How to Destroy Your Music Career in a Matter of Hours: Kim Burrell, Homophobia and the Divaesque Spirit of Arrogance

Posted January 5, 2017 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Christian pastor and gospel singer preaches hate in homophobic sermon and watches her career implode overnight

kimburrrell-picEver heard of gospel singer Kim Burrell? Well, if you haven’t heard her music, you’ve probably seen her name dominating the news cycle for the last 45 hours.

A Houston, Texas native, Burrell rose up the ranks in the black gospel world as a melisma queen, impressing young fans of the Karen Clark style and even earning the nickname of “gospel’s Ella Fitzgerald of her generation.” Beyoncé Knowles, another notable Houston native, has even credited her as a vocal inspiration. After a decade of shuffling from one label to the next, first the defunct Tommy Boy Gospel division and then to the small-indie Shanachie label, Burrell found a new way to gain some type of relevancy, by appearing on other folks’ projects. She even became bosom buddies with the late Whitney Houston, allowing her to testify for her friend’s character and legacy on talk shows, cable news and celebrity news outlets. She showed up on albums for Ricky Dillard and Hezekiah Walker, for Richard Smallwood and Shirley Caesar, then for mainstream artists (Missy Elliot, Harry Connick, Jr., Stevie Wonder). In recent years, she earned a steady gig with BET as a vocal coach and judge on the gospel-focused reality-TV show Sunday Best, sitting with other established gospel performers such as Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Kierra Sheard, the daughter of Karen Clark. In 2011, a slight turn towards inspirational-tinged R&B dominated Burrell’s Love project, a Shanachie Entertainment-released disc overshadowed with cover tunes featuring the word “love” coming from popular R&B, pop and soul artists. The disc went nowhere.

Burell performing with Pharrell Williams

Burrell performing with Pharrell Williams

In 2016, Burrell was recently guest featured on Frank Ocean‘s Blonde album and also performed on “I See Victory,” a song heard on the Hidden Figures soundtrack, even appearing on Connick’s daytime talk show and performing alongside Pharrell at the Toronto International Film Festival. The big move seemed to be giving Burrell another grand shot at relevancy and introducing her to larger audiences. But her time in the spotlight may have very well ran out of the hour glass last weekend after stepping into a lake of fire of her own.

A video went viral of the singer/pastor preaching homophobic rhetoric and condemnation on gay people from the Love & Liberty Fellowship Church pulpit that she presides over as pastor. “That perverted homosexual spirit, and the spirit of delusion and confusion, it has deceived many men and women,” she proclaimed.

“[If] you open your mouth and take a man’s penis in your face, you are perverted,” she continued.

Burrell can be heard shouting that gays were going to hell in 2017, that the spirit of homosexuality is a deviant perversion and was a sin. She was weary of church members using the term “yas,” a popular catch phrase hyped in underground gay circles and often used in popular mainstream TV. It means “yes” but with extra sass. Burrell thinks these things are ungodly, carnal and should be utterly condemned, especially if one was to use it in her church. She also went on the deep end to assume that Eddie L. Long, the controversial Atlanta-based pastor who also has a history of stoking the homophobia waters, was dying of AIDS, and announced that he along with Andrew “I’m Delivert” Caldwell were “an embarrassment to the Body of Christ.” The rant was extremely homophobic, borderline malicious and terrifying to digest after a tumultuous political season gave way to a Trump-elect hate-bred climate.

Almost instantly, gay media — from to The Advocate — jumped on the audio excerpt and began spinning the headline, especially noting that Burrell was scheduled to appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ popular daytime talk show with Pharrell Williams to promote the film and soundtrack she’s featured in. Within the time period when the media largely aired her dirty remarks, Burrell went on Facebook Live twice to refute the claims and to suggest her words were being twisted to look as if she was a homophobe. Once she could be heard saying “go to bed; rest easy; I never said that all gays were going to hell. I never said that.” We double-checked, she said it. But you guessed it — no apology. She doubled down and tried to clarify her statements.

“I signed on to let y’all know…don’t you dare let what these people are saying think it’s rocking my world,” Burrell emphasized on a since-delete Facebook video. “No! I’m not to be shaken ’cause I’m out here for God and I came out here because I love people, to every person that is dealing with the homosexual spirit, that has it, I love you cause God loves you, but God hates the sin. Anything that is against the nature of God, I’m called to do what God called me to do.”

And making matters worse, Burrell closed one video titled “Final” with these words: “And all y’all saying we’ve been supporting you; I have yet to sell a million records, so where all of y’all at? I have yet to win a Grammy. Where is the support for real, since that’s the street y’all go on. I’m done being bothered.”


Those familiar with black church theology and the gospel artists that run in those circles shouldn’t be surprised at all by such vitriol aimed at gay, lesbian, bi and transgender populations. It’s most commonplace In those circles. And Although much of the rhetoric has been numbed since same-sex marriage has been introduced as law of the land, it’s still on the agenda in most charismatic Christian edifices, particularly in mainstream Christian denominations and those practicing Apostolic, Pentecostal, Holiness and other sanctified traditions.

Burrell has since taken down her Facebook Live remarks, possibly hoping the boiling waters and the distracting news story would cool down. It didn’t.

Pharrell Williams condemned Burrell’s statements on Instagram. “I condemn hate speech of any kind,” the producer/singer wrote. “There is no room in this world for any kind of prejudice. My greatest hope is for inclusion and love for all humanity in 2017 and beyond.” Others including Blacks Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon band leader Questlove also openly opposed Burrell’s homophobic views. Singer Janelle Monaé, who stars in the film Hidden Figures, also posted her statements against Burrell’s views. She echoed them proudly before the TMZ cameras while leaving an airport. Octavia Spencer, another star in the film, also championed Pharrell’s post, adding “I agree. We are all God’s children [sic], equal in his eyes. Hatred [and intolerance] isn’t the answer.”

I agree. We are all God’s children equal in his eyes. Hatred isn’t the answer. Intolerance isn’t the answer.

A photo posted by Octavia Spencer (@therealoctaviaspencer) on

Soul legend Chaka Khan worked with Burrell in the past and expressed the same type of commentary. In a Twitter post on December 31, Khan tweeted, “it never fails that ministers promoting judgement and hate have nothing to do with the divine. Love is for everyone.”

Yolanda Adams, Burrell’s cast mate on Sunday Best, also blasted Burrell’s viewpoint, even jumping in the fire to defend Eddie Long. “As a person who has gay relatives and friends, I had to put these words in the atmosphere to combat the unwarranted and unproven attack on my friend, Bishop Long. Hateful words are never profitable to the cause of Christ in the world.”

Katonya Breaux, Frank Ocean’s mother, also wants her son to distance from the shit storm. In a tweet to her son, she asks if it was possible to remove Burrell’s vocals from the track she’s featured on [“Godspeed”].

After a petition began circulating and racking up more than 6,000 signatures, Ellen DeGeneres posted a tweet that “Burrell will not be appearing on my show.”

Christians outlets, even sympathizers like the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, have tried to make it appear as if Burrell apologized via her Facebook Live videos. She didn’t. Don’t be fooled by the fake news. In the videos, which now lives for eternity via YouTube through re-post pollination, Burrell stated: “I don’t have to backtrack…I’m showing the love of God, to speak to that teachable spirit that will hear it. I’ve been out here too long to backtrack. I’m not getting into a one-on-one with spirits that don’t understand.”

Burrell has been relatively mute since the fiasco turned into a Category 5 hurricane. Her social media outlets, even on Instagram, have been left inactive since the story went viral. So far recent posts are earmarked with comments from followers mostly blasting Burrell’s troublesome views.

Gospel legend and multiple-Grammy winner Shirley Caesar, who worked with Burrell’s 2002 Duets album, made headlines on Wednesday evening for trying to speak on the Kim Burrell story, but failed to mention her by name. Gay media tried to make it appear as if she was defending Burrell’s anti-gay views. “To the pastors, anytime you want to say somethings to your church, to your members, collect the [cell] phones at the door,” Caesar remarked, inciting light laughter from the audience of 5,000 at First Baptist Church in Glenarden. “So if there’s something you want to say in-house, you better have the ushers there to get their phones and the other people’s phones.” I come tonight to tell you that all of us have made a whole lot of mistakes. If the walls could talk, if hotel beds could talk, so if you were gonna say something. You should have said it four years ago when our president made that stuff alright.” The phrasing of “that stuff” and the mention of President Obama’s support towards same-sex marriage made it seem as if Caesar was an opponent of the LGBT community, something rushed to publish once social media heard of Caesar’s comments. But judging from the entire clip, it isn’t written in stone that the gospel star was in total support of Burrell’s comments. Caesar may just be stating if Burrell was so adamant against homosexuality, why didn’t she speak up about it when the court victories for the LGBT community were made.

While vaguely commenting on the viral story, Caesar choose to keep a tight lip on her views towards the LGBT community and opted to speak on the lessons learned during Burrell’s crisis. “Now I’m learning to process it before I speak. I’m learning now to speak too fast because once it’s out there, it’s gone.”

The only person of any type of relevance that has rushed to Burrell’s aid, as of January 3, has been R&B singer and former The Real co-host Tamar Braxton. “We need to show her love, pray for her understanding and help her realize that what she has been brought up to believe isn’t the way the world and things really is,” the “Love & War” singer wrote on Instagram. She also went off the rail to condemn those that are rushing to stone her but still voted Donald Trump into office.


Placing Braxton’s side bar aside, Burrell and those that support her have exposed to the masses a deep and troubling trend in modern-day Christianity regarding their views on the LGBT community. It’s a nasty stain that everyone is now talking about.

Respected clergy are sounding off. Yvette Flunder, infamous for her contributions to the best-selling Walter Hawkins’ gospel series Love Alive, pastors an affirming gay church and fellowship in the Bay Area. An open lesbian, Flunder took a more rational approach to helping foster healthy dialogue on the matter while addressing Burrell’s views. “Wishing death on a people is one step from facilitating it. Sexuality exists without practice, like race, and the Black church is woefully bereft of a forum to work through these realities. We must take responsibility to address this.”

American Idol finalist David Hernandez (who came out as gay in 2016) also spoke up about the matter while also acknowledging a deep infatuation for her musical gift. “Through the years I have admired you and often learned from you, attempting to duplicate your runs and riffs to no avail,” the singer posted on Facebook. “Hearing you preach your words of hate and homophobia really floored me this morning. Shame on you for bringing more hate into a world that is trying to heal and exist in peace. Hateful words, sermons and speeches under the [veil] of religion, is still hate.”

As the story unfolds, it looks as if the vitriol of hate is what burned Kim Burrell’s career. 2017 was supposed to be a landmark beginning for her career, with an Ellen appearance and possibly even more opportunities in the world of mainstream. But that looks to be a dead-end now since Burrell isn’t going to back track on her words. And that’s because the religious-amped ambassadors of the cross are often full of themselves, a moxie, pompous arrogance knitted together by authoritarian dogma, that it’s virtually impossible to see any type of humility in their supposed Christ-like character. It’s rare these days for a pastor or a religious leader to admit their faults openly, or step down from leadership. And the same should be expected of Burrell.

Social media posts before the New Year scribbled that 2016, a year marred by ferocious deaths in the music world, had claimed yet another life: Kin Burrell’s music career. Adding to the fodder was the mention of Mariah Carey’s career, which seemed to have spiraled into a burning pasture of destruction after a terrible malfunctioned lip-sync performance on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve special. As bad as it was, Carey will easily recover; we’re used to her jinxed performances. Her faux pas was music related. Burrell, on the other hand, will probably not recover. And here’s why. She’s tainted from the barrage of headlines — music trade publication Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and even TIME picked up on the story. It seems that she failed to secure a viable publicist to help release a press statement to combat the flames of her career homicide and to issue some authentic apology to those she hurt with her off-the-cuff remarks. All of this could have thwarted if only Burrell would have sincerely apologized instead of acting like a stubborn diva.

And now, after this week’s Ellen cancellation, it seems as if Burrell’s career may be on hold indefinitely. During the interview with Pharrell, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres brought up the leading news story. Pharrell, appearing slightly nervous, talked about his now distancing of the beleaguered singer. “There’s no space, no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017. She’s a fantastic singer and I love her just like I love everybody else…this is a big, gigantic, beautiful and colorful world and it only works with inclusion and empathy.” It’s also been announced that her Bridge the Gap radio show on Houston’s KTSU, a private radio station powered by Texas Southern University, has also been cancelled.



1/5: The administrator of Kim Burrell’s Facebook page has suspended her account.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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