Singing Background
Duawne Starling

Classically trained, Duawne Starling has been asked to sing with some of Gospel's biggest names, from Kirk Franklin to Donnie McClurkin, Fred Hammond, CeCe Winans, Out of Eden and Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Starling also writes and produces, with some perhaps knowing him most for his material on the popular Gospel wedding project, With This Ring. In 2004, Starling ventured out into the solo arena, delivering Inside Out.

As part of our continuing series (click here for more) on background singers, GOSPELflava.com spoke to Duawne Starling.

GOSPELflava.com: How have you prepared to move from background singer and enter as a solo artist?

Duawne Starling: More than anything I have been preparing myself spiritually. Years ago I was content to be a Christian entertainer, whatever that is, but God had another plan for me. I understand that my music is His tool for ministry and that I cannot take it lightly. I will often Duawne Starling stand between life and death for those I minister to. How can I take that lightly? God called me to Howard University School of Divinity where I am currently getting a Masters of Religion. I'll be done soon. I want to be equipped for this thing. My life is not my own, nor is my music my own, but they both are God's instruments that He uses to build up His kingdom.

GOSPELflava.com: Can you describe for us your most memorable vocal sessions?

Duawne Starling: I am assuming you mean studio sessions. My first studio session was with Daniel Winans in 1993 but my first recording session was two years earlier with Kirk Franklin. That one will always be special to me because I was just so excited to be a part of it. I loved the music we were doing so it never felt like work. What stands out most is this. The last song on the CD is "Till We Meet Again". In rehearsal each solo was done by one of the female members but at the recording Kirk grabbed me by the hand and started pulling me out of the group to the solo mic. We actually had dialogue on the way to the mic. I said, "What are you doing? This isn't my song, this is Cassy's song." He said, "I want you to sing it." I said, "I don't know the words." Then he said, "I'll give you the words." Well Kirk is a whole foot shorter than me and I was literally leaning down to hear him whisper the words to me, and then standing up straight to sing in the mic. When the song's pace picked up and there was not enough space between the phrases to go back and forth he just shouted the words to me. If you go back and listen to that song you can hear him telling me the words. I'm the last solo on "Till We Meet Again." That was thirteen years ago but it really just seems like moments.

GOSPELflava.com: What do you do to work on your range?

Duawne Starling: In all honesty I really don't. I just work with what I have. In high school and college I studied classical voice and my teacher would take me through these exercises called vocalises which are basically different types of scales. In college we would warm up my voice for about ten or fifteen minutes with these exercises before singing any songs. Duawne StarlingWarming up is crucial. This technique acquaints the singer with the voice and can actually stretch the range. Vocal chords are just like any other muscle. Body builders pretty much know the limitations their muscles have and believe me I know where my voice can't go. When I started studying voice in high school my top note was I think a G above middle C. On a good day I could pull an A. In college, a combination of vocalises and my voice maturing took me up to high C. That's C above middle C. A few years later, and on a very good day I could pull an E flat. I'm sure I have reached my plateau and I'm quite comfortable with leaving the really high stuff to the younger guys. A tenor's top range is around high C and now I very seldom will try to go beyond that.

GOSPELflava.com: What is your most memorable experience with regards to background singing?

Duawne Starling: Wow, there are so many. It's very hard to pick one. I remember being in Hartford, CT in March of 2001 with Donnie McClurkin. Donnie always had an altar call at the end of his ministry and would always pray for people before we left the stage. Like clockwork the alter call went forth and many people came down. One guy in particular just tugged at my spirit and for the life of me I could not understand why. We were singing "Stand" and I could not stop feeling the urge to pray for this kid. I'm thinking, "I can't pray for him because that's just not me. That's Donnie's job." I was visibly troubled inside and I looked over at another singer and she said, "Go pray for him." I said, "I don't know what to say." She said, "Just PRAY!" This was out of my comfort zone and I was so used to making excuses for not doing what I often felt lead to do. Why should today be any different? I then said, "God why is Donnie not praying for him?" God immediately spoke to me and said, "Because I want you to." So I went for it. As scared as I could be I went for it. I was blessed and I believe the kid was as well. He never saw me come to him because his eyes were closed. I just put my hand on his shoulder and prayed. As we were leaving the stage I started in his direction. I thought I would go and introduce myself. God spoke again, and this time louder and said, "You've done what I asked you to do and that's enough. Anything else is for self." I immediately turned around and went to the dressing room. I began understanding that night that my calling was greater than I initially thought and that I always need to be in the right place spiritually.

GOSPELflava.com: What can you tell us about your own solo album, and what it means to you?

Inside Out
CD The album then mellows into a collection of beautifully rendered songs, ably interpreted by Starling in ways appropriate to the variety of styles, messages and atmospheres that they bring. His tenor stylings foster.... Full Review

Duawne Starling: The title of the CD is Inside Out. It is a musical autobiography of the last ten years of my life, barring one song about my father. God has taken me on a journey that has sometimes been painful but always for my good. I share my heart about my failures, my fears, my worship and my praise.

Inside Out is a collection of songs that minister to me. I did not set out to do a cd that is so broad in its direction however that's what Inside Out is. I believe it reaches some part of everybody. It is honest and it is transparent. I love each song for different reasons so I can't say I have a favorite. "I Can Do This" will definitely encourage you. I wrote that one to myself when I was really going through and I needed some encouragement. King David encouraged himself while he was hiding out in caves running from Saul. I thought if he could do that for him then I could do it for me. "Crazy Love" talks about just how deep the love of God goes. That's a great song. "There" captures my heart on tape. There is no place like the presence of God and "There" speaks of God's presence as a place. Once you've been there you just have to go back. "Holy Spirit" is my prayer. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to do what's before me. I can't do it alone and I simply won't try because I know I will fail.

Richard Smallwood is featured on the piano and does what only he can do. "All God's Children" is light-hearted and funky. It speaks to the fact that we are all more alike than we are different no matter what shade we're colored. "Somedays" is the song I wrote to my wife. I will always have a song for her on every cd I record. It simply says in marriage some days will be great and some not so great but our love will keep us together. "Carried Away" is the first single and it talks about how in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 God is coming back to take those of us who love Him away with Him. I can't wait to be forever with my Lord. I pray all will be blessed by the melodies of my heart and that I will make it my daily task to enlighten, encourage, and empower the people of God.

Stay tuned for more in this series on background singers...

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interview by Dwayne Lacy

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