After more than 20 years in the music industry, Kurt Carr believes he is now walking in his purpose. His current CD, Bless This House recently debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Sales Chart. “When God has something for you, just be true to who you are,” says the Hartford, Conn., native. “Just be true to who you are in what God has called you to do, and He will bless you beyond your wildest dreams.” The Texas resident recently received the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award at the Stellar Awards and a BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music Award. Not bad for a kid who didn’t attend church for first time until he was 14 and would later become music director for gospel legend the Rev. James Cleveland. Carr, noted for his work with his ensemble, the Kurt Carr Singers, is the man who penned gospel classics In the Sanctuary, The Presence of the Lord Is Here and Peace and Favor Rest on Us. The acclaimed musician and songwriter recently spoke with us about his work and why he’s the ‘other Kirk.’
On the moment that changed his life musically:
I went to church alone when I was 14. When my mother saw my interest in [it], she gave me music. The record that transformed my life was Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins Family’s Jesus Christ is the Way. I met the Hawkins family 30 years after first hearing their music. Tramaine [Hawkins] hadn’t made a record in almost 10 years. I got with her and produced her last record "I Never Lost My Praise," which is the biggest record she's had since "Changed." God used me, used them to bless me and then used me to bless her. To be honored on that platform with [the Hawkins family] at the BMI Awards was incredible.
On knowing when he’s written a classic:
It’s just a feeling like when I did “For Every Mountain” I was at Los Angeles’ West Angeles Church of God in Christ. The first time God gave me that line, I was sitting at a piano in the sanctuary of West Angeles, where I was the music director. I wrote that one line all at one time. “For every mountain you've brought me over, for every trial you’ve seen me through, for every blessing hallelujah, for this I give you praise.” And I fell off the piano stool and worshiped God for an hour.
On the formula for writing a timeless tune:
Quincy Jones told me a great song could be played with one finger, meaning the melody. Nowadays, music has tracks. But the songs that last forever, like the ones written by Stevie Wonder, are classics with great melodies. So a great song must have a good melody, a great arrangement and with gospel music, it has to have God's hand on it. Like the song “For Every Mountain.” I can't take credit for that. Only God could have done that.
On being the ‘other Kirk’:
Kirk Franklin and I were on the same label. I’m not going to say the label didn’t support me, but it was hard when Kirk’s success was so phenomenal. It was like, ‘Hello. I’m here too.’ Before “For Every Mountain” blew up, I had two albums and nobody knew who I was. So I’m the other Kirk, because my birth name is Kirk Douglas. My mother named me after the actor Kirk Douglas. But when she filled out the [birth] forms, she spelled my name K-u-r-t. The nurse wanted to tear up the forms and change the spelling, but my mother said just leave it. I said that day God knew there was going to be two short men named Kirk. [laughs] So I'm actually writing a book called The Other Kirk. It’s about my life.
On God’s timing:
Albertina Walker was my greatest influence. She wasn't the most articulate person, but she was the most wise person I've ever met. And she told me, ‘Stay like you is. God will bless you. Don't waiver.’ I believe after 20 years for me to stand up on that stage and receive those awards, every single person—from Yolanda Adams to Mary Mary to Tye Tribbett—all rushed to me and said, ‘Nobody deserves this more than you.’ That was the sweetest part of the whole victory, because it wasn't politics. It wasn't a fluke. It wasn't an overnight thing. But I was there because of the steps of God...if you just stay focused and don't give up, change will come.
Margena A. Christian is Senior Writer for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @MargenaXan