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Rachel Kerr: Just divine

SPREADING THE GOSPEL: Rachel Kerr

ONLY THE best are invited to sing for Presidents, let’s be real. Whether it be Beyoncé or Marilyn Monroe, your vocal chords have to be lined with a certain type of gold before you step foot on a stage to entertain America’s top man.

So, for UK singer Rachel Kerr, a chance to serenade the country’s former President Bill Clinton, placed her on a very exclusive list.

“That, for me, was a truly amazing experience,” says the 24-year-old singer/songwriter.

“We got the call to do it last summer, but I thought my manager was joking.

“I had a feeling that I would be singing in one room and [Bill Clinton] would be in the other, but when I walked off stage he came to see me. He said he had been talking to someone and heard me singing and said, ‘Oh my God, who’s that girl?’

“He was so complimentary and encouraging. He literally went out of his way, I really appreciated that.”

But Clinton wasn’t the only person to notice the Birmingham-born singer’s powerhouse vocal chords.
At 15, Rachel appeared on ITV 1’s Stars In Their Eyes as her “musical icon”, R&B songstress Aaliyah, becoming the youngest contestant to reach the finals.

And just a few months after singing for Clinton, she also won a Music Of Black Origin (MOBO) award for ‘Best Gospel Artist’ - a feat she says has thankfully “opened more doors” and exposed her music to a wider audience.

“It really is a blessing,” she says. “I find that people pay a bit more attention now. What was really weird is that I trended on Twitter after my win. Of course that would never have happened if people hadn’t seen me on the MOBOs.”

Since her win at the annual award ceremony, Rachel has performed at a number of notable events including BET’s popular Rip The Runway show and was invited to sing the national anthem at the British Basketball finals.

Her award-winning voice and subsequent success, she says, is down to a childhood spent in the church – and a family who have also been blessed with vocal chords of gold.

“I always say there is no coincidence that some of the best musicians and vocalists came from the church. It’s the best training ground. Not only does it teach you how to sing, or how to present yourself in front of people and how to inject passion into what you’re singing, it teaches you humility and the art of serving without being paid, or without people necessarily applauding you.”

Although she admits that much of her earlier years in the house of the Lord were spent in the pews with friends “bussing joke about church deacons”, she is quick to point out that her faith-filled youth “made her childhood so rich.”

She said: “To this day, my friends, who I have known for 24 years, and grew up with me in the church, cannot meet up without laughing. I really felt engaged with my culture and my faith. For me, it was the best place to grow up.”

Her house was just as musical as praise and worship at her local church. Rachel’s dad, gospel’s legendary Dalton Kerr, who she describes as “the world’s best undiscovered talent”, was a singer/songwriter, her mother was the lead of One Accord - a band comprised of the star’s aunties - and her uncles were all musicians.

“Everyone in my family is musical in one way or another,” she laughs. “Music was everywhere when I was growing up”.

Last month, Rachel released her inspirational debut single I Will Love Me to rave reviews and almost 10,000 views on YouTube.

But in an industry where scantily clad women usually accompany songs explicitly talking about sex or the female form, how does the singer, whose roots lay heavily in gospel music, honestly think she will fare?

“I feel like when you’re given a gift, after a while it won’t be boxed, it can’t be boxed. There are so many people I look up to like Whitney Houston, who also started in the church. For the longest time people wanted to box her as an R&B artist, but her voice crossed every genre possible. She did gospel, she did pop, she did R&B, the beauty of her gift was just so powerful.”

She added: “To be honest, I don’t want to pre-occupy myself with a title, my main thing is that I know my purpose and I know what my mission is. As long as my songs show that, I’ve done my job.”

But does Rachel, who, like so many of our British stars will move to the US in a few weeks, think there’s a place for gospel music in the UK?

“I’d like to be positive and say yes. I think a lot of what is said in gospel is relevant to everybody’s lives, but I think it has to be packaged in a way that can be received by the masses. I see the likes of [US gospel singer] Marvin Sapp, who is doing great things in the mainstream for gospel. You see every type of music represented in America. I hope that happens here.”

Aside from a new life in the US, what else does the future hold for the burgeoning star?

“It will be unexpected, mind-blowing and sure-proof that with God, anything is possible.”

I Will Love Me is out now. For more information, visit: www.rachelkerrmusic.com or follow @RachelKerrMusic on Twitter

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