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Praise Singer

Soul Man: Gospel star Daryl Coley

Daryl Coley treads the gospel pathway

By Nicky Baxter

There was a point in his life when Daryl Coley's soul was divided. Should he join the ranks of secular artists or should he devote his talent exclusively to the less glitzy but spiritually satisfying gospel arena? After a long period of soul-searching, Coley chose the latter path. More than a decade later, the 40-year-old singer and pastor is certain he made the right decision.

Until that fateful choice, Coley had been splitting his time between praise singing and working with jazz and R&B artists like Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis. But entry to the pop world was opened to him because of his increasing prominence in gospel music; as a teenager, he sang with nonsecular superstar Edwin Hawkins.

That Coley was initially drawn to both idioms is no surprise considering his background. As a youth in Oakland, he was exposed to black jazz and white classical music. And because he grew up in a devoutly Christian home, gospel music was an essential part of his musical--and moral--development.

Like many, Coley was taken with the Hawkins Singers' crossover hit, "Oh, Happy Day." As much as the powerful and dramatic singing impressed him, it was the tune's appealingly contemporary arrangement that really turned Coley's head. That lesson--fitting old-time gospel music into a pop-styled framework--has carried over into his solo career.

Over the course of half a dozen albums, Coley has forged a distinctive sound that mates a lush gospel-chorale style with sophisticated musical arrangements that wouldn't be out of place on an Anita Baker record. His 1985 debut, Just Daryl, recorded after he migrated to L.A. to work as a soloist with the Rev. James Cleveland's famed group, garnered massive airplay on religious-music stations. The Collection: Daryl Coley's 12 Best-Loved Songs (Sparrow), out earlier this year, brings together his most popular tunes and ought to do respectable business.

Still, surviving on the meager earnings as a gospel singer is far from easy. According to Coley, "If it wasn't for God, a lot of us [nonsecular artists] would starve to death! Sometimes the gospel community acts so aloof, but they're not supporting those of us singing only gospel music."

He goes on to point out that some of these same holier-than-thou folk don't mind forking over $40 bucks to see, say, Whitney Houston, but gripe about paying $10 to see a gospel performance. Still, Coley retains a positive outlook: "I think gospel is moving towards greater acceptability. It's the only music that can give you answers to questions, that can lift your spirits."

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From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 1995 issue of Metro

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