excerpts via: crossrhythms.co.uk, gospelcity.com
Yesterday, I gave you all a little unknown fact about Donald Lawrence’s ties to Cincinnati. Today, I’m going to shift the attention on a Cincinnati native, who is a true overcomer : Gospel artist Darwin Hobbs.
A lot of you know about Darwin and the gospel hits he’s made : Glorify Him, So Amazing, and Free. At the age of ten, he was blessed with an amazing voice, singing at the El-Bethel church in Avondale. He sang so well, that the church took him out of the children’s choir, and put him in the adult choir. Traci, Darwin’s wife of six years and best friend for the past 20, jokes, “He thought he was a big shot because he got to sing with choir members who were much older that he was.”
Darwin’s road was not an easy one. At 10 years old, he was struggling to overcome his parents’ divorce and adjusting to a new stepfamily. Most recently, Darwin confessed in public about being sexually abused by his stepfather. In an interview with crossrhythms.com, he said.
I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. More than on the prevention side of it, I want to bring awareness and I want to share my testimony to help people who are survivors. Hopefully through that a lot of prevention will happen. At the age of 11, I was sexually violated by my stepfather, whom my mother met after divorcing from her first husband. It changed the landscape of my life. This guy was my mother’s knight in shining armour, but he was my worst nightmare
What made things more difficult was the feeling of uneasiness Darwin had, knowing that his perpetrator was sitting right next to him at church. He said his stepfather would tell lies to him to keep him from telling anyone. He would say things like, if you tell anyone then you’re a sissy and no one would believe you.
Darwin’s inner demons would not stop him from achieving singing success. After those early days at El-Bethel, Darwin continued to impact listeners with the unique strength of his voice, performing in school ensembles, various Cincinnati community choirs, and several vocal groups. He also began to pursue vocal training, studying classical music and working alongside other local Gospel artists.
In 1996, Darwin moved down to Nashville to jump-start his career, being back up vocals to artists like CeCe Winans, Shirley Murdock, and Bishop TD Jakes. It was while singing backing vocals on a Sarah Masen album that Hobbs met producer Charlie Peacock who subsequently arranged an introduction to EMI Christian Music Group head Bill Hearn, which led to a contract with EMI Gospel.
One year later, EMI Gospel released ‘Mercy’, produced by industry legends Fred Hammond, Cedric and Victor Caldwell and Chris Rodriguez. An excited Hobbs told CCM magazine, “It’s crazy, it’s happened so fast. That’s the biggest mystery to everybody. But we know Who it is. My wife and I just prayed that the favour of the Lord would be upon us. . . And that’s what’s happened. It’s the Lord.”
In 2000 EMI Gospel released Darwin’s ‘Vertical’ album. It included a gospelisation of the Luther Vandross smash “So Amazing” with the female quartet Virtue backing the soulful tenor. Also guesting on the album was disco queen Donna Summer, who contributed to a soulful duet with Hobbs on “When I Look Up” while another gem was Hobbs’ funky rendition of “Everyday” with blue-eyed soulman Michael McDonald. Commented Bil Carpenter in Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia, “Had EMI Gospel had an urban radio team, the song could have easily crossed over to mainstream urban radio. But Hobbs’ music has never received the embrace from gospel radio that it deserves and thus he’s still lacking that defining hit song.”
In 2002 Hobbs appeared in the film and on the soundtrack of HBO’s Boycott. It included a scorching duet with diva Karen Clark Sheard. Hobbs told gospelflava website, “It was great to work with Karen. I found it amazing that a person with the level of giftedness that she has, walks in such humility. [For the duet], there was actually no specific method of preparation I did with regard to singing with her. It was more mental as it relates to the style of singing needed for the Boycott era. Karen and I both learned the song about five minutes before singing it, so everything was very impromptu.”
More EMI Gospel albums followed in 2004 (‘Broken’) and 2005 (‘Worshipper’). Hobbs took up an appointment as a worship leader at Eddie Long’s famed mega church New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the years worship had become an increasingly important part of Hobbs’ spiritual life and the ‘Worshipper’ album with 10 songs produced by the award winning team of Israel Houghton and Aaron Lindsey (plus three urban gospel bonus tracks) reflected this. Darwin said, “I think this album will speak to the deep places in people who are worshippers already and I believe it will also draw others to a level of worship they may never have encountered before. The bonus tracks are to let people know we still know how to kick it and hopefully to bring people into this experience who well may be venturing into the church for the first time ever.”
Darwin Hobbs is an overcomer that did not let his hardships take over him. Despite the troubles in his past, he continued to strive for excellence. He is a perfect example of how Cincinnatians find the path to success!