Gospel star DARYL COLEY has battled against homosexuality and diabetes on his way to singing success. Teresa E Hairston reports.
His voice has been acknowledged as one of the most satisfyingly soulful in contemporary gospel. His albums stay in the Billboard gospel chart seemingly forever while he has a sideboard of awards proclaiming his stature as one of America's gospel luminaries. Daryl Coley is possibly gospel's most popular male solo singer. But beyond the acclaim is a story that includes a battle with homosexuality and in more recent times, a debilitating illness that threatened to finish his career in gospel.
Daryl Coley was born in Berkeley, California 38 years ago. His parents separated when he was five years old. He and his two siblings were raised by his mother and although times were somewhat difficult, Coley's mother provided a solid Christian home for her children. Daryl spent his formative years in Oakland, California and received early spiritual training in the Mt Zion Baptist Church, pastored by Rev W A Holley. Musically, Coley, who has one of the most unique voices in gospel, was first influenced by his mother. "I remember my mother doing her vocal exercises and me imitating her." Daryl stated, "In my house there was gospel, classical and jazz. I had that kind of musical influence." In 1968, when Edwin Hawkins released "Oh Happy Day", the contemporary arrangement caught Coley's ear. In December of 1969, at the age of 13, Coley first heard Helen Stephens And The Voices Of Christ, and by February of the next year had become a member of the nationally acclaimed ensemble. During his high school years, Coley was a student of Phillip Reeder, choir director at the school. Reeder helped Coley broaden his musical boundaries and even influenced him to advance to college. Coley's career advanced further as he pursued studies on the college level. Coley was a top student, working diligently toward his business degree he even assisted in teaching college courses. However, when things began to open up musically, Coley took a break from his studies.
Singing with Edwin Hawkins got Coley moving in national gospel circles. Later he served as musical director for Tramaine Hawkins when she launched her solo career. Coley simultaneously branched out in secular circles, singing in jazz clubs, working with artists like Sylvester, Pete Escovedo (Sheila E's dad) and others. Finally, the decision had to be made whether to sing gospel or secular music. "I really was between a rock and a hard place," observed Daryl.
During this period Daryl found himself inveigled in the gay scene. It took years of counselling and prayer before Daryl was to gain the victory. "Artists in general are very sensitive people, who are very open," comments Daryl. "So there's not a 'distinction' in feeling for people and for situations. The Enemy really makes himself prevalent in (sexual) situations and it takes the Lord to help you overcome. We've got to deal with sexuality across the board. Not just the gay life. Sometimes we feel like (when) we get wrapped up in a person, (then) maybe the Lord will make allowances, but if it's not the way the Word says, it stems from unrighteousness. It's a spirit that's transferred throughout the whole thing. So you have to be very careful. Young men and young women are impressionable. There's a line we just have to teach our children to maintain. As a church, we preach against homosexuality, but we don't deal with the subtleness of the Enemy. How it can woo you and get you at your lowest point."
Daryl has made a point of speaking out about his homosexual sins of the past. "That would have never happened unless I had total trust in the Lord and spiritually stepped totally outside of Daryl and allowed God to step in. But there were so many people that came up to me and let me know, 'Daryl, (your testimony) was a point of deliverance for me. It becomes a point of being transparent and trusting God.' I still get approached, and still get the looks, but I know how to handle it and how to deal with it and not be offensive. How to maintain integrity."
Daryl's wife of 13 years, Jenelle, has become a strong ally in his ministry. Travelling with him and working in the capacity of booking agent and manager, she is faithfully by his side. Together they have three children, an older adopted son and two younger children. Coley describes the trio as, 'My gifts from the Lord.' His eldest son is grown and out on his own. The younger siblings are 11-year-old daughter Moniladae and nine year old son Teceion. Coley notes, "Moniladae, whose name means 'beautiful and wise', is a real sensitive, very talented person." Coley adds, "She's a dancer and a singer, but she has a real sensitive heart. At the (Youth Crusade) there were a few people who gave their hearts to the Lord and they were hungry, so the next day Moni came home and made sandwiches for them." Teceion is quiet and observant. Coley observes, "He's a musician and a singer -likes to play the piano and drums." Coley proudly adds, "This boy can really pray! Both of them are a delight, and they're excellent in school. The enemy attacks them; my daughter in dreams and my son physically - he got hit by a car two years ago. But God proved himself even in that."
The pivotal period in Daryl's emergence to the top of the gospel tree came when he was being offered lucrative R&B engagements. Torn between needing money offered by the world and his desire to sing for Jesus, Daryl desperately called on God. Coley's answer came through the influence of contemporary gospel artist, Danniebelle Hall. "I was at the Gospel Music Workshop of American in Houston, TX and for the first two or three days Danniebelle and I just hung out and she really ministered to me. The Spirit of the Lord had her there for that purpose. She talked to me. She felt the pull. What the Lord essentially said to me was that he had pre-ordained people who would be blessed by the ministry that he had deposited in me and if I'd have chosen a secular career - of course, he had an alternate plan. But I made a decision to be in the ministry - not just to entertain, but this really became a ministry to me once the Lord explained to me his purpose for my life."
Since that time the road hasn't been easy. Coley explains, "There have been times when my lights have been off, my phone has been off, I've been evicted, my car has been repossessed. But God has proven himself to be who he says he is in his Word. I've become a valid witness that can tell you, 'Yes, God can do it.' When you really trust him, God will deliver, and bring you forth and bring you out - better than when you started. It might be a temporary inconvenience, but it's for permanent improvement."
Musically, Daryl Coley has been influenced by Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Gloria Lynn, Caravans, Thomas Whitfield, Rev James Cleveland, Benny Cummings and many more. He has had the opportunity to record with many of his mentors and has taken his place among them as one of the most unique talents in the musical world. But he still maintains his focus on ministry - even as one of the top artists in the gospel world.
Expounding on his views of the gospel industry, Coley offers, "We're still, as a people, trying to get somebody else's approval for the music that God has given us. I think we should start validating ourselves and supporting ourselves. I think we have to stop trying to please man and appease man; to get man's approval about the talent and the gifts of ministry that God has given to us. We need to please God. When we please God it goes beyond colour and race."
How does Coley feel about the issue of music ministry vs artistry? "(Gospel music) was never meant to be commercialised," he responds. "It is part of ministry. It's the only music that can give you answers to questions that can lift your spirits that can encourage you, that can empower you. Gospel is the only music that can take on any form of deliverance as far as the lyrical content. Hopefully, we can get away from dividing it between contemporary and traditional. I think that gospel is moving to a point of greater acceptability. I appreciate the secular artists, who want to keep an identity by having contact in the gospel community. Sometimes the gospel community wants to act so aloof and so 'grand'. But they're not supporting the ones who are (only) singing gospel. If it wasn't for God, a lot of us would starve to death! We haven't learned to appreciate one another and to show that appreciation. The same ones who complain about paying $10 to hear somebody sing gospel, feel nothing about paying $40-$50 to hear Whitney Houston or Anita Baker - and they're the same ones in the choir stand on Sunday, telling them 'Oooh chile! You know they sang up in there last night!' We take the ministry and the artistry for granted. And 99.9 per cent of the artists out there came out of the church! But the church in its ignorance has run them away!"
Coley's convictions of ministry are pervasive throughout his entire life. Two years ago, he founded the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, in Los Angeles, California. The growing congregation worships each week at 2:00pm at the Faith United Methodist Church facility. Founded under the umbrella of the Love Center Ministries (Bishop Walter Hawkins), Pastor Coley states that his congregation is fully involved in "Learning to be effective witnesses for the Lord."
Recently, the church sponsored a Youth Crusade under a canopy in a local park for a week. According to Coley, the response from the community was incredible. "A lot of homeless people came out, we were able to pray with a lot of people." Coley remembers how he encountered several homeless people with church backgrounds. "These people had hit a point in their lives where the Enemy convinced them that God couldn't love them because of the things they were involved in, and they walked away from God," Coley explained. "So what they were looking for was to come and hear what God has delivered you from - and what he's done for you. That can only come from you letting go of your 'good name' and telling folks, 'Yeah, I used to be this, that or the other...and I can stand here and tell you that God did the work.' (Then they understand) 'here's a person who has been where I am, and is real, and can stand here and tell me that God is real and I'm going to trust the testimony.'"
As Coley deals with his own life, ministry and faith, he has had to overcome many obstacles. Amongst his greatest struggles was in 1991 when his albums on Sparrow were first achieving national success. "I did a choir workshop at the Queen Street Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina. When God began to manifest - via the Holy Spirit - other gifts that were in operation in my ministry, we had great, great, great service that entire week! There was just a refreshing and a renewal for a lot of people. After I was home for two or three days, I got very ill. I mean, I woke up and couldn't get out of the bed. I just thought it was the flu, because of the symptoms. I didn't even go to the doctor. In fact, I was home for two weeks before I went to the doctor. I really didn't get concerned about it until I woke up about a week or so after the initial sickness and I couldn't see beyond a foot in front of me. When I finally did get to the doctor and started describing my symptoms, they took blood. My glucose count would not register on his machine. When they got the (blood) sample to the hospital, a week later, I talked to the doctor. He told me that it was juvenile diabetes and that my blood count was 1200 and my blood pressure was at stroke level. The doctor immediately said, 'We're going to have to put you on insulin and put you in the hospital. You shouldn't be up.' I just immediately started believing the Lord for healing. It was one of those things that was in my family. They said, 'you really don't fall into the family trait of diabetes until you're 35,' and I'd just had my 35th birthday."
About a year after the diagnosis, one of Coley's aunts died from the disease. At the time, the singer was ironically back at the Queen Street church in South Carolina. Daryl remembers the incident as a traumatic one. "The Enemy really tried to mess with me!" he recalled. "I told the doctor, 'For Daryl to surrender to having to take insulin meant surrendering to the Devil - saying "Yeah, I've got it, I'm defeated," and I was just determined that I wasn't going to let diabetes rule my life, and I wasn't going to take insulin. I told the doctor, 'While you determine how you're going to deal with it, I'm just going to turn my face to the wall and pray.' And I just began to pray and to believe God - and in the midst of it the Lord spoke to me. Really, it was a situation of me needing to take better care of my body, better care of how I was eating, resting and exercising and my body would begin to heal itself. They gave me two kinds of medicine, one to take in the morning and one in the evening." In the midst of the illness, Coley's concert itinerary suffered. He had to cancel dates and, being a full time artist, this seriously affected his family's financial position. "But even in the midst of that, God blessed," he stated.
Even though it became necessary for Coley to begin seeing a doctor on a weekly basis, he maintained his spiritual focus. Without insurance, bills ran high, but he was able to find a Christian doctor who understood his situation. "With every examination, things got better," Coley remembered. "But in the course of that I was learning to eat the right foods and leave the junk food alone, how not to eat heavy food late at night and go to bed. I stopped drinking a lot of sodas and started drinking more water, and fruit juices, and I started exercising and even lifting weights. I was on a real strict diet for about a year and a half."
As Coley restricted his intake and restructured his eating habits, he says he asked God to help him maintain. Two years later he reports complete healing and no need for medication of any kind! "It was just simply standing on what God said, believing the Lord and holding on to my healing. I'll tell anyone - it's in the Word, 'as you believe - so be it unto you,'" exclaims Coley. "It's been an absolute miracle for me; I never took insulin and I haven't taken any other medication for the last two years. God says the power of creation is still in our tongues and we can create by what we say and our body has to come in line with what we confess before God."
The result of the entire ordeal strengthened Coley's faith. "I've gotten to the place where I believe God for anything," he says. "Your testimony means a whole lot more when you've faced it, gone through it, come out of it and you know God has proven himself." Coley observes, "The Enemy meant (the diabetes) for my defeat, but it actually strengthened me, and taught me how to deal with the temple of the Holy Spirit which is my body, and how to keep it healthy so it can be fit for God's service. It taught me how to be a good steward over this temple that God has given me."
Coley's last album on Sparrow 'In My Dreams' was a major gospel hit and his company have now assembled a 'Best Of...' compilation for immediate release. For the future, Coley is overflowing with ideas. He wants to branch into a production company, own a I radio station, run a record company, establish a performing arts college for Christians and write a book! But to sum up his aspirations the singer states simply, "I've learned to live day by day with what God wants."
In a slightly different form this article appeared in the November/December 1994 Score magazine and is used with permission.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.