Kurt Carr has been making music that elevates and uplifts churches on Sunday mornings for more than two decades. Songs like “In the Sanctuary,” “The Presence of the Lord Is Here,” “For Every Mountain,” “God Blocked It,” and “Peace and Favor Rest on Us” are now considered standards. After a five-year break from recording, the prolific songwriter, producer, music minister is back with an album that will certainly, as its title says, “Bless This House.”
Carr has been busy during the past five years serving in his local church body, writing the songs that comprise ‘Bless This House” as well as wearing the producer hat for the upcoming album from the legendary Shirley Caesar, “Good God,” among other things. The leader of one of the talented ensemble, The Kurt Carr Singers also started the year off a flourish. In January, Carr received the BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music Award, the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award and released “Bless This House” which immediately shot to the top of the Billboard Gospel Albums chart and landed at #43 on the Billboard 200.
In a candid interview, Kurt Carr discusses his album, his mentors and shares his thoughts on music for the church.
Why name the album “Bless This House?”
“I had been writing for 2 years and we were getting ready to start recording in Los Angeles and the recording session started at 1 p.m. and at 4 a.m. I woke up in the hotel room and I heard “Bless This House.” I woke up that morning at 4 a.m. and I heard the phrase bless this house. And I thought ‘that’s the title because I want this music to bless God’s house, the people of God and their house and their family.’ I tried to go back to sleep and I couldn’t and by day break I had written the entire song. When I went to the studio, I told my group I just wrote this song today and I played it for them so I wouldn’t forget it (laughs). I played it for them and we worshipped God for an hour around the piano. So that’s how you know it’s God. He did it!”
Why is it so important to create good church music for the saints for Sunday morning?
“My music is the music that keeps the church relevant and current, keeps the saints uplifted so we can have music when the unbeliever comes to church. And also we have to remember that saints of God even though we trust him, we believe Him, we need encouragement as well. We need music that causes us to worship as well as well. So I believe that is my calling and I’m staying true to that. I don’t try to be like what everyone else is doing but staying true to what God has called me to do.”
You have a song on the album called “We’ve Gotta Put Jesus Back.”
“I actually wrote that one for the last album, but I actually thought that I would wait. I’m the kind of person that I do not judge others. If other people do ministry different than I do, more urban or whatever I don’t criticize it, I try to see what God is doing through them. God has called us all to be different, I’m not the kind of person that would ever criticize or try to bash anybody. The message in that song is that you gotta put Jesus first as believers. We need to put Him first. He’s first in our lives. When they took prayer out of the schools, they replaced it with guns. So it’s important that we, as believers put Him first because the Bible says seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.”
You’ve got some dynamic women featured on this album, Judith McAllister and Kathy Taylor.
“Judith McAllister and I were together fifteen years. We ran the music department for Bishop Charles Blake, so she’s my sister in the Lord. We were co-laborers in the music and I wanted to have a big opening and I consider her the queen of praise and worship. So who better to do it than Judy? And of course, as God would have it, I called her and she was in L.A. and I didn’t even know she was there. So we did it that day. I usually don’t have guests on my records, because my singers are so incredible, I don’t need anyone else. Kathy Taylor, she’s just a powerhouse and to me she is the queen of traditional singers. We don’t have too many traditional, churchy church singers anymore. There are so many runs and tricks, and I love all of that, but there’s something about a singer who can just flat-footed open their mouths and rattle the rafters and she is one of those people.”
What does receiving the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you?
“It was probably one of the most poignant moments of my life because Rev. Cleveland was the one who have me a platform. He gave me an opportunity. I probably learned more from him than any other person in my life with regards to music. I had a talent, I had skills. I had studied music at the University of Connecticut when I met him, but I didn’t know how to make music minister. James Cleveland had a way of taking the simplest song and finding one line of the song and he could just penetrate the heart of anybody. I heard Walter Hawkins say that he had never seen anyone that could move an audience like James Cleveland. He said nobody and I think that’s one of things that I gleaned from him. And to stand on that stage and receive that honor was just like full circle for me. It’s just such an example of the faithfulness of God and the song that he gave me which is the first single off my record, “I’ve Seen Him Do It’ became a theme of my life, not just a song for me, I’ve seen God do it.”
You received the BMI Trailblazer of Gospel Music Award alongside Edwin Hawkins and Tremaine Hawkins.
“The Hawkins Family not only inspired my music but they led me to Christ. As a young boy, I grew up in a loving family, God-fearing family, but we went to church maybe two or three times a year. I call us CME members, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter (laughs). We moved to a neighborhood and I was 14 years old and we moved into a neighborhood that was a stone’s throw away from church, The Hopewell Baptist Church in Hartford, Conn. One Sunday morning I asked my mother if I could go to church and I got up that morning and I went by myself. When my mother saw my interest in church, she had gone to NY to see a Broadway play called ‘Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.’ She brought me that record and the ‘Jesus Christ is the Way ‘record. That album is what changed my life, transformed my life. I learned how to play piano, pick out the parts, learned how to sing. I had my first encounter with the Holy Spirit one morning at 3 a.m. when I was up on a school night and I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit from that record. For me, it’s like a full circle moment. Thirty years later to produce Tremaine’s album (“I’ve Never Lost My Praise”) was phenomenal. But to be awarded alongside them was just one of the greatest moments of my life with regards to seeing how faithful God is.”
What was it like working with Shirley Caesar?
“A legend. When I was with her, I thought about Rev. Cleveland so much and Albertina (Walker) because when I was working with Rev. Cleveland, I was in my early 20’s, so Albertina became like my mom on the road. “Wrap up, cover up” She would cool collard greens on a hot plate in a hotel room. I mean, I grew up with those ladies, so to be able to work with Pastor Shirley Caesar reminded me of all of them. Also, just the fact that she is truly a legend and a phenomenal gift, one of the greatest gifts that I believe that God has ever given the kingdom of God. The main thing is the longevity that God has given her and the strength. She is in her golden years, but she hung with me. I mean she would sing on that mic for sometimes 6, 7, 8 hours. So God gave us chemistry together and I believe he’s given her songs that are going to bless the church.”
You’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, how have you evolved over time?
"Every album, I try to show growth and that’s why I don’t do a record every year. It’s been five years and I tell people I have to live the songs first (laughs). I don’t just try to crank things out. I’m very, very, very meticulous and focused about my music, far more than anything else in my life. So I try not to outdo myself, but to show my growth as a musician and as a believer. If you listen to the first album I ever did, versus this last album, the depths of the lyrics are there, so it shows that I’ve grown and matured as a man of God and a musician as well. It makes for a tedious, very difficult process, but it’s worth it."
© 2013 Sarah Hearn