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For His Namesake: Gospel Artist Kurt Carr

By// Miya Williams

Kurt Carr’s first name was supposed to resemble that of the actor Kirk Douglas, but his mother miswrote it on his birth certificate—a fortuitous mistake.

“I’m the other Kirk,” says the acclaimed gospel singer, composer and producer. “God knew there was going to be another Kirk so he made my mother spell my name wrong—on purpose.”

Carr, best-known for his hits including “In the Sanctuary,” “The Presence of the Lord is Here” and “For Every Mountain,” is humble. At the Stellar Gospel Music Awards earlier this month, he received the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award. The 48-year-old, who was once on the same label as gospel superstar Kirk Franklin, says it was difficult being in his shadow, but he “always poured into [Franklin’s] life so there would never be a spirit of envy.”

“I haven’t had the worldwide crossover acclaim that Kirk Franklin has had,” Çarr tells JET. “But God has been faithful to me.” We couldn’t agree more. With the recent release of his seventh album, Bless This House, Carr is proving that he is planning to be around for a while.

The two-disc album is his first in five years, but he assures it is worth the wait. “I have to live the songs first,” explains Carr who has written nearly every song he’s ever released, with the exception of two or three remakes. As such, all of his songs come from personal life experiences. This is especially true for the first single from the album, “ I’ve Seen Him Do It,” which was selected by fans.

Although it was written two years ago, Carr believes “I’ve Seen Him Do It” was meant to come out now. Not only was the song released on November 6, when President Barack Obama was elected to his second term, but it was also unknowingly timed with his recent awards. In addition to the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award, two weeks ago, Carr received the 2013 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Award along with his icons, now friends, Tramaine Hawkins and Edwin Hawkins.

It is the Hawkins family he credits with his initial love of gospel music. When Carr was a teen, his mother bought him Walter Hawkins’ album Jesus Christ Is The Way. The new churchgoer used the CD to teach himself how to play piano—a skill he later thought was the only one he had.

Gospel great Reverend James Cleveland gave Carr his start as a musician. The music degree holder worked with Rev. Cleveland for five years and says he learned more during that time than he had during any other span of his life. “I had all of this education,” he recalls, “but I didn’t know how to make music minister.”

In 1989, Carr wrote songs, put together the arrangements and gathered singers for a women’s day concert at Rev. Cleveland’s church. LaShone Cleveland, Rev. Cleveland’s daughter, was one of those singers; it was the first time her father had ever heard her voice.

After the concert, Carr received a lot of encouragement to start a group. It took much convincing, especially from Jean Ervin, LaShone’s mother and Carr’s “unsung hero,” but a year later The Kurt Carr Singers were born.

Ervin and others were certainly right to push him. Currently Carr has production and song-writing credits on many gospel albums including that of Byron Cage, Tramaine Hawkins and Shirley Caesar’s upcoming project.

So how high is the chance that fans won’t have to wait another five years for Carr’s next album? “Well, if it goes platinum by next month,” he conditions, “I’ll start on a new one.”

With Bless This House debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Chart, it seems he’s already on the right track.