Donnie McClurkin is known for producing gospel gold. He is responsible for hits like, 'We fall Down', and 'Great is Your Mercy. his signature voice has earned him three Grammy awards, ten stellar awards and, three Dove awards
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
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.”