Copyright ©2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Unidentified Man: Come on. Put your hands together. All the way from Long Island, New York, let's hear it for Pastor Donnie McClurkin.

(Soundbite of song)

Reverend DONNIE McCLURKIN: I will sing, I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.

CHIDEYA: And he's been singing since childhood. His songs repeatedly top both gospel and R&B charts, with hits such as "Stand" and "We Fall Down." We're talking about Donnie McClurkin. Last year he won a Grammy in the best soul contemporary gospel category. McClurkin has dabbled in acting on the small and big screen, but his love is his ministry in music. McClurkin's latest CD, "Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs," takes its title from the Bible and takes us back to some of the early songs of the Pentecostal Church, as he tells NPR's Ed Gordon.

ED GORDON, host:

Donnie McClurkin, welcome. Always good to see you, my friend.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Good to be here. Good to be here.

GORDON: Donnie, let me ask you about the new CD. One of my favorites is a song you do and then come back with a duet with Dottie Peoples, one of the greats in gospel music.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: And that's "I Love to Praise Him." Sometimes there is such an infectious feeling in the building that it doesn't always translate...

Rev. McCLURKIN: Right.

GORDON: ...to CD, but on this song--I heard it the other day in the car. It was--you know, I was looking for the plate to put the money.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Laughs)

GORDON: Talk to me about that song, Donnie.

(Soundbite of song "I Love to Praise Him")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) Everybody, I love to praise him.

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: That's a song from way back there. If there is an African-American church song, that is it, you know. We heard it in the Baptist and Pentecostal churches and growing up in that, that's all I heard.

(Soundbite of song "I Love to Praise Him")

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Choir: (Singing) I love to praise him.

Rev. McCLURKIN: What I wanted to do is I wanted to take those types of songs and bring them to a generation that never heard them. When we did this song, Dottie wasn't even supposed to do the song with me. I called her up out of the audience and she's just quintessential Dottie. My whole prayer was, `Lord, let us be able to grab ahold of this night and let it be felt by everybody that hears this.' ...(Unintelligible).

GORDON: Now truly you--and you feel it, as I said. I want to talk to you about why you decided to open up your life so much to fans and others, but before I do that, I want to ask you the same question I asked of Yolanda Adams when she was here not long ago. When I think of great songs of contemporary gospel, when I think of "We Fall Down," that, 20 years from now, is going to go on that list of classics.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: The fact that you have been able to create something like that, a true modern-day masterpiece, do you think about that at all?

Rev. McCLURKIN: No. If you get caught up in that, then you get also caught up in the attempt to reproduce that. 'Cause everybody's always asking, `Oh, we need another this.' The record company, `We need another "We Fall Down," we need another "Stand," we need another "Speak To My Heart."' They didn't come through contrived machinations. I didn't sit down and, you know, conjure up. It was just something that flowed.

(Soundbite of song "We Fall Down")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) We fall down, but we get up, oh, yes, for our savior is just a sinner who fell down.

(Soundbite of song "Speak To My Heart")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) Oh, speak to my heart, Holy Spirit. Give me the words that will bring new light.

(Soundbite of song "Stand")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) But after you've done all you can, you just stand.

I didn't think those three songs were going to do anything at all.

GORDON: Really?

Rev. McCLURKIN: "Stand," "We Fall Down" and "Speak To My Heart," those were songs that were just filler songs.

GORDON: Really?

Rev. McCLURKIN: I thought other songs on the CD was going to be the hit song.

GORDON: You know what's interesting? I was saving "Stand" for a different question because, for me, the first time I heard it was not your rendition, but BeBe Winans' rendition.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: And I recall literally feeling--I was down at the time, honestly, and I could lift my chest and my back and my shoulders from that song.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: You have to know, though, Donnie, that there are times that your gift does touch people in that way.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah. I realize it after the fact, you know, 'cause I get tunnel vision. "Stand," that song was--before BeBe did it was out many years before that. And BeBe is the one that brought it to Oprah. That's how everybody would start hearing "Stand."

(Soundbite of "Stand")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) You just stand.

I'd never met Oprah and when BeBe sang it, they cried at a sunrise service. And so Oprah came and said, `BeBe, that's a great song you wrote.' And BeBe said, `I didn't write this song.' He said, `You really think this song is something, then you need to hear Donnie McCurklin.' He never says my name right. And for BeBe to do that alone, that's the first miracle.

GORDON: That's right.

Rev. McCLURKIN: That BeBe...

GORDON: For those of us who know that boy, that's right.

Rev. McCLURKIN: BeBe doesn't say thank you and walk away, that was the first miracle.

GORDON: We're saying that in love, BeBe Winans.

Rev. McCLURKIN: I love you, BeBe. You know, but BeBe hit me and said, `Donnie, whatever you do right now, send Oprah the thing, the song.' We sent Oprah the song. I was in the Bahamas, and my telephone rang and I heard, you know, stanzas blasted. And my publisher called and said, `Oprah's about to call you.'

(Soundbite of song "Stand")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) ...through the storm...

Choir: (Singing) Stand.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) ...stand through the rain...

Choir: (Singing) Stand.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) ...through the height...

Choir: (Singing) Stand.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) ...yeah, through the pain...

I'm thinking somebody from the island's probably got the number and I'm like, `Hello.' I hear, `How do you do?' And somebody screaming in the back, `Donnie.' I said, `Turn that thing down, stupid. I can't hear you.' She says, `OK.' Came back and said, `Hi, Donnie. Is that better?' I said, `Yeah. Who is this?' She said, `This is Oprah.' I said, `Oprah who?' She said, `Donnie, Oprah Winfrey.' I said, `No, no. I meant turn it down, Cupid; I didn't mean--not stupid.' Jesus. Well, then we went to the Bahamas and did the show. Oprah said, `Has this thing gone gold yet?' I said, `No, ma'am. It hasn't.' She said, `OK. It will after today.' She held up and said, `This is my favorite song. Donnie's gonna sing it. Y'all go and buy this CD.' And the rest is just...

GORDON: Boom.

Rev. McCLURKIN: ...history.

(Soundbite of song "Stand")

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) ...you just stand.

GORDON: You had been out there for a long, long time making music and then people started to what I call discover Donnie McClurkin.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: Now talk to me about the way you did music in terms of just you. What has changed, if anything, for you?

Rev. McCLURKIN: It's made me more regimented. Before, writing music to me was just part of my life. It was a hobby. It was a--it just flowed out of you because there was nothing else to interrupt it. You know, there were no schedules. There were no concerts. There were no blah-blahs. So you just sat and you wrote and you let God inspire you and you sang it to the dog and a few people at the church that would listen. Now it's a different process altogether. It's finding the time to flow in the inspiration, finding the time to put it down so that you don't lose it. It's more work now than it was before.

GORDON: I would suspect, though, too, with this kind of popularity, it must be gratifying to be able to spread the word to so many.

Rev. McCLURKIN: The very purpose of the music call, it's to reach the masses with the gospel through music. I went to Nairobi and we had 1.4 million people out there. I've never seen 1.4 million people in my life. And, you know, it's a totally different experience.

GORDON: You mention Nairobi and I was going to get into this a little later, but while we're here on the international stage, let's talk about what you did with the songs there and why you decided to.

Rev. McCLURKIN: In my traveling throughout the years, going to the different countries, I learned, you know, that I go over there with my monolinguistic self with America's greatest asset, one language, and--you know, and you go over there and you see people, like in Japan, where there's only 1 percent of the whole entire population that's Christian and the majority of them don't really speak English.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing in Japanese)

We go over to like Switzerland, where they speak five languages, from six, seven years old.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing in foreign language)

And when you go there, you want to be able to reach them. And I got tired of singing with interpreters.

GORDON: Let me ask you why you have decided over the years to be so open about your private life. You have talked about the battles that you had as a young child, being abused. You've talked about battling with sexuality. We heard recently from a friend of yours and a friend of this program and mine, Kirk Franklin...

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: ...his battle with pornography addiction and the like.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Right.

GORDON: It seems that what we are hearing from the gospel community of late is that there is a need to bring much of what is in darkness to light. Why did you decide to do that?

Rev. McCLURKIN: Well, I guess it was mainly because there were needs. You could see brokenness in people, but you didn't hear the true story coming from the ministers and the ministry. You heard that God's going to make everything all right and you're just to trust God and have faith and you heard the bandages that were put over open, gaping wounds. But nobody ever sat down and said, `I understand. You know, this is me.' And I started doing it in the beginning of the '90s and it drew fire from my family, from everybody, because most of these stories people didn't know. And I would stand up onstage, you know, singing. And at the end, when you're trying to, you know, introduce Jesus to the people, I would just hear the Lord tell me, `Tell them your story.'

Now that's hard, knowing the taboos in the church. That's really, really hard, because you're dealing with--you're not just dealing with, `I was a smoker.' They seem to have, you know, more tolerance and sympathy for the drug addicts than they do those that are fighting the taboo issues. And I would share it, and pastors would tell me, `Don't say that again on the pulpit.' But then the people would start responding. And the more I did it, the more you start seeing people's lives changed.

GORDON: Let me take you back, before we let you go, Donnie McClurklin...

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Laughs)

GORDON: ...there you go, BeBe--to something I found interesting, and it's the teaming of you and Kirk Franklin on what many of us who grew up in the '70s know as one of the big, big R&B pop hits of the time, "Ooh, Child."

(Soundbite of song "Ooh, Child")

Mr. KIRK FRANKLIN: (Singing) Now I know things in the world look crazy right now, but you don't know what's going to happen next. But there's a (unintelligible) for you. Uncle Donnie, sing.

Rev. McCLURKIN: (Singing) Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier.

GORDON: Talk to me about the selection of the song and what you and Kirk have done with it.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Well, see, all of the things that have been going wrong since the war, and then with Katrina coming, our times have gotten really bad. Especially those of us that live in New York, we have to deal with our kids going to school, not knowing what's going to happen with the trains, the planes, the tunnels. And we can handle it. We can deal with it as adults, but the children have a hard time functioning, so the song really is just a lullaby. That's why I included kids in and Kirk, who's the Pied Piper of the youth today.

(Soundbite of "Ooh, Child")

Mr. FRANKLIN: (Singing) ...if you're tired of people dying, come on, come on, if you're tired of the fighting, come on, come on...

Rev. McCLURKIN: Just to counter what's going on, to let them know it has to get better.

GORDON: Well, for those of you who go to church on Sunday and for those of you who are in that favorite list of the sick and the shut-in and you just need some healing and some good old-fashioned gospel music, go pick up what is a double CD...

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yeah.

GORDON: ...from Donnie McClurkin. And it's always a pleasure, not only just to put the CD in and hear your dulcet tones and your wonderful writing, but just the performance in this, as I mentioned earlier, is really a feeling that you're right there. So, Donnie, we appreciate your time today and always good to talk to you.

Rev. McCLURKIN: Thanks so much, Ed. I appreciate this.

(Soundbite of song "Ooh, Child")

Choir: (Singing) Someday...

Rev. McCLURKIN: Yes.

Mr. FRANKLIN: Guess what? Guess what? Right around the corner, y'all.

CHIDEYA: Donnie McClurkin's CD is called "Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs."

(Soundbite of song "Ooh, Child")

Choir: (Singing) Someday...

Mr. FRANKLIN: ...things are going to get better.

CHIDEYA: That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of song "Ooh, Child")

Choir: (Singing) Someday...

Mr. FRANKLIN: I said, help me, y'all. It's going to get better, y'all.

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

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