Kurt Carr, who has become one of the mainstays of modern gospel music, right up there with Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams, is on a mission. The journey’s long, and sometimes it’s hard, but he continues to work long hours toward breaking down barriers within the church, especially when it comes to color and race.
Carr’s main musical aim is to bring people together of different colors and backgrounds. That’s always been in his plan, but now, more than ever, he is committed to the cause, going so far as to name his latest CD, One Church, and listen to contemporary Christian music vocal group Avalon in order to influence his own music so it reaches outside of the often insular black community.
“Martin Luther King made a statement that 10 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week because— generally—whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics worship together independent of each other,” says Carr. “With my new CD, I hope to open the minds of people, making a ripple that will get bigger and bigger, getting people to think we can worship with people who are different than us, and listen to things we might not normally listen to.”
Carr thinks that people of different colors and races don’t come together not because they don’t like one another, but, rather, because they don’t know each other. With that in mind, he thinks music can help bridge the gap between people, often advising CD buyers to get two copies when they purchase an album. “And give one to someone who doesn’t look like you,” he’ll say.
Growing up, Carr was not part of a church-going family, so it’s pretty amazing to think where he is now, reaching thousands, if not millions, bringing gospel music all around the world to churches and festivals, like Encounter Ontario (www.encounterontario.com), this August 20, 2005, in downtown Toronto.
“I started at age 14 at Hopewell Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut. God touched my heart and I went to church by myself; it was around the corner from my house. I went to church, eventually joined the choir, and the rest is history,” he says.
After becoming active in his church’s music programs, Carr’s mother noticed his budding talent, and bought him a Walter Hawkins album, which he listened to daily for a year or two. He taught himself how to play the piano based on those songs.
Carr became a skilled musician. He graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of Connecticut, and was mentored by gospel music’s legendary Richard Smallwood. Furthermore, in 1986, another legend, Reverend James Cleveland, asked Carr to join him as pianist and musical director. Smallwood and Cleveland both had positive and lasting impacts on Carr.
“With my musical expertise and education, I want to continue setting a bar of excellence in the gospel music genre,” he says. “I want to keep ‘songs with substance’ popular. In order to cross over to secular radio, we take Jesus out and water down the message and make it ambiguous and people listen to it and derive whatever meaning they want from it. I don’t think that’s the true meaning of gospel, because the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to say, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ in every song, but the theme and the message should be there and be clear and I pray that God will use me to do that—to make that popular again.”
Carr truly depends on God to guide his music ministry, which has seen its share of ups and downs.
“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, but God gave me the strength to hold on and then the song ‘For Every Mountain’ came, which ended up becoming one of my biggest songs,” he says.
“Another song I wrote, ‘I Almost Let Go,’ has a line: I was right at the edge of a breakthrough and couldn’t see it. That’s what happened during the time I made the For Every Mountain album. 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.”
You’ll find Carr in church often, because it’s a place where he can connect with people who knew him before the fame. It’s also a place where he can be encouraged, inspired and blessed. Carr thankfully remains grounded and humble, despite soaring record sales and ever-increasing popularity.
“I tell people you have to really be careful when you’re a celebrity, because people tell you you’re great everyday,” he says. “You’re always seen in your best light—that’s why I stay grounded in my church.”
He smiles when he recalls being at his church in Los Angeles a few months back, when a little 8-year-old kid exclaimed, “Oh my God Kurt, I didn’t know you were so big!” Carr says it was a humbling moment when this little kid just saw him as a choir director at church, not some international celebrity.
As he travels the world, Kurt Carr takes gospel music to places it has rarely or never been before. When he comes to Encounter Ontario, August 20, 2005, at Ontario Place in downtown Toronto, you can bet he will do his best to bring diverse people together, praising Jesus as One Church. For ticket information, please call 866-620-7827 from anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, or visit the festival’s informative website, www.encounterontario.com.
Buy One Church!
More Kurt Carr Projects
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