Ordained in May of 2001, the Reverend Donnie McClurkin has taken a long road toward establishing his own ministry not far from the Long Island town where he grew up. The victim of childhood sexual abuse that left long-term scars, McClurkin turned to local church groups for support and became active in gospel choirs from the age of nine. Eventually, he formed his own gospel group as a teenager with family members and friends. As an adult, McClurkin served as an associate minister to the Reverend Marvin L. Winans, head of a famous gospel singing family, and continued to use his music to express his relationship with God.
McClurkin also invoked his faith to overcome a string of serious illnesses that threatened not only to take away his singing abilities, but his life as well. After his solo recording debut in 1996, McClurkin balanced the demands of a successful recording and performing career with his need to continue his spiritual explorations; five years later, as an ordained minister, he founded a Perfecting Faith Church in Long Island. As McClurkin told Marjorie Ford of Dallas-Fort Worth radio station WFAA, “This is my job. The only reason He’s given me this platform is so that I can use it to evangelize the world, and let them know about Jesus. And then, step in the background, fade in the shadows, and let all the glory go to God.”
Born on November 9, 1959, to Frances and Donald McClurkin, Donnie McClurkin grew up in a house full of children in the suburban town of Amityville, on New York’s Long Island. “In our household there were so many kids,” he remembered in an interview with Soul Train. “There were like two sets: the older set and the younger set. My mom and dad had ten kids all together.” Tragedy marked the family, however; when McClurkin was eight years old, a younger brother was struck and killed as he followed McClurkin across the street in front of their home. Compounding the tragedy, McClurkin was sent to stay with some relatives while his parents coped with the loss of their son; while in their care, the youth was subjected to sexual abuse by an older male relative. Later, as a teenager, he was molested by another male relative, and the combined incidents sent McClurkin on a long quest for spiritual recovery that fueled much of his later work.
With his home life in disarray, McClurkin took an active role in his local church. “At nine years old, I received Him and I used to study the Bible,” he told Marjorie Ford, adding, “All I had was church. That’s all I did. I played no sports. I had no extracurricular activities. All I did was church.” In particular, the youth was drawn to the power of music in the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that his family attended. “What I couldn’t verbalize,” he told Ebony, “I could express musically. It was an escape. When you sang, you left everything. You entered a place that was literally divine.” McClurkin was also inspired by meeting acclaimed gospel star
Born on November 9, 1959, in Amityville, NY; son of Frances and Donald McClurkin.
Formed the McClurkin Singers and New York Restoration Choir as a young adult; ministered and sang at Perfecting Church in Detroit; released first solo record, Donnie McClurkin, 1996; published testimonial memoir, Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor, 2001.
Awards: Dove Award, Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year, 2001; Gospel Music Excellence Awards, Male Vocalist, Traditional Album, Producer, Song of the Year, Video Concert, Video Concept, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —BMG Records, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, website: http://www.bmg.com. Publishing company —Pneuma Life Publishing, 4451 Parliament Place, Lanham, MD 20706, website: http://www.pneumalife.com. Website —Donnie McClurkin Official Website: http://www.donniemcclurkin.com.
Andrae Crouch, who served as an informal mentor to the aspiring singer.
As a teenager, McClurkin turned into something of a gospel music impresario. In addition to playing piano for a local youth choir, he formed the McClurkin Singers with four of his sisters and four of their friends. McClurkin also engaged in ministry work through music, taking another choir around New York City to sing on street corners in run-down neighborhoods. In 1983 McClurkin met one of the foremost African American ministers in the country at a gospel music seminar; his chance meeting with the Reverend Marvin L. Winans, head of the Perfecting Church, led to an invitation to join the ministry in Detroit, which McClurkin accepted in 1989.
McClurkin’s period in Detroit allowed him to come to terms with his traumatic past experiences, which he began to incorporate into his sermons at the Perfecting Church. He also faced a number of new challenges, however, including a bout with leukemia in 1990. Rejecting his doctors’ advice to seek medical treatment, McClurkin decided to turn to the power of prayer to cure himself. After a month of intensive prayer, McClurkin claimed that the symptoms were in remission, and that they disappeared entirely in two months. “God healed me without any chemotherapy,” he told Ebony. “Whenever something like that happens, it’s amazing.” Later, McClurkin also invoked the healing nature of prayer to remove a cyst that had developed in his throat; after suffering with it for three years, it suddenly went away, a development that the singer ascribed to his religious faith.
His association with Reverend Winans—a member of America’s best-known family of gospel singers—helped McClurkin secure a recording contract for a solo project, which he completed in 1996. The self-titled debut contained original songs, such as McClurkin’s composition “Stand,” as well as gospel classics like “Holy, Holy, Holy.” A critic from the Christian Music Review Headquarters website gave McClurkin a rave review, commenting, “This man can sing like few men I’ve ever heard…. He has a voice that’s hard to forget.” The album eventually earned a gold record for sales.
McClurkin’s recording career was off to an excellent start; however, he now faced the challenges of keeping his success in perspective. “It challenges you to keep the message just as pure and just as strong as it was while you were in the church and never to compromise because of the different platforms,” McClurkin said in a Family Christian Stores website interview with Amy Meyering. “Stay just as committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter where He puts you. It’s not that hard to do. It’s a pleasure for me.” McClurkin also faced the dilemma of retaining his credentials within the gospel community while enjoying mainstream success. After the release of his second album, Live in London and More… in 2000, McClurkin told Billboard ‘that “Some of the traditional gospel community is like a country club—they don’t want to let any ‘outsiders’ in, and they don’t want you associating with others who aren’t in the club. But I don’t believe that crossing over is wrong; it just gives artists like myself more latitude to interact with the secular folks. If anything, it’s in the secular arena where gospel music needs to be heard.”
McClurkin admitted, however, that his own attempts to reach out to a wider audience sometimes left him disappointed. After contributing a track to inspirational talk show commentator lyanla Vanzant’s album, In the Meantime, McClurkin said that his participation was “a mistake,” as he commented to Melanie Clark of the Gospel Flava website. Upset at what he perceived as Vanzant’s lack of commitment to Christianity, McClurkin said, “She is a wonderful person, as a person. People get the devil and people mixed up. She is a wonderful person, and if you were to meet her you would love her and probably talk for hours, but aside from that, she deceived us royally.”
McClurkin’s reputation as a leading new gospel artist was affirmed with his Dove Award for Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year in 2001, which added to his Gospel Music Excellence Awards for Male Vocalist, Traditional Album, Producer, Song of the Year, Video Concert, and Video Concept that same year. Once again branching out into a number of projects, McClurkin returned to recording with his sisters and their friends, this time as the McClurkin Project. He also continued his ministry work, being ordained in May of 2001 and opening up his own Perfecting Faith Church on Long Island. McClurkin also published an inspirational memoir in 2001, Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor, which detailed his own recovery from sexual abuse and his struggle to define his sexuality in accordance with his Christian principles. Stirring up new criticism for his belief that homosexuality can be suppressed through prayer, McClurkin told Meyering, “I’m going to stir up a bee’s nest of controversy. I already have a few people in the gay community that have started to take up arms. But I don’t care…. If they want to fight, fine, let’s fight. Let’s fight but know that I’m fighting to win. I don’t care about their propaganda and their agenda. The bottom line, there’s a whole slew of [people] out there that want to be delivered.”
Donnie McClurkin, Warner Bros., 1996.
(Contributor) Prince of Egypt: Inspirational (soundtrack), DreamWorks, 1998.
Live in London and More…, BMG/Verity, 2000.
‘Til So Sweet, Atlantic, 2001.
Billboard, March 17, 2001, p. 11; August 25, 2001, p. 35.
Ebony, August 2001, p. 110.
Jet, June 25, 2001, p. 18.
“A New ‘Don,‘” Family Christian Stores, http://www.familychristian.com/music/interviews/donnie_mcclurkin.asp (December 6, 2001).
“Donnie McClurkin,” Christian Music Review Headquarters, http://christianmusic.org/cmp/cmrh.htm (December 6, 2001).
“Donnie McClurkin,” Gospel Flava, http://www.gospelflava.com/reviews/eternalvictim-eternalvictor.html (December 6, 2001).
“Donnie McClurkin,” Soul Train, http://www.soultrain.com/star/donniebk.html (December 6, 2001).
“Donnie McClurkin: Gospel Music’s Rising Star,” WFAA.com, http://www.wfaa.com/wfaa/articledisplay/0,1002,22833,00.html (December 6, 2001).
“Praying for Change,” St. Petersburg Times, http://www.sptimes.com/News/072401/Floridian/Praying_for_change_.shtml (December 6, 2001).
"McClurkin, Donnie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie
"McClurkin, Donnie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie
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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."
For the Record . . .
Born on November 9, 1959, in Long Island, NY; son of Donald and Frances McClurkin.
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.
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.
Donnie McClurkin, Warner Bros., 1996.
McClurkin Project, Gospocentric, 1999.
Live In London…And More, Verity, 2001.
Again, Verity, 2003.
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).
—Marc L. Hill
"McClurkin, Donnie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie-0
"McClurkin, Donnie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie-0
Modern Language Association
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McClurkin, Donnie 1961–
Donnie McClurkin 1961–
Gospel vocalist and composer
One of gospel music’s rising stars and most respected figures, Donnie McClurkin has devoted his musical life to gospel’s original mission of providing help and hope to people in need. Forging a gospel style that is traditional in orientation but spiced with modern touches from such musical influences as Andrae Crouch and Take 6, McClurkin enjoyed strong sales with his 1996 debut album, Donnie McClurkin, and seemed poised for even wider success with the release of several new projects in the year 2000. Beyond his success in the musical arena, however, McClurkin has maintained an active career as a minister, remaining in direct contact with the audience to which he directs his music.
McClurkin was born in 1961, and raised in Amityville, New York, on Long Island outside of New York City. Both of McClurkin’s parents were substance abusers, and his childhood was a difficult one, plagued by violence and abuse. Often trying to act as a peacemaker between his warring parents, he found a haven in his family church, the Gospel Tabernacle Assemblies of God, and made a commitment to the Christian religion when he was only nine years old. “The only way my mother could punish me was saying I couldn’t go to church,” McClurkin later recalled in a Detroit Free Press interview.
McClurkin’s real spiritual awakening, however, came two years later when he encountered one of the great gospel singers of the modern era, Andrae Crouch. McClurkin’s aunt, a backup singer for Crouch, had arranged a performance by Crouch at McClurkin’s church. Crouch took an interest in the troubled youngster, encouraging him not only musically (McClurkin soon became a pianist with the church’s youth choir) but also personally, corresponding with him and suggesting Scripture readings that might bring him comfort.
For McClurkin, the experience cemented a link in his mind between music and a more general effort to reach out to the afflicted. “Andrae fostered ministry, rather than fame,” McClurkin explained to the online magazine crosswalk.com. “It was more ministry to him than anything else, not some glamorous career.” McClurkin began to sing as a teenager, and with his four vocally talented sisters formed a group called the McClurkin Singers. As his vocal and compositional talents grew, however, McClurkin aimed not at the gospel spotlight, but at a different kind of ideal.
Forming a gospel ensemble called the New York Restoration Choir, McClurkin led the group in performances where gospel music could have a direct impact. The group appeared in prisons and sang on the street. The group recorded for the roots-oriented Savoy\Malaco labels. After telling members of the choir of a divinely inspired premonition that he would one day work with Detroit’s renowned minister and gospel-singer Rev. Marvin Winans, McClurkin attended a seminar given by Winans in 1983. Winans likewise sensed a connection. “I don’t even know what your
At a Glance…
Born in 1961 in Amityville, NY. Religion: Assemblies of God.
Career: Gospel vocalist. Formed group with sisters, the McClurkin Singers, late 1970s; formed and directed New York Restoration Choir, late 1970s; recorded with group forSavoy\Malaco label; attended gospel-music seminar given by Rev. Marvin Winans, 1983; became associate minister at Winans’s Perfecting Church, Detroit, MI, 1989; led choirs in performanees at White House twice; recorded debut album Donnie McClurkin, 1996; recorded The McClurkin Project with sisters, 1999; recorded Live in London &More, 2000.
Addresses: Label —BMG Entertainment\Verity Records, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
name is,” he told McClurkin in recollections quoted in crosswalk.com . “I have nothing to offer you, but somehow we’re going to work together.” The prophecy took a while to come true. However, in 1989, McClurkin relocated to Detroit to join the staff of Winans’s 2,000-member Perfecting Church as an associate minister.
Nestled in the bosom of gospel music’s foremost family, McClurkin seemed headed for a bright future as a performer. “I’ve been trained real well—having the Winans family at your disposal does that,” McClurkin told the Detroit Free Press. Early in his career in Detroit, however, McClurkin was diagnosed with leukemia. The disease went into remission, thanks, McClurkin told crosswalk.com, to prayers from members of the Winans family. According to the Free Press, the disease left McClurkin’s tenor voice permanently damaged. Doctors gave him a set of vocal exercises to perform in order to regain his strength. On his own web site’s biography, McClurkin does not mention the illness.
McClurkin’s career blossomed as he performed and led choirs within the Winans fold. He appeared at the White House during the presidencies of both George Bush and Bill Clinton, toured internationally, contributed backing vocals to a number of Winans recording projects, and wrote new music. He also cultivated a friendship with Demetrus Alexander, an executive at the Warner Alliance label. In October of 1996, McClurkin released his self-titled debut album.
McClurkin’s debut album benefitted from production work by various top gospel performers, including Crouch, Mark Kibble of the a cappella group Take 6, and former CeCe Winans producer Cedric Caldwell. Effectively mixing traditional and contemporary styles, the album included several songs of McClurkin’s own composition, a classical-styled version of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” a Christianized Take 6 arrangement of the Pointer Sisters’ rousing “Yes We Can Can,” and Crouch’s “We Expect You.” McClurkin himself described his style as “eclectic” in conversation with Billboard magazine’s Lisa Collins, and the unique musical assortment appealed to gospel fans. McClurkin’s debut album remained in the Top Ten of Billboard’s gospel sales chart for over two years.
In 1999, McClurkin returned to the studio with his sisters to record The McClurkin Project for the Gospocentric label. The album showcased McClurkin’s arranging skills with what the Detroit Free Press described as “tight, soaring harmony,” and also featured McClurkin’s own vocals on four tracks. In the spring of 2000, McClurkin’s second solo release, Live in London & More, was slated for release on the Verity label, with guest appearances by Marvin Winans and Gladys Knight, and a songwriting contribution from R&B singer Kelly Price. Reportedly in negotiations with an Atlanta-based cable network for his own television show, McClurkin seemed to be a star on the rise.
McClurkin did not let his rising success distract him from the spiritual underpinnings of his musical career. Focusing his Perfecting Church ministry on families that, like his own, had suffered through destructive conflicts and sexual abuse, McClurkin laid plans to assume the pastorship of a church of his own. In the spring of 2000, he was conducting monthly services back in his home town of New York City, and hoped to conduct weekly services by the fall of 2000. With Psalm 118:17 as a credo (“I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord”), McClurkin is a performer in touch with the spiritual roots of gospel music.
Donnie McClurkin, Warner Alliance, 1996.
The McClurkin Project, Gospocentric, 1999 (with sisters).
Live in London & More, Verity, 2000.
Billboard, January 29, 2000, p. 55.
Detroit Free Press, March 28, 1997, p. D1; January 9, 2000, p. E4.
Ebony, August 1998, p. 74.
—James M. Manheim
"McClurkin, Donnie 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie-1961
"McClurkin, Donnie 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcclurkin-donnie-1961