Manufactured from the seed of musical ancestry, William Kurk is a Chicago-born artist that comes from a family of artistic lineage. Son to musicians Beverly and William, Sr, grandson to Dr. Lena Mclin, and great nephew to Thomas A. Dorsey, Kurk is a torch bearer of the most distinguished values of humanity and arts.
Formal vocal training for Kurk started with his grandmother, Dr. Lena McLin at age 13. Prior to that, Kurk studied the flute, trumpet, guitar, and bass guitar. His first experience with an instrument was as early as nine-months old on drums. Singing was the first musical stronghold on the early years of Kurk’s artistic identity. Along with performing at various talent showcases around Chicago, singing in the church choir was quintessential to the process, while also singing in all-city youth chorus and mass services weekly as a student at Hales Franciscan High School.
Piano would eventually become the instrument of interest, and Kurk started his own study of the instrument by age 15. As early as 16, Kurk was playing in a big band led by the late-great Ken Chaney as an apprentice, and playing solo piano gigs around town. After graduating from Hales Franciscan High School, Kurk would attend Northern Illinois University for a semester to continue voice study with renowned baritone, Robert Sims (an esteemed pupil of Dr. McLin).
After a semester at Northern Illinois University, Kurk transferred to Columbia College Chicago, accepting a Jazz Studies scholarship for piano performance. While studying jazz pedagogy under the guidance of Bill Russo, Kurk was summoned for studio work as a session player for Motown/Universal artist Prophet Jones, as well as 143 Records. It was during these sessions that Kurk was introduced to Tom Washington (arranger for Earth, Wind, & Fire, Genesis, The Jacksons), who would instantly become a mentor in pop arranging and musicianship.
Kurk started piano accompaniment work at Black Ensemble Theater in 2001, where he played local and touring productions for a variety of shows. In 2002, Kurk began to tour with The Dells, as well as The Marvelettes, Platters, and Coasters, which would be a great aid in developing the mature musical components of Kurk.
After acquiring a Bachelors Degree (B.A) in Music Composition from Columbia College Chicago, Kurk continues to work as a freelance pianist, as well as for several theater companies as a musical director/sound designer/pianist. Kurk was nominated in 2007 for Best Musical Director by the Black Theater Alliance for the musical “Sarafina”. Other notable shows under the musical direction of Kurk include: “Once On This Island”, “Ragtime”, “Hair”, “Runaways”, “Godspell”, “Nefertiti”, “The Wiz”, “Trouble The Water”, and “Cabaret”.
William Kurk has always been passionate about the personal vision of art. An ambassador to the Chicago music scene by virtue of efforts to support fellow artists and the continued pursuit of maintaining original ideas, released five studio albums: ‘The Sound: Vol.1’ (2004), ‘The Sound: Vol. 2’ (2007), ‘The Sound: Vol. 3’ (2009), ‘Pop Fusion’ (2011), and ‘Super Pop Fusion’ (2012). Members of the Grammy-award winning band Yellowjackets are featured on the third album: Bob Mintzer and Will Kennedy on the contemporary jazz hit, “Another Day”. William Kurk has also been a host to many events and shows around Chicago, as well as reviewed several indie projects under the alias ‘The Musicianarian’.
Other studio credits outside of his own include: Seal, Melba Moore, Dwele, and Maysa Leak among many others. The William Kurk Enterprise- “LIVE IN CHICAGO” DVD was released in 2011, which is a live concert compilation of Kurk’s ensemble performing across Chicago.
Some of the other notable accompaniment work for Kurk includes: Dionne Warwick, Melba Moore, Martha Reeves, Koko Taylor, Stanley Jordan, Kindred The Family Soul, Andre DeShields, Chico DeBarge, Eric Roberson, Frank McComb, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, KRS-ONE, Julie Dexter, and Bill Cosby. Kurk has also been featured by the Chicago Music Association as one of the rising young composers on the scene, and is currently the keyboardist for R&B/Funk legend Steve Arrington. The future will present more music to come from William Kurk, as the latest project will be a tribute album to all the artists that have been an influence to the musical journey. The legacy continues.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What city and state are you from?
WILLIAM KURK: Chicago, IL. I never lived anywhere else, and Chicago has always been my primary habitat. No suburbs or townships; just the second city environment that made me into a unique vessel of wits and grit. South Shore to be specific, which is on the southeast part of town. Originally grew up in Bridgeport behind Comiskey Park, where the Chicago White Sox used to play.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What is your music background?
WILLIAM KURK: Long before I earned a B.A in Music Composition from Columbia College, the roots of my musical identity reside at home. My mother was a staff writer alongside Curtis Mayfield at Curtom Records, a backup singer for Jerry Butler, Bobby Hutton, as well as an accomplished electric and upright bassist. My father was a drummer with the Weapons Of Peace; a band signed to Playboy Records when the Playboy Company was still based in Chicago. Dr. Lena Mclin is not just my grandmother, but also the driving force behind my career as a professional musician. A recipient of two honorary doctrines in music humanities from Spelman College and Virginia Union University, she is a world-renowned vocal teacher, composer, arranger, and educator in music humanities. She is highly noted for being a vocal teacher to R.Kelly, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and being my first true teacher in life, going back to my inception into the world. My great uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, is the father of Gospel music, and I had the pleasure of growing up in the church while he was still alive and active in the music ministry. Everything that I hold near and dear to my musical commonwealth has something to do with the experiences I maintained with my family. Every single style of music was represented in my household during my growing pains. Classical, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Country, Pop, Motown, Disco, Soul, Adult Contemporary, Middle Of Road, Rap, Rock, and especially Gospel. I listened to it all, and grew up in the era where radio played everything under one format. I studied with my parents on the gig scene, while my grandmother kept me grounded with the sacred and classical studies. Reading and understanding the theory of music is mandatory in my household, so everybody must read music, know the history, and be capable of analyzing the components of musical composition and literature. By the time I got into college, I was just going through the motions until I earned the degree. Personally, my musical ability encompasses all of these things simultaneously, so I don’t claim a particular genre of interest; being pigeonholed is not something I’m good at.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: Why do you want to records and release your own music?
WILLIAM KURK: Going back to my years of adolescence, I always knew that I had a greater purpose through the means of my expression. Most artists have a multitude of motivations why they feel their work is the most valuable, but I can only speak for my own motivations. My music is a reflection of my struggle to be obtain a level of perfection through growth that we all embody as humans on earth, and while that perfection may never come in our lifetime, my music is the soundtrack that speaks of my greater depth as a person in the world; a testimony of the heart and mind that all people can relate to in life’s expedition. I mentioned my great uncle earlier (Thomas A. Dorsey), who conceived Gospel music by taking his original style of sacred music across the country, and selling it to churches. Without his vision to challenge the status quo to dare beyond the conventional, this genre would not exist. It is with this same fervor that I have chosen to press onward in my pursuit to challenge the mainstream with my own vision; to perhaps one day be a contributor to a style of music that lives beyond my own existence. Releasing my own music is the way and the truth to that path.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What are your songs about?
WILLIAM KURK: A song is simply a poem set to a melody, so I would describe my songs as ‘a template for humanity and the perilous cycle of conflict thereof’. Some songs are happy, sad, mad, spiritual, thought provoking, political, social, comedic, scientific, romantic, violent, cerebral, but they are all sovereign elements of who I am in my life journey. The songs are about my experiences and perspectives, and how my being can inspire and challenge the consciousness of the world. I also pay homage to the video game culture of my generation with songs like “Ms. Pac Man”, “Day Of Honor”, and “Revenge Of Mega Man”, so I write about gaming culture quite a bit too.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: Who is your fan base directed towards?
WILLIAM KURK: My appeal beacons to both young and seasoned listeners, but in the recent years, the younger audiences have become more involved. When I released my first indie project in 2004, the vibe was very mature, thus the audiences were mature; 30 years old and up. My performance style during that time involved the band wearing suits, and carried a very distinguished presentation. Since the release of my most recent albums in 2012 and 2011, the fascination has come from the younger demographic ranging from 18 years old and up. The band is completely casual now, and the vibe is more youthful. The music brings together families across the generations, because it’s made to appeal to all.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: Who are your musical influences?
WILLIAM KURK: My grandmother (Lena Mclin) is my first ever influence in my life. It was her music that I recall hearing in my earliest days upon the earth, and her ability to affect change in people through the music. Then comes along the artists that are known by the masses: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Yellowjackets, Al Jarreau, Gino Vannelli, Take 6, Pat Metheny, Chaka Khan, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Chicago, Swing Out Sister, Level 42, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Manhattan Transfer, New York Voices, Israel Houghton, Andre Crouch, Larnell Harris, Richard Smallwood, Bill Conti, David Foster, Marvin Gaye, Jay Graydon, Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Dave and Don Grusin, Luther Vandross, Ramsey Lewis, Ivan Lins, Hermeto Pascoal, Tania Maria, Casiopea, Billy Joel, Leon Ware, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maya Angelou, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Jr, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS ONE, Kinuyo Yamashita, Ayako Saso, YMCK, Stu Phillips, Tom Tom 84, Thomas A. Dorsey, Steve Arrington, Joe Jackson, Arturo Sandoval, Dizzy Gillespie, Jerry Hey, Richard Tee, Barry Eastmond, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Horace Silver, Toto, and Jackie Robinson to name a few.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: How would you describe your music to people?
WILLIAM KURK: ‘Pop Fusion’ has been the theme of my recent projects, combining the adult contemporary sound with the Pop-R&B sound. The description is a tribute to the era of music that emerged in the early 80’s; artists like George Benson, Al Jarreau, Manhattan Transfer, Michael Franks, and George Duke made music that maintained a musical depth, while also having significant mainstream success. The audience that receives my music openly has typically been the contemporary jazz crowd, but the Pop/R&B/Hip-Hop enthusiasts have taken an active curiosity in my music as well.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What makes you stand out from other artists?
WILLIAM KURK: Everybody has a dream, but very few have a vision, and what I aim to achieve will exhaust every bit of my existence to sow the seed for the harvest of future generations. My vision can hopefully see the light of day upon my days on the earth, but I know that what I’m building will stand on the foundation of something monumental, like a skyscraper built long before our arrival, or a work of art that is worthy of being in a museum. Vision is the special ingredient that keeps me sovereign from the stampede. Many artists have talent, ambition, and some are fortunate to have sex appeal, but what I aspire to leave behind is a template for how music should be. Musicianship, knowledge, sophistication, and enlightenment are my contributions to the world, and that is why my art is the calling card to distinguish my journey from the multitude.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What are some upcoming projects that you are currently working on?
WILLIAM KURK: The latest project on the horizon is a tribute album that will focus on my arrangements of previously released works by some of my top influences in history. The title of the double-disc project is “Legacy”, and is unlike any of my previous projects, which have all been original compositions. The album is a mixture of heavy production and arrangement, along with glimpses of acoustic performances. This album also features guest appearances from some of the rising stars in indie music such as Chester Gregory, Gloria Ryann, Selan, Lili K, Chris Rob, Marqueal Jordan, and Khari Parker. This project has been a massive undertaking, so it will be bittersweet to finally release it to the people. I also have my original music that I continue to write and record daily, but the “Legacy” project is something that will bring context to my current audience, and introduce my craft to a new manifold of listeners.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
WILLIAM KURK: My life as a full time musician has given me the pleasure to work alongside many awesome talents, both locally and beyond. While this has been a blessing to my vast understanding of the art and the business, my main goal is to retire from being a work-for-hire musician, and allow for my own art to be the primary means of sustenance. My vision will demand a sacrifice that cannot be maintained as a sideman for the rest of my life, and although I’ve been fortunate to live a parallel lifestyle of being an artist and a vocational musician, I don’t see myself performing in restaurants, clubs, and bars as a hired musician10 years from now. On the large scale, I’m looking to bring my sound to concert halls, symphony centers in all cities, theaters, auditoriums, and festivals. I have big band arrangements, as well as sinfonietta works that I would like to commission for performance. I anticipate the publication series of my printed musical works to be available for the public, as well as play-along educational material for musicians to learn from. I foresee the creation of a non-for-profit arts foundation as well, to preserve and enhance the values of our humanity through the arts.
IAA INDUSTRY NEWS: How can your fans access your music and contact you?
WILLIAM KURK: All of my released music is available on iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, and Bandcamp. I’m on Twitter and Instagram also, for all the social media folks! Go to my website and hit the “contact” tab to write something in the guestbook, or for further info.
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