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In Music

Donovan Owens in the studio in Dallas, recording with Kirk Franklin.

11-year-old Milwaukee gospel singer gets chance of a lifetime

"Whew!!!!!!! The wait is over!! The CD was released and I can't explain how happy and excited I am for everyone to hear my song."

That's what 11-year-old Milwaukee singer Donovan Owens wrote on his My Space page blog Wednesday morning. You can hardly blame Owens, who went on to say he woke up tired that day.

That's because Tuesday was the day "The Fight of My Life," the ninth CD by Grammy-winning gospel star Kirk Franklin was released on Franklin's own Fo Yo Soul label. The disc features Owens on the track, "A Whole Nation," a song about fathers taking responsibility for their children.

"School was pretty normal," Owens tells, later in the day. "However, friends and other students knew about the song and they were hanging out with me more than usual. Some of my friends were invited to a listening party my mother threw for me at my home the night of the release and they just thought that was so cool. It was very hard for me to concentrate, I could barely sleep the night before the release, but I still managed to get things done at school."

But maintaining this balance is nothing new to young Owens, who attends Longfellow Middle School in Wauwatosa. In addition to singing in church, at parties and at weddings since he was 5, Owens has appeared with the Modjeska Youth Theatre and has been invited to sing by the likes of Pastor Marvin L. Winans in Detroit and Pastor DeAndre Patterson in Chicago.

He sang at the Full Gospel Baptist Convention in Milwaukee in 2006 and later that year he performed in Atlanta. He's shared stages with Franklin, Yolanda Adams and J. Moss.

But now that he's on a record with Franklin -- modern gospel's biggest star -- things have moved to another level. In fact, when Franklin appeared on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday to talk about the record, the conversation quickly turned to Owens.

"I was just speechless," Franklin told NPR's Elizabeth Blair, explaining how Owens turned up backstage at a Franklin concert and offered to sing. "I couldn't believe this little kid singing like that. When I left him in Milwaukee, flying back to Dallas, the idea of this song came to my mind about using him as like the voice of a little Kirk, kind of talking about the stuff that I went through with not having a father."

Franklin said that in addition to a great voice, he needed to be sure that Owens had the emotional depth to perform the song.

"His experience with his father is shaky, not solid, and so I felt like it could come from a place of truth," Franklin told NPR.

And so, Owens -- who is managed by his mother, DeLonda -- was off to Dallas to record his parts for the song.

"Flying to Dallas for the first time was really a great experience," recalls Owens. "I was so excited on the plane, I didn't sleep. Me and Kirk had loads of fun, we had time to share and talk, we went to eat a few times, I visited his home and his family, we went ice skating, and we had just a ball in the studio.

"It never felt like work. Although it is really hard work Kirk made it fun. I learned so much about music just watching him work, he's a genius. He's a great writer and musician. It felt like I was dreaming because I was finally getting to know him after loving and following his music and then just recording with him I couldn't believe I was there! I felt like he was my big brother because we shared alot about our lives and both of our lives in a lot of ways was similar and we really just related and hit it off."

With all this attention, it seems a safe bet to think that Owens will start to get a lot of offers and opportunities will arise, but since his mom is his manager, she's helping to keep him grounded.

"We have already been busy just since the record came out -- radio interviews, stories with magazines, so I'm excited. My mother says the best is yet to come," says Owens.

"My mother says, put schoolwork first before anything because you have to know how to read a contract, speak well, count money, etc. She is very hard on me when it comes to my school and she keeps me focus and in line. She is also my manager so she keeps me going."

But, Owens hopes he'll get another chance to work with his hero, in addition to the concert dates with Franklin that are already on the books.

"Kirk has definitely said we will be working together again, in what way not sure yet, but like my song says 'to be continued' so we will see. That was definitely the highlight of my career, recording with Kirk … I was geeked!"

In the meantime, Owens isn't sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. In fact, he's working hard on his own music.

"I do have original songs," Owens says. "I was in the studio recording my own CD this year, and things got put on hold for several reasons, and I started traveling doing alot of singing and didn't finish, but next year I will be back in the studio to finish up my CD."


Reader | Dec. 22, 2007 at 1:41 p.m. (report)

Great story. So good that jsonline wrote the same one two days later. Guess they get their ideas from onmilwaukee. Wonderful story either way. Congrats Donovan.

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mitchgat | Dec. 20, 2007 at 12:22 p.m. (report)

Very nice to see that OMC is making an effort to report more stories about Milwaukee's Black community!!! Nicely done!

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