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Shirley Murdock

  2004-11-03
 

Shirley Murdock. The name does more than ring a bell. It calls up memories of a red-hot string of Top Five R&B and pop smashes that kept the airwaves buzzing from the mid-‘80s well into the early-‘90s. As a chart-topping solo artist and songwriter, under the auspices of electro-funk pioneer, Roger Troutman (a/k/a “Roger”), and sometimes-singer with his hit-making band, Zapp, Shirley is rightly credited as one of the defining influences in modern R&B.

But that’s the part of the story you know.

With the release of her debut EMI/Dexterity CD, Home, Shirley Murdock shows, full-force, the contemporary gospel music and mission that has always been the foundation of her life, as well as the heart and soul of her artistry. If you think you know Shirley Murdock…well, it’s time to listen again.

Home delivers the perfect, irresistible mix of dramatic balladry and playful, funky grooves that have always been Shirley’s trademark, all filtered through very modern, 2002 sensibilities, but now with a message meant to save lives and heal wounded souls.

“Somebody” is a relentlessly kickin’ jam, boldly proclaiming the transforming power of the ultimate “somebody,” Jesus Christ, while also daring anyone with a pulse to sit still. “He Can” is a smooth, punchy, modern gospel/R&B celebration of the Almighty and His ability to touch and change the lives and circumstances of all who will merely ask. By contrast, the beautiful ballad, “The Dream That Would Not Die,” co-written by Shirley, her husband Dale DeGroat, and Bishop T.D. Jakes, is the perfect vessel for Shirley to fill with both her voice—in as magnificent form as ever—and her testimony of the Lord’s unending faithfulness to the promises made to His children. “We Need A Word from the Lord,” written by the late gospel great, Thomas Whitfield, is a milestone song for Shirley, with all the makings of a timeless classic, as she soars atop a heavenly orchestra—imploring God for words and guidance that transcend all human wisdom.

“I want to sing songs that will help people in their everyday life,” says Shirley. “To take them the Good News of Christ right where they are in ways that make them feel drawn in, welcomed and loved by God. Lifting up and giving encouragement to the church is a vitally important thing to do, and I hope I’m accomplishing that. But it’s all the people on the outside of the church doors who are lost, and slowly dying spiritually, and who don’t know where to turn or what to do, that I feel a special calling to reach. If my name gets someone’s attention, then well and good, because I have something to give them now that’s so much better than I ever have before.”

Shirley grew up in a solid, church-going family in Toledo, Ohio. Having given her life to the Lord when she was 15, gospel music was the soundtrack to her life as a child and young adult. Showing prodigious musical gifts all her life, and growing up singing in her church choir, Shirley dreamed from a young age of a career as a gospel singer.

Shirley sang and ministered at “Midnight Musicals,” staged in Detroit by the late gospel legend, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, sharing a stage with Dr. Clark’s three gifted daughters, the Clark Sisters—Dorinda, Twinkie and Karen—who were already on their way to definitive gospel careers both as a threesome and later each as solo artists. With tastes and influences that ran towards gospel mainstays like Edwin and Walter Hawkins, and the Winans, Shirley saw her own career path set in a solidly gospel direction.

After high school Shirley worked for a Toledo jewelry store whose owner had acquaintances at a large, secular R&B production company in Detroit to which he raved about Shirley, and passed on demo recordings. Shirley soon received an offer from the company which she declined, still feeling her place was in gospel music, and waiting for those doors to open.

Shirley had taken on the role of praise and worship leader in the early ‘80s for a national gospel crusade based in Columbus, Ohio, when a tape of one of her revival meetings came into the hands of a cousin in Dayton, Ohio. In a series of events appearing far more providential than coincidental, Shirley’s cousin was a personal friend of Dayton-based Roger Troutman, who—with his chart-topping group Zapp, and also as a solo artist—had become a major presence on the R&B and pop charts, pioneering a sound that soon would be dubbed electro-funk, and would transform the very face of modern R&B music.

Roger and his partner/brother Larry, were also mightily impressed with Shirley, offering her an artist/songwriter deal with their production company, which Shirley also refused. With Roger and Larry leaving Shirley a wide-open invitation to take them up on their offer if she ever felt inclined, she returned home to mull and pray over their proposal with her mother, pastor and several trusted friends.

“I’ve always believed God gives gifts to be shared with the world,” says Shirley, “and I began to seriously consider that this could be an avenue He was leading me down for His purposes. Fame is just a hook to get people’s attention. It’s what you do with that attention that matters. I feel God allowed me to be an ambassador for Him when I was a sales clerk just as when I was leading crusades, and just as I was making records on a secular platform. And I can see now that if I had done one single thing differently than I did, I wouldn’t be here today writing, singing, recording and performing gospel music.”

Shirley, after deep consideration and devout prayer, accepted Roger’s offer, a move which led to four Top Five R&B hits between 1986 and 1991, and a gold debut album in 1987. But at the height of her popularity in the early-mid-‘90s, Shirley made a conscious decision to invest her formidable songwriting and vocal gifts entirely into gospel music—a leap of faith that, difficult as it was, she now reflects on as part of the divine symmetry that has led her full-circle…Home.

“In all the years I’ve been saved, I never stopped loving God,” Shirley says. “But there came a time when I felt my priorities were out of order. I didn’t feel like I was serving God the way I wanted to. I was homesick for God and the people of God.”

Bishop T.D. Jakes, renowned for his seminars, books, stage-plays and CDs, based on his world-reaching concept, Woman Thou Art Loosed, was starting his own record label in 1996, and—aware of Shirley from her high-profile past—asked her to join him on his first release, Sacred Love Songs. Shirley agreed, and with her appearance on the highly successful gospel project, along with the endorsement of Bishop Jakes, she finally began to receive the trust and credibility, and enthusiasm, that had been her heart’s desire and commitment for so long.

Another guest slot on Jakes’ smash CD, The Storm Is Over, plus active touring in a number of highly successful gospel plays over those same years, increased Shirley’s presence in the gospel community all the more. A solo performance on Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed Worship 2002, and a contract with EMI/Dexterity Sounds—a partnership of Jakes’ label and gospel powerhouse EMI Gospel—now sets the stage for Shirley’s own much-anticipated Home.

Many of my R&B fans are still with me, and embracing this music as much and more as anything they remember from the earlier days,” Shirley says. “I see my relationship today with Bishop Jakes and EMI/Dexterity, and Home, as bridges being built between the secular and gospel communities. People see now that from day one to this minute there’s always been just one Shirley Murdock, and she loves the Lord. And she has a story to tell. And, above all else, she is here to praise His name.”

With no selection on the CD actually titled Home, Shirley readily admits that her choice in naming the album goes much deeper than any one song.

Home, in a word, is where I am,” Shirley concludes. “It’s where I live and where I’ve always lived. And that’s there now for the whole world to see. This is an opportunity for me to share the gifts God gave with everyone that God loves…and God loves everyone.”