Choir director, songwriter, and music producer
When secular artists achieve commercial success, it is often followed by a big spike in popularity, accompanied by instant name recognition. Though this does not typically happen to Christian singers, songwriter and choir director Kurt Carr managed to achieve global success with his breakthrough 2001 album, Awesome Wonder. The song "In the Sanctuary" was so successful that it has been translated into nine languages. Carr followed up this gold-selling album with One Church, which he hopes will bridge the gap between the various denominations of the Christian church.
Very little is known about Carr's early days. He came from a family that did not attend church. At age 13, he began attending Hopewell Baptist Church around the corner from his house in Hartford, Connecticut. He was drawn to the choir and whatever music program the church offered. Recognizing her son's love of music, his mother, Dolores, purchased an album released by award-winning gospel music producer Walter Hawkins, whose song "Oh Happy Day" sold over a million copies in the late 1960s, a first in the history of gospel music. Carr listened to the album daily and taught himself piano by playing the songs on the album.
Worked with Legendary James Cleveland
Carr honed his craft by studying fine arts at the University of Connecticut, where he earned a bachelor's degree. He was also mentored by Richard Small-wood, a very successful choir director and songwriter, who taught Carr to appreciate all musical styles. It was during this time that Carr became more focused on his religion, developing what he has described as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and attending the Gospel Music Workshop of America's music conferences. While playing the piano, Carr came to the attention of gospel music legend James Cleveland. In 1986 Cleveland invited the talented piano player to join him and his choir as a keyboardist. Carr soon became Cleveland's musical director. Under the gospel icon's tutelage, Carr began writing songs and directing choirs.
Following Cleveland's death in 1991 Carr began working with another gospel legend, Andrae Crouch, eventually becoming his musical director. Working with Crouch, Carr traveled the world and honed his songwriting skills. He put together an ensemble, the Kurt Carr Singers, and signed a recording contract with Light Records, home to a number of hugely successful gospel music artists, including the late Cleveland, Crouch, and rising star Tramaine Hawkins. It was a very exciting time in his life, and Carr released his first album, Together, in 1991. Unfortunately, Light Records' owner soon sold his record company, and the company folded several months later.
Undeterred, the Kurt Carr Singers signed with a new label, Gospo Centric, that would become home to a number of platinum-selling gospel artists, including Kirk Franklin, Dorinda Clark-Cole of The Clark Sisters' fame, gospel-rap group Gospel Gangstas, and reggae-gospel recording artist Papa San. Carr's group released Serious About It in 1994 and the album did well, but Carr was disappointed. Carr told Mark Weber of the Christian Monthly Web site, "I was doing my music, and I felt like I was making good music, but for some reason people weren't getting it—they weren't hearing me—and I became very discouraged and went through a difficult time."
Delayed Third Release a Success
It was another three years before Carr released his third album, No One Else, following a series of delays. Carr told Weber, "There were some transitions at the record company and my album sat on the shelf for six months—six months of not knowing if it would come out, not knowing my future or my destiny. I was right at the edge of the breakthrough … I needed to become 'Kurt Carr' and for the ministry to go where it is and I couldn't see it because I took my focus off of trusting God and put it on looking at the situation I was in."
When No One Else was finally released, the album was a success. His breakthrough song, "For Every Mountain" became a staple in many choirs' repertoires and has been covered by numerous other performers. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir did a cover of the song and won a Grammy award in 2003. Carr also became musical director at West Angeles Church of God In Christ in Los Angeles. He and the Kurt Carr Singers began touring extensively around the country and around the world, including Japan.
As Carr's personal spiritual growth continued, so too did his commercial success, thanks to the success of the album Awesome Wonder, released in 2001. The single, "In the Sanctuary," with its simple yet eloquent lyrics and driving beat, helped pushed the CD to gold-selling status, selling over a half million copies. "In the Sanctuary" also had major crossover success among the Christian community. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that the 10 o'clock hour on Sunday was the most segregated time in America, yet Carr's single reached both black and white churches in America and gained popularity in Christian congregations around the world.
Treated Like a Star in Japan
Carr's popularity around the globe grew so much that he caused a stir in Japan while presenting a workshop. He told Dwayne Lacy in an interview on the Gospel Flava Web site, "When I came out to do a sound check, I was sitting in the back of the theatre, and they were covering me up so no one could see me. About 200 people came on stage. I said, 'Wow that's a lot of people.' She said, 'There's 600 more waiting to come on.' I couldn't believe it. When I walked out on stage, they were acting like I was Michael Jackson. Girls were fainting. It was crazy."
Awesome Wonder also won numerous awards, including several Stellar Awards. With this new recognition and success, Carr was approached by the head of his record label, Vicki Mack-Lataillade, to help fellow Gospo Centric recording artist Byron Cage with the release of his live album, The Prince of Praise. Carr produced the majority of the album and co-wrote two of the songs, including Cage's mega hit, "The Presence of the Lord Is Here." Cage's release won several awards, including a Song of the Year for "The Presence of the Lord Is Here," at the Stellar Awards.
As a result of Cage's successful CD, Carr became a much sought-after producer and songwriter, with many artists in the Christian community asking for a "Kurt Carr" original. He told the Gospel Flava Web site, "I'm just humbled by it…. I'm like 'You want me?'" In addition to Cage, Carr has helped produce albums by newcomer Ami Rushes and gospel singer Karen Clark-Sheard.
At a Glance …
Born in the early 1960s in Hartford, CT; son of Dolores. Education: University, Connecticut, BA, fine arts. Religion: Christian.
Career: Worked as pianist and musical director for James Cleveland, late 1980s–1991; toured with Andrae Crouch as musical director, 1991–94; formed The Kurt Carr Singers, 1991; recording artist, 1991–, and producer, 2003–; West Angeles Church of God In Christ, musical director, minister of music, 1990s–2001.
Selected awards: Stellar Award Song of the Year, for "In The Sanctuary," 2002; Stellar Award Song of the Year, for "The Presence of the Lord Is Here," 2005.
Addresses: Home—Houston, TX. Agent—Gospo Centric Records, 421 E. Beach St., Inglewood, CA 90302.
Released One Church
In the midst of this newfound success, Carr relocated to Houston, Texas, and found quiet time to write the songs to his latest release, One Church, which debuted in 2004. As he did with his previous albums, he spent time in prayer, seeking God's direction. He decided to focus on his purpose and ministry by using his gift of songwriting and music to unite Christians from around the world. He stated to Rene Williams in an interview on the Gospel City Web site, "Though I never want to forsake my base—which is the black church, the Pentecostal movement, the Charismatic movement—this time, it's time for Kurt Carr to reach out to the world."
On One Church Carr again used his seven-member ensemble as well as a South African Choir. He incorporated various instruments from around the globe, including a sitar, primarily used in India, Scottish bagpipes, and African percussion. Though he had his usual mix of contemporary and traditional gospel music with a few praise and worship songs, Carr also included several Contemporary Christian Music songs that would get airplay in predominantly white churches and Christian radio stations. The CD debuted at number one on the sales charts.
By the end of 2005 Carr had wrapped up the North American leg of his worldwide tour and was thinking about starting his own record label in order to produce solo albums for members of the Kurt Carr Singers. With the success of One Church, and his ability to create soul-stirring songs that touch people all over the world, fans came to expect that Kurt Carr would soon become one of gospel music's—and the Christian community's—finest contributors.
Together, Light Records, 1991.
Serious About It, Gospo Centric, 1994.
No One Else (includes "For Every Mountain"), Gospo Centric, 1997.
Awesome Wonder (includes "In the Sanctuary"), Gospo Centric, 2001.
(Producer) Byron Cage, The Prince of Praise, Gospo Centric, 2003.
One Church, Gospo Centric, 2004.
Come Let Us Worship, Artemis Strategic, 2005.
Jet, June 20, 2005, p. 52.
"Gold Certified Artist Kurt Carr Set to Return with Energetic New Album—One Church," Black Gospel Promo, www.blackgospelpromo.com/kurtcarr/ (September 16, 2005).
"Interview w/ Kurt Carr," Black Gospel, www.blackgospel.com/interviews/kurtcarr/ (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr," All Music, www.allmusic.com (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr," Gospel City, www.gospelcity.com/dynamic/artist-articles/artists/192 (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr and The Kurt Carr Singers, Awesome Wonder," Gospel Flava, www.gospelflava.com/reviews/kurtcarrsingers.html (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr Interview," Gospel Flava, www.gospelflava.com/articles/kurtcarrinterview2005.html (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr's One Church," Gospel City, www.gospelcity.com/dynamic/artist-articles/interviews/191 (September 16, 2005).
"Kurt Carr, One Church," Gospel Flava, www.gospelflava.com/reviews/kurtcarronechurch.html (September 16, 2005).
"The New Kurt Carr Project," Soul Cure, www.soulcure.com/kurtcarrproject (September 16, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes and back cover of Awesome Wonder.
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