October 2011

Shirley Murdock: 'I always take time out for the people. God first, but without the people's support, I couldn't do what I do.’

Shirley Murdock Stays ‘Touchable to the People’

By Bob Marovich

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, gospel songstress Shirley Murdock sang in the choir at Calvary Baptist Church, under the leadership of the late Rev. L.H. Newsome.

She also watched Shirley Temple movies and dreamed of someday becoming an actress.

"Her name was Shirley. She was young. She could sing and dance. That was the beginning of the dream for me," Shirley Murdock said during a discussion of her first live recording, Live: the Journey, to be released October 18, 2011 on Tyscot Records.

For Shirley, who said she has "been singing since I was a little girl, probably since I came out of the womb," the Jackson Five's success "was another glimpse of the possibility of the dream."

Shirley Murdock, ‘I Love Me Better Than That,’ at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

In addition to the Motown stable of singers, the young Toledo native also listened intently to the gospel artists out of Detroit, an hour north of her home. She especially enjoyed Mattie Moss Clark, the Clark Sisters and the Winans ("when they were still called the Testimonial Singers").

She listened to traditional singers like Shirley Caesar (another Shirley!) as much as the contemporary artists Walter Hawkins and Andrae Crouch and the Disciples.

Shirley channeled this wealth of musical influence through her voice while working in full-time ministry with a crusade team from Columbus, Ohio called TETREC (The End Time Revival Evangelistic Crusade). But she got laid off from the crusade and returned to her hometown of Toledo and to her job at a jewelry store.

Meanwhile, Shirley's mother shared with a relative, Jill Perkins, a homemade recording of her daughter singing at a TETREC revival.  Perkins worked for musician Roger Troutman in Dayton, Ohio. Troutman and his brothers had organized the popular soul/funk outfit Zapp ("More Bounce to the Ounce").

Shirley recalled: "Roger and his brother, Larry, who was his manager at the time, heard me singing on that recording and called my house. My first love was gospel music but I wasn't oblivious to R&B. Still, when I heard that Roger Troutman was interested in me, I said, 'Who's Roger Troutman and what's a Zapp?'"

Shirley Murdock in her R&B incarnation, ‘Go On Without You,’ #5 R&B/#23 pop, 1987. From the artist’s debut album, Shirley Murdock!

It wasn't the first time Shirley had been offered a career in R&B, but she had turned it down every time. "Being a born-again Christian, I thought gospel was going to be the path to open the doors for me," she said. "But the doors weren't opening." Nevertheless, Shirley told Roger she would not sing R&B and walked away. Roger said he would keep the door open if she changed her mind.

After some soul searching, Shirley did change her mind. "I really believed in my heart of hearts that [R&B] was the path for me. This was an opportunity for me to share my gift with the whole world. You don't stop being who you are, or whose you are, because of your job. I would stay faithful in my station."

Shirley moved to Dayton, fertile soil for soul and funk back then, to work with Troutman. He taught Shirley the techniques of studio singing and eventually asked her to sing background for him. "I was already a signed artist working on my record, but when Roger gave me an opportunity to sing background, that was wonderful--it was boot camp for an emerging artist!"

In addition to singing background, Shirley served as Roger's assistant. "It was great training for me," she said. "I learned many valuable lessons from Roger. And I was not involved in drugs or alcohol or some kind of crazy lifestyle. I was in a drug-free organization and was treated with the utmost respect."

Shirley attended Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio and sang on the praise and worship team. One Sunday, Bishop T.D. Jakes visited the church to preach, and Shirley had a moment to speak with him afterwards. "I said, 'Bishop, I have never had an opportunity to sing gospel, but I always put a gospel song on my records, and I always have a gospel section in my shows.' He said, 'Maybe one day we'll get a chance to do something.'"

From Live: The Journey, Shirley Murdock performs ‘Dream,’ written by Dale DeGroat and T.D. Jakes.

That opportunity came when Jakes invited Shirley to contribute to his first Sacred Love Songs collection. And when he organized his Dexterity Sounds label, he invited her aboard.

One problem: she was signed to Warner Brothers to do another R&B record. She asked Roger to help her. "Roger went through all the hoops he had to go through to get me released. I was released on paper on December of 1998...and Roger passed away in April 1999.

"I really appreciate everything Roger did for me as an artist, as my mentor. He taught me that chart position should not validate your worth. He said, 'Stay touchable to the people. When you are number one with the people, you're number one forever.' I always take time out for the people. God first, but without the people's support, I couldn't do what I do."

Live: The Journey captures Shirley's ability to do what she does in front of a live audience.

"I had always wanted to do a live recording, but I was also a little nervous to do one. Unlike a studio recording, which is methodical and you can try something ninety-nine different ways, [on a live recording] there are some things you can't take back! But what's wonderful about a live recording is the energy and synergy between you and the people.

"I call it the ‘triangular effect’: what I do, I give to God first. I believe God touches it and He sends it down to the people. And they send it back to me. It's a magical thing."

Recording Live: The Journey reunited her with Grammy Award-winning producer Cedric Thompson, who had produced her before. "Cedric made it easy for me," she said. "He made it fun and he pulled together all these wonderful musicians out of the Charlotte, North Carolina area, and some wonderful singers, including his wife, LeJeune Thompson, who is a solo artist herself.

"I also had the chance to bring some of my really true girlfriends on board. Kelly Price is doing a song with me. Regina Belle is doing a song with me. And Beverly Crawford, a wonderful gospel singer, is doing a song with me. On the finale, 'Someday,' we all sing together. It was a powerful night, and the audience was amazing."

In addition to promoting her new album, Shirley is preparing to perform in Theo London's award-winning play, Loving Him is Killing Me. It gives her a chance to indulge the acting bug that she caught watching Shirley Temple movies as a child in Toledo.

As if quoting a gospel song, Shirley said, "I look back over my life, and I have seen my dreams come true over and over. From singing in the church choir to having the opportunity to share my gift with the whole world, to meeting my idols such as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and Gladys Knight."

She added, "And now to turn around and be that inspiration to young people. The lessons Roger Troutman taught me, I try to pay them forward. We owe it to the upcoming generation."

For more information on Live: The Journey, go to www.tyscot.com/.

marovichBob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and author. In its seventh season, Bob's "Gospel Memories" program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at http://www.wluw.org. Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at http://www.gospelmemories.com/. Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog.


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