Ohio's Songbird & Former Zapp Vocalist, "Shirley Murdock" Using Her Voice for The Glory of The Lord!
Updated: May 7
Shirley Murdock, one of the most talented singers I have ever heard, has the voice of an angel! After hearing her for the first time, I was blown away by the beauty of her voice! To me, her voice is a sound that is totally unique. I found the combination of her beautiful vocals with the futuristic computer sound to be cutting edge and unlike anything I had ever heard before. Computer Love was a song that had to be played at my school dance in order for the dance to be successful. I can assure you that a bunch of rowdy, pimpled-faced 7th graders would confront the DJ if he did not play computer love (laughs). Despite the fact that Computer Love was released in 1985, it is still one of the hottest R&B gems of our time. I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Shirley. She shared much of her life experiences, both good and bad. The following is what she discussed with me.
Hi Shirly, how is the weather out there? Well today, it will be 70 degrees here in Dayton. It will be a little cooler tomorrow. We must keep the faith and know that trouble doesn’t last always!
Well, it's so good to speak with you. I’m truly honored to be able to interview one of my favorite artists! I’m definitely a fan of your voice. I grew up listening to your music! So, let’s talk about you. Where are you from? How was life growing up? I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, the fifth of six children. Although my parents divorced when I was young, my dad was a part of my life. As far back as I can remember, I grew up listening to a lot of music. My family was also very fond of music. My mother loved basketball and blues; my dad loved jazz my sister loved music also. So, as you can see, music was always happening!
I remember listening to Aretha Franklin, Gladys’s knight, and Stevie Wonder on the radio. I also loved gospel music! Some of my favorite gospel singers were mama's Shirley Caesar Some of my favorite gospel singers were mama's Shirley Caesar, The Hawkins, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Clark Sisters, and Andre Crouch!
So, I recognized that God gave me this special gift even as a young child. I knew it because of how I felt when I sang and how the people responded to my singing. I just knew that there was something going on with this voice that God gave. So, because I grew up singing in church, and had a strong relationship with the Lord, I thought I would become a gospel singer.
Now, back in the day, on Saturday mornings, I remember watching in black and white a little curly-haired white girl by the name of “Shirly Temple”. I felt like I could relate to her. We had the same name, she could sing and dance, she was an actor, and she was young like me. So, after seeing her, I said, “one day, that's going to be me”.
So, as I stated before, I thought I was going to be a gospel singer so, over the years, when I would be offered opportunities to sing mainstream, I would turn them down because I was thinking that I couldn’t sing secular music and be a Christian too. So, I was going to be a curly good Christian and sing gospel.
Later in my life, I traveled the country with a ministry team called, “T.E.T.R.E.C “, The End Time Revival Evangelistic Crusade. I was their praise and worship leader for that ministry. We traveled all over the country, city to city, doing weeklong revivals. We also recorded it on cassette tape. Yes, cassette tapes, that’s how long ago that was!
Now, my mother had a cassette copy of one of the songs we did from one of our conferences called, “Jesus’s is love”. We did a cover of, “The Commodores (Lionel Richie’s) song. Jesus is love”.
So, my cousin who worked at, “Troutman Enterprises”, begged my mom to give her a copy of the tape. So, she took it back to “Troutman Enterprises” where, Larry Troutman and Roger Troutman from the band “Zapp”, heard me singing and wanted to know who is she and does she want to make records? So, my eldest sister spoke to them on my behalf and told them that I wanted to sing gospel music, but, unfortunately, they didn’t have any connections in gospel, but left the door open for me to record mainstream music they would love to help me.
So, I left there, and said “God, why does this seem to be the only door that is opening to me?” In my heart of heart, I really wanted to sing gospel, but it seemed that at that time, only mainstream doors were opening. So, after I prayed about it, and talked to my family and pastor about the matter, I decided to walk by faith through the open door. And the rest was history. So, basically, I got my start through, Roger Troutman and Larry Troutman, who was his brother and manager, who then became my manager, who shopped a record deal for me and got me signed to Electra Records.
So, what happened from that point? Let’s dive deeper into your professional recording life. Let’s talk about your music and your recordings.
Well, we started making my record. I was commuting back and forth from Toledo to Dayton. One day, Roger called me and said, we need to finish this record, so I need you to move to Dayton. Also, he wanted to show me how to sing in the studio because I was used to singing in the church choir. So, he wanted to show me how to sing in the studio, how to sing in what we call, “singing in the pocket”. So, I've moved to Dayton and started making my record. At that time, Roger was on tour, so he asked me to come out on tour with him. That was a great opportunity for me as a young artist to be able to learn from somebody that was already doing what I was getting ready to do. So, it was a great experience being on tour with Roger and Zapp!
What were some other projects you worked on? In the meantime, I sang on many of the projects. Just to name a few, I sang on projects such as, “Sugarfoot from the Ohio players, New Horizons, which was a local Dayton group, and Roger Troutman and Zapp albums. I even co-wrote a song from the Zapp album called “Computer Love”. In fact, I sang along with Charlie Wilson on that song. Roger also produced a soundtrack for the “Martin Lawrence movie” called “A thin line between love and hate”. I'm featured on that title cut along with a group called, “H Town”. So, it’s been a great journey. And that's how I got my start. I just feel blessed to be able to do what I do.
What challenges do you encounter being a gospel singer and then transitioning into mainstream music? Before I could even resolve myself into taking that leap of faith, I did some soul searching. That soul searching said “Shirley, your relationship with God is personal. It has nothing to do with anybody else. You know in your heart of hearts that you asked “The Lord Jesus Christ” to come into your heart and to be your personal savior, so that's a done deal! Nothing was going to make me forget about that or snatch me out of God's hands! I also understood that it would not be a popular decision because people would think that you would lose your soul and that you would go to hell. They thought I would go out into the world and become a sinner. This is especially true when it comes to the music industry with all the horror stories about drugs and alcohol.
I think the blessing to me was that I didn’t get so-called discovered until I was in my mid-20s. This gave me an opportunity to come into my own and learn not only who I was, but what my standards for myself were. I always kept in my heart the things that my mama taught me about being a lady and having self-esteem, pride, and moral values.
These values were also established from the teachings I heard while sitting in the choir stand from the pulpit. So, all of these things combined strengthened and shaped my relationship with The Lord and The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was guiding and leading me into all truth. The lord was my conviction. So, for me, it was not a flippant decision, but it was one made after much prayer and consideration. I also thought, as I look back over my life, I held many secular jobs. I first started off working at a Toledo hospital in the dietary department. While I was in high school, I worked at JC Penney & various other jobs. And through all that, I still maintained who I was and who’s I was no matter where I worked. I never stopped being Shirley Murdock the Christian.
I never separate my spiritual life from my everyday life, They’re one and the same. I’m never Shirley on Sunday and then Monday through Friday some other Shirley. So, that's what I brought to the music industry. I brought the totality of who I was and I’m also proud of that.
So, I decided that I was going to walk by faith through that door. I said, Lord, I’m not going to leave you or the Godly principles or my relationship with God behind. I was determined to take God with me just like I did with every job that I ever worked. So, that's where my heart was and that was my mindset.
What was the public’s perception of you singing secular music? I did catch a lot of flak. I think people just didn’t understand but they didn’t understand the calling I had in my life. It was just as unique as the fingerprints on our hands. I understand as a Christian, according to the bible, that we are a body with many members, but Christ is the head. My feet cannot do what my hands can do but my hands can’t be angry at my feet because my hands can't walk. But, when I put all my members of my bodies together with Jesus as the head, oh, “we can get things done”!
So, with all that foundation, how did that play out in your new musical journey? Well, when I got to Dayton and spent time with Roger Troutman and his brothers, I learned that this was a family organization that I had become a part of. This was something I was used to. They were also very community-oriented. They spent the money that they earned from the music and invested it into a construction business so that they could build houses in the inner city. Personally, I thought that was a very Godly and normal thing to do.
Also, they knew where I came from, and what I represented. But I will say, I was never ever approached in a disrespectful way. I never got me too…ed with the Troutman Brothers. On the contrary, they looked out for me. They were very protective of me as well. They taught me what I needed to know about the music industry and so they respected me not only as a woman but as a woman of God! I have to say, it’s been that way from then until this very day.
The way I see it is that we can be more effective by being a written epistle read of men more so than browbeating on top of people’s heads. We need to just be authentically who we say who we are. And do this with a spirit of loving-kindness. The bible says in Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. So, my brothers (Zapp) got drawn to Christ not only the Holy Spirit using me as a living example but, my husband who became a staff musician, producer, Roger’s music director about a year after I got there.
So, we became two church kids in the music business. We became great friends our relationship grew, and we’ve now been married for 33 years.
I struggled because on the one side I felt that God was leading me and ordering my steps. He has given me markers throughout these years, and I just know that where I was, it was where I was supposed to be for such a time as this!
In my humanity, I felt church hurt. People did not understand me nor did they believe that I will still be saved. Now that broke my heart! Even when I went back to my church that I grew up in, and the church choir, they even looked at me crocked-eyed. Not all of them, but some of them. And, because you love them, and you share a close family-like bond with them. That hurt me. I was church hurt.
But, I can say, throughout the years, God has healed my heart, from that pain. Now, I have come to a point in my journey of over 35 years in the music business of coming to terms with the fact that I know that God planted me here on purpose for a purpose. I feel that He allowed me to have a bigger platform to spread his good news!
I remember saying to Roger, “my first album cannot go out without me saying something too, “The Lord”. He asked me do I have something” I told him, yes! I had this little song called, “My tribute”. The lyrics were, “I shall not forget what you've done for me…I shall not forget how you set me free…. everywhere I go, Jesus lives within my soul…. thank you for this time to say what's on my mind…. you're everything to me”!
And let me tell you, the company did not want that song on that record, but Roger and Larry Troutman fought for me and got it on the record. They did this because they knew what that meant to me. From that point on, every mainstream album that I recorded, always had a gospel song and some inspiration on it. That’s just who I am.
Wow! That’s a great testimony! How do you feel your music has impacted people? Firstly, I promised God that I would not leave Him out and that I would always take Him with me. In doing so there were times that I had the opportunity to minister and pray for people while I was doing R&B. Some of them gave their lives to the Lord. I remember this one time when I was in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I had an encounter with a waitress. She told me that she used to be saved. I told her, what do you mean? Don't you know that God is married to the backslider?
(American Standard Bible: Jeremiah 3:14, Return, O backsliding children, saith Jehovah; for I am a husband unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion ) “
And I'm telling you, Gina, I prayed with her, and she gave her life back to the Lord right at that moment. So, there were moments like those, that confirmed to me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. God will truly give you the desires of your heart.
Did you get a chance to attend church while on the road? Yes. While living in Dayton, Ohio, one day I was talking to my homeboy from the church I grew up in who was the praise and worship leader down in Columbus, Ohio, for Rod Parsley and I told him that I wanted to go to church, lift up holy hands in the sanctuary, bless, and praise the Lord! I don't want to be Shirly quote-unquote Murdock, I just want to be Shirley. All the churches that I went to always wanted me to be Shirley Murdock. Then after service, they would say, I see you had a good time! I would think to myself, why are you watching me?
I remember while on a tour bus down south seeing a sign that said, “Bishop TD Jakes church anniversary”. It was Bishop TD Jakes, Rod parsley, and Carolyn Harrell. So, my guitar players, wife, and I decided we were going to go. I know about this event because I had to eat while I was on the road. I had to get it in so a sister wouldn't start to death while on the road! So, we went to the anniversary and got there late, so we had to go to the overflow. Rob Parsley was preaching that night. He asked anyone who wanted prayer to come to the altar. He even invited those in the overflow. So I went into the main building and when I got there I felt like this was the place that I was supposed to be.
I eventually joined the church and started singing in the choir. The next year Bishop Jakes came to preach at the church anniversary again. Previously, I had an opportunity to meet him at a gathering at my pastor's house. So, we talked, and I started telling him about my life, then he invited me to the church to come minister at the women thou art loose conferences, and the conferences that are held yearly.
How did you transition from mainstream secular music to gospel music? Well, one day, TD Jakes told me that he started a gospel label. We had previously discussed that I had not gotten a chance to record a gospel album. He said, “Here’s your opportunity, but you can't do both.” well the problem was, was signed to Warner Brothers at that time and I was working on another record.
So, I went to Roger, and said, Roger, I finally have an opportunity to sing gospel and I want to be released from Warner Brothers. He said, baby, that's what you were doing before you met me, and I'm not surprised.
He and Larry got me released from Warner Brothers! That's when I signed with Bishop TD Jakes label. The very first gospel album is called, “Home”.
I was released from Werner Brothers on paper in December of 1998 & Roger and his brother Larry both passed away in April of 1999.
I remember Roger being so happy for me when he heard the news! But. what was even better than that, Roger gave his life to the Lord! To me, that was another sign that confirmed in my heart that where I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I think it's good to just be authentically who you say you are. So, this journey has been amazing!
What are you doing now? Now I sing gospel music. I totally stopped singing R&B music. In fact, I haven't sung R&B for about 7 years now. I sing nothing but gospel! When I look back over my journey, I realize that downtime and separation were important. I say this because it gave the people in the gospel arena and the body of Christ a chance to get to know me. It also gave those who did know me the opportunity to know me again. I wanted them to know my spirit and heart. I wanted them to be where I was in my relationship with God and the ministry that God had entrusted to me. So, that's been such a blessing!
What an awesome testimony of how God turned your life around in a full circle! Oh yes! But God did even more! He opened the door once again in that he allowed me to reclaim all my music. He gave me the wisdom of how to put it all together in a big, tasty gumbo!
Do you still revisit some of your earlier recordings and sing those in your shows?
Yes, I perform in various places, from smaller gatherings to large size arenas. sometimes I’m asked to entertain the people and to perform all those earlier songs that my fans know and love. Songs like, “Go on without you, As We Lay, Husband, Computer Love, In your Eyes, Thin Line Between Love and Hate”. These are the people that I have had relationships with overall those 37 years. But I was more excited about the opportunity to also be able to also bring them some good news! I am blessed by God to not only have the opportunity to sing but to inspire. I let my fans know that God's not mad at them and that there’s no place you can ever go that God’s not there! I remind them to keep standing! Just like the Donnie McClurkin song says, after you've done all, you just stand. God is always standing there with open arms ready to receive you wherever you are and He ain’t scared of your stuff!
I remember this one time this woman came up to me and said, you can't serve two masters. You can either serve God or the devil. And I was thinking, didn’t she hear what I just said? Then, as I was going to my car, to go back to my hotel, a gentleman stopped me to sign an autograph. He said I love what you're doing it! Keep on doing it the way you're doing it! Keep on singing that gospel because we need it. I said, Okay, God! Thank you for the confirmation.
I see you came to a place of peace and rest from the opinions of others and just knowing that God loves you and you're His child. It took years. It took time, but I finally got to the point where I was totally free! I had to be freed from the yoke of bondage of what people thought the call on my life was. Now that I understand the call on life, I walk in such freedom.
I have resolved that I will not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Some people will get it and others won't. And for the ones that don't get it. Maybe I'm not for them. Our God is so wonderful that He has a plethora of people whom a person can hear the word of God from. He'll give it to us in our language. Not necessarily in German or Italian or Japanese, but in a language and style you can relate to wherever you are. They might not be able to hear it through a “Mama, Shirley Caesar”, but they might be able to hear through “Lecrae”, you know, more of a rap style, but it's a word type of thing.
It kind of reminds me of the Day of Pentecost when everyone heard their own language. God loves us all so much that He wants everybody to get it. The great commission is to go ye therefore. (New International Version Bible: Matthew 28:16-20 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”)
The church was never meant to be a house for the Holy but a hospital for the sick. We must be careful how we treat these people that are coming into the triage of the hospital of God. They're coming in wounded, sad, and misunderstood. So, we must be ready to receive people from wherever they are. We shouldn’t judge them from our opinions and how we view them on the outside, but we need to see them through the lens of the Spirit of God and how He sees them.
We need to speak the word of life into them just like the Prophet spoke to the dry bones and they came together and became a mighty army. (Ezekiel 37) . So, I believe we need to speak life to people and let them know that God will put us on a path that will lead us to our destiny.
I love the song, “Computer Love”! That song when it came out, I felt it was before its time. The song was amazing! That sound was so different than anything that was out at that time. Tell me about that song? When I met Roger Troutman, he was already doing the talk box. He was the first person to use the talkbox with a keyboard. I think Peter Frampton, used it like a guitar and Stevie Wonder also used the talk box years ago. Roger really brought it to the forefront. By the time that I met Roger, he had a lot of hit songs with the talkbox effect, “More Bounce to The Ounce, “Heard it Through the Grapevine, “I Can Make You Dance” and Dance Floor.
Computer love was on “The New Zapp IV U” album. At that time, Roger thought that people were getting a little tired of listening to the talk box. So, he had a conversation with my husband about it, who was also his music director in keyboard player. My husband (Dale) also worked with Roger in the studio. So, my husband suggested to Roger that he should do a love song ballad using the talkbox. So, Dale put together a track from another track that they had from the “Sugar Search” album called. “I will be your start”, with that same beat.
So, he set the foundation of the song, and Roger came back and put the top box on it and with the hook for, Computer Love.”
Now is that Charlie Wilson’s voice in computer love? Yes. One day, “Charlie Wilson, from “The Gap Band” came into town, and Roger was the type of guy that didn’t want to waste his good singing. So funny, he would tell you either to shut up or put his hand over your mouth until he would get ready to record it.
So, Roger would say a phrase. And whatever Roger would say, Charlie would repeat it. So, if Roger said, computer love, Charlie would repeat him and say, computer love and so on. So, Charlie would do a call and respond
to what Roger did. So, I wrote the lyrics to, Computer Love. Then we went back into the studio, and I lay down some vocal tracks. Then he came back and matched it with the talk box. Now we have this layer of a human voice and a layer of the talkbox. This took the talk box to another dimension. This made it sound more human. So, if you really go back to the older version of the top box the Roger recorded, like on more bounce to the ounce up to computer love, and I wanna Be Your Man, you can understand the words a whole lot better. I say this because he started adding his own human voice. So, we had no idea that computer love would be so popular. We were just doing something right then because Roger thought that people were getting tired of the talk box.
So, the song is about finding love through a computer. Little did we know this would be something that people would actually do. We didn't know that people this would be the way that people would connect because they can't do it personally. And little did we know that through this Pandemic, utilizing the computer to have a connection with others would be the exact thing that would keep people from losing their minds. You know, people are on Zoom to see our loved ones and the young people are on Tick Tock. I get messages all the time. I get messages with people dancing. Anne. Little did I know that even LeBron James, who I love, would be doing something to computer love. So many people and groups were heavily influenced by Roger and Zapp. Lots of young artists sampled computer love. Usher, Bieber, Ne- Yo, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and East Coast rappers. all sampled, “Computer Love.” to know that your music continues to live on. It is absolutely an amazing feeling.
Let's talk about how the industry has changed from when you first began. How have you adapted to those changes? I'm referring to the new technology in music. As artists, we have to change along with technology. It used to be a lot different back in the day. Now, if you're a young artist, you don't even have to be signed to a record company, you can be successful as an independent artist, and your music can go on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, all these platforms without you even being connected to a record company. It's freer. It’s more opportunities. The opportunities available to musicians today are far greater than they were when I started my career in the business. The Internet makes this possible. These days you can take a master class on how to write and produce music and even right TV pilots.
Nowadays you can do anything that your heart desires to do with information on the world wide web. They will show you how to do it. You can learn all about the music business from the World Wide Web. Young people have everything they need at their fingertips.
One thing I will say is that I think something is lost in the lyrical content of music today. When I came up in the music business they talked about love and the music was very romantic. Music wasn't about sex; it was more about a love story. It was about having a relationship and choosing a relationship. I think that's what's missing.
I would love to see an exchange from generation to generation. I try not to be so hard on young people because I believe that every generation deserves their freedom of expression. They need to have an expression of truth in their own language.
Our parents didn't like our music when we were coming up. So, as the world changes, life changes and so does the music. You may not be able to relate to what these young people are going through, but I think that in order to have understanding, you have to come together, and you have to have an exchange, and you have to communicate. it's so important that the generations communicate. There's so much that my generation has that we can offer another generation. All these things I think can be a blessing to us as well.
They can learn from our wisdom. We can teach them what not to do. At the same time, we can learn from them. Their technology, their energy, and their innovativeness. All these things I think can be a blessing to us as well.
If we could come together and make this exchange, can you imagine how much richer the industry would be? I believe for us to make that exchange; we have to make time to hold each other's hands so to speak.
The best example I can use for this is in a relay race, the person running with the baton (my generation) is running up to the person that's getting ready the baton (the next generation) that's getting ready to receive this information, wisdom, knowledge, and experience. At some point, each person must hold the baton at the same time. If you don’t, you could drop the baton and forfeit that opportunity to make that exchange. But, if you hold together at the same time, we can give to them, they can give to us, and we all walk away better.
What a great analogy! So, with all that being said, what are some words of wisdom that you have learned over the years that you personally would like to impart to our younger generation? Don't be afraid to dream big! Focus on doing the possible and let God do the impossible. I say that because, if you have a dream, you can't just lay in the bed reminiscing on your dream. You have to get up and start making things happen.
I believe that God is the keeper and fulfiller of your dreams. But we also have a part to play. You have a role to play in this dream coming to fruition. So, while you’re waiting in The Lord for this dream to come true, do what you can do on your end to be prepared for opportunities. So, when those opportunities do come, you would have done your homework. You have done what you needed to be able to have longevity in this industry. You will understand the business.
If you’re striving to be a singer, a dancer, a writer, or a musician, use everything at your disposal to get better. I never had formal training as a singer. I just recognized that I had a gift from God. But my master class teachers were Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight Stevie Wonder, and even the Carpenters. I took in all that music. I studied it. I learned and sang along with them. I did what I heard them do. As a matter of fact, I couldn't even name the stuff that they did, but I knew how to do it!
I learned and I gleaned from them. This is the same thing I did as an actor because one door opens a door for another. My ability to sing open the door for me to do stage plays. And the stage placed opened the door for me to do the film. I didn't know how to be an actor, but I would glean from other actors. One door opens the door for another.
These are people that I used to watch on television and on the big screen but now I'm sitting backstage with the same people. So, the key is to watch and learn. That's what I did and then I became.
Never stop learning! Never stop being hungry! Keep learning and gleaning from people who are doing what you want to do. Be active and intentional! Learn how to do that, so that when that door of opportunity comes, you will be ready.