Saaaang Chile! Secular Singers Who Started In The Church

July 8, 2014  |  
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There has always been a connection between gospel and secular music and some of the most popular artists have gotten their start singing in the church choir before making a name for themselves in mainstream music. For more on the black church, check out the new Moguldom Studios documentary “Black Church Inc.” available on iTunes and Google Play now.

Whitney Houston

Dubbed “The Voice,” Whitney Houston’s powerful pipes helped her become one of the best-selling singers of all time. But before she conquered the world of R&B and crossed over to become an international pop icon, the “I Will Always Love You” singer honed her natural talents at the church. She first stood in the spotlight singing in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey where her mother was the choir director. After suddenly passing away in 2012, Houston returned to her childhood church for her homegoing service.


As one of the male voices of R&B today, singer Usher has been making the ladies swoon for much of his career. While he’s known for his moves on the stage across the globe now, growing up he was plain old Usher Raymond IV performing solos at his church at the age of nine. Sean “Diddy” Combs first took a young Usher under his wings but it was Jermaine Dupri that helped the “Confessions” singer become a success. Usher most recently released the single “Good Kisser” and is slated to drop a new album soon.

Jessica Simpson

Jessica Simpson became a household name with the MTV reality show she starred in with her then-husband Nick Lachey. Growing up as the daughter of a youth minister, Simpson sang at her father’s church. The first album she ever recorded was a gospel album that was shelved after the record label went under. Tommy Mottola somehow got his hands on a copy and signed the Texas native to Columbia Records.

Diana Ross

She went from a singer in the church choir to leader of a popular Motown group to a successful solo artist and a diva in her own right. Diana Ross and The Supremes helped define the Motown sound but before her sticky sweet voice took her out of Detroit and around the world, Ross grew up singing in the church. After Ross went solo she also dabbled into the world of acting. Her performance in Lady Sings The Blues earned the “You Are Everything” singer both a Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

R. Kelly

R&B singer R. Kelly is known for his steamy (and raunchy at times) music but that is a stark contrast to some of his gospel-infused lyrics on other songs. The Chicago native grew up in the church choir and his music has reflected his roots. However, the Pied Piper made a name for himself with his sexually charged lyrics and his career took a serious hit when he faced child pornography charges.

Katy Perry

She kissed a girl and liked it. Katy Perry has emerged as a dominant force in the world of pop but she was once in the Christian music genre. Growing up in a strict household, Perry wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music and sang at her parents’ church. When she was ready to launch a professional singing career, Perry, who went by the name of Katy Hudson back then, first started out in gospel music. However, she soon gravitated to pop music and once she partnered with producer Dr. Luke for the smash hit “I Kissed A Girl,” Perry never looked back.

John Legend

John Legend first emerged on the music scene with his 2004 debut album “Get Lifted,” which blended R&B and soul. Ten years later his latest single “All Of Me” has been burning up the Billboard charts but the Ohio native first sang for an audience at church at the tender age of four. By seven he was playing the piano. Legend went off to college and was introduced to Lauryn Hill and was hired to play piano for her “Everything is Everything” and the rest is history.

Aretha Franklin

She’s earned R-E-S-P-E-C-T throughout her long and illustrious career in music and Aretha Franklin’s strong and powerful voice took her from small beginnings in Memphis, Tennessee to around the world as the Queen of Soul. She began singing in the choir of her father’s church and by the age of 18, Franklin was signed to Columbia Records. With 88 singles that made the Billboards under her belt, the “Natural Woman” singer is the most charted female artist in history.

Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne hardly looks like a singer that has roots performing in church. The Canadian singer’s style of rebellious punk rock helped her debut album sell over 15 million copies. Born to strict religious parents, Lavigne first started performing in church choirs. As a teenager, she learned how to play the guitar and started composing her own music. The “Complicated” singer originally gravitated towards country music before finding her own niche.

Faith Evans

Once the first lady of Bad Boy Records, Faith Evans emerged on the scene as an R&B singer in the 90’s but before she was singing under Sean “Diddy” Combs’ label, Evans was singing for the Lord. She began at the age of two and at four she was providing vocals for The 5th Dimension’s “Let The Sunshine In.” Working as a background singer for Al B. Sure, Evans grabbed Diddy’s attention and signed on to be his first female act on his label.

Anthony Hamilton

Anthony Hamilton was born and raised in the south but soon he relocated to Manhattan to follow his passion for music. Singing in the church at the age of 10, Hamilton penned Donell Jones’ “U Know What’s Up” and sang on tour with D’Angelo before he gained recognition singing the chorus for Nappy Roots’ “Po’ Folks.” Since then the “Comin From Where I’m From” singer has gone on to release numerous albums.


Brandy Norwood was 15 years old when she released her first album. By that time she had already established herself as a young actress. But before she was bit by the acting bug, Brandy was singing in the choir at her family’s church. Her parents moved the family from Mississippi to Los Angeles in hopes of helping their children launch a career in the entertainment field and the move paid off. Brandy went on to juggle both acting and singing while her brother Ray J has made a name for himself in reality television.

Carrie Underwood

After winning the fourth season of “American Idol,” Carrie Underwood has gone on to become country music’s darling. Growing up in a rural town in Oklahoma, Underwood first began singing in church. Soon she was performing in local talent shows and around town at local events. A year after earning the title on the popular singing competition show, Underwood released her debut single “ Inside Your Heaven.”

Kelly Price

Barely out of diapers, a young Kelly Price first starting in at church as a toddler. Born and raised in Queens, NY, Price grabbed the attention of Mariah Carey and was hired to sing background vocals for the “Butterfly” singer. Soon she was providing vocals for other artists before she got her turn as the artist in the limelight. The seven-time Grammy nominated singer has returned to her roots and released her first gospel album in 2005.

Little Richard

His charisma and over the top showmanship on the stage helped lay the foundation of rock and roll music. Little Richard’s success dates all the way back to the 1950’s and he has influenced artists from rap to funk. But before he left his mark on the music world, the Macon, Georgia native grew up in a Pentecostal church and enjoyed the live music that was incorporated with the Word. Soon he was singing with traveling shows that came to his town and before long, Little Richard left his humble beginnings to pursue a career of his own.

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