev. Marvin Winans, of the famous Winans music family. Impressed by his talent and sincerity, Winans recruited McClurkin to help him start a ministry in Detroit, Michigan. McClurkin moved to Detroit in 1989 and became the associate minister of Perfecting Church. It was from Perfecting Church that McClurkin began to develop a national reputation, as he began to tour and perform at various churches and gospel venues throughout the country.
As McClurkin's star began to rise, he once again experienced a personal setback. At the age of 31 he was diagnosed with leukemia. Instead of opting for the traditional chemotherapy as a method of treatment, McClurkin decided to rely on his religious faith as a vehicle for his own recovery. "I tell people to believe that God will save you," he said in Ebony, "[and] I had to turn around and practice the very thing that I preached." One month after receiving the diagnosis from his doctor, McClurkin reported that he was fully healed without the help of medicine. Buoyed by what he deemed a miraculous recovery, McClurkin began to pursue his music career more aggressively. He soon received a recording contract and began preparing his self-titled debut album, which was released in 1996. The song's biggest hit, "Stand," received a critical endorsement from daytime television superstar Oprah Winfrey. McClurkin told Jet, "She stood on television, held the CD up and said, `This is my favorite CD in the world. After you've done all you can, stand. You all need to buy it.'" The popular reception for "Stand" and "Speak to my Heart," the album's other standout single, earned McClurkin a certified gold record and a Grammy nomination, positioning him among contemporary gospel's elite.
For his second album, McClurkin Project, McClurkin reassembled the McClurkin Singers to create an eclectic blend of contemporary gospel. The project took three years to complete and debuted on the Top Gospel Albums chart at number 12.
McClurkin's third album, Live from London, was recorded in September of 1999 and released in 2001 to rave reviews. The album featured the instant classic "We Fall Down," which remained at the top of the gospel charts for 40 weeks and frequently appeared near the top of R&B chart, enabling McClurkin's crossover into urban radio. As he told Jet, the song's lyrics resonated not only with his ever-growing audience but with McClurkin himself: "This is one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard, and it's the perfect summation of the Christian life. As saints, we are nothing more than sinners who fell down and then got back up again by the power and forgiveness of God."
Unlike many artists, McClurkin has been willing to publicly address the personal struggles that have informed his musical and spiritual direction. In 2001 he published the book Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor, which details his struggles with leukemia, family abuse, alcoholism, and his sexual identity. In the book McClurkin shares his personal stories, in an effort to inspire and motivate through his Christian faith. In addition to publishing, McClurkin has devoted considerable time to preaching his faith on Sunday morning. In 2002 McClurkin opened the Perfecting Faith Church in Long Island, New York, where he serves as the senior pastor.
Despite his efforts to spread his gospel message through other media, McClurkin has continued to make powerful music. In 2003 he released another LP, Again, which debuted at the top of the gospel charts. At a moment when the sounds of sacred and secular music are growing increasingly similar, McClurkin has been instrumental in keeping his traditional brand of gospel music in the public ear. McClurkin told Billboard magazine, "Urban may be the form of gospel that's recognized as growing, but that's not all there is. I'm serving it up straight, and that's what a lot of people are looking for."
by Marc L. Hill
Donnie McClurkin's Career
Formed group McClurkin Singers with family members and friends; met the Rev. Marvin Winans, 1983; moved to Detroit, became associate minister at Winans's Perfecting Church, 1989; released Donnie McClurkin, 1996; released McClurkin Project, 1999; released Live In London...And More, 2001; published autobiography Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor, 2001; opened Perfecting Faith Church in Long Island, NY, 2002; released Again, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Donnie McClurkin Warner Bros., 1996.
- McClurkin Project Gospocentric, 1999.
- Live In London...And More Verity, 2001.
- Again Verity, 2003.
February 8, 2006: McClurkin won the Grammy Award for best traditional soul gospel album for Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- Billboard, January 29, 2000.
- Ebony, August 2001.
- Essence, January 2001.
- Jet, June 25, 2001; January 6, 2003.
- Donnie McClurkin Official Website, http://www.donniemcclurkin.com (December 20, 2004).