There are times when our path seems so certain and our future looks planned and perfect. Then suddenly we are called into the unknown. The faithful embrace their calling—even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Just ask Daniel Kirkley, the gifted young vocalist who abandoned a promising medical career to enter the mercurial music business.
That leap of faith has been rewarded. Daniel has become one of Christian music’s most talked about new artists, attracting top talent to his cause, including award-winning recording artists and songwriters Nicole Nordeman and Cindy Morgan and producers Matt Bronleewe (Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith) and Mark Hammond (Josh Groban). Kirkley is quickly gaining fans with his debut single “My New Dawn,” a glorious ballad that showcases his impressive vocal gift.
The respect Daniel has received from his music industry peers led Nordeman to write the title track for Kirkley’s Centricity Records debut, Let Love Win. “I feel completely unworthy,” he says of having Nicole Nordeman write a song for his record. “I’m such a fan and have been since her first record. I am so inspired by the music she writes. To have her be willing to write a song and allow me to cut it, was such a humbling moment for me.” Nordeman returns the admiration, saying “Once I heard that voice, I was both inspired and intimidated to write something remotely worthy of it.”
The song serves as the centerpiece for Kirkley’s finely crafted album. ”It’s a call to really love people well,” says Kirkley, who hopes the song will provide a musical balm in today’s troubled times.
Kirkley co-wrote five songs on his new record, including “Everyday People.” “It goes back to the theme of having moments of hope,” says Kirkley. “To me ‘Everyday People’ is a very universal song. It says that we are all in this world together. We deal with the same stuff day in and day out. It’s much easier to stand next to your brothers and sisters and help them find a way and help them walk through moments rather than isolate yourself.”
Having worked hard to achieve his musical vision on “Let Love Win,” Kirkley is basking in the excitement of a dream coming true. During his early college days, the Lancaster, South Carolina native couldn’t have imagined that life would take such a turn. A good student, who grew up in a solid Christian family, he’d always loved music but didn’t really see it as a career.
“I started singing just in church when I was five or six years old,” says Kirkley. “When I got older, I fell in love with science and medicine. I ended up getting an academic and music scholarship to University of South Carolina. I double majored in pre-med and classical voice, but at that point, music didn’t seem feasible as a career. I actually wanted to become a pediatrician.”
Kirkley began performing at Paramount Carowinds theme park in Charlotte, North Carolina during summer breaks. “I loved the experience so much, being in front of people and connecting with people,” the young artist recalls. “To see people’s connection with you as a person and how they could connect with a song, it was something I never experienced in the classical academic part of music. I came back to school just completely restless and not satisfied. I started to want something more besides pre-med, which terrified me.”
Julie Roberts, Daniel’s friend from childhood who has since become one of the new successful female artists in Country music suggested he check out Nashville’s Belmont University. Though people around him were surprised when he opted to leave the University of South Carolina, giving up a full scholarship, Kirkley felt compelled. “I define it as ‘blindly leaping,’ which I think you have to do often with faith,” he says. “You just step out and go for it.”
Daniel remembers sitting down with his parents one night. “They told me that they had made a list of reasons that weren’t acceptable for me to go to Belmont and they wanted me to give them my top three reasons for going,” says Kirkley. “My first reason was ‘I legitimately feel that this is where God is leading me.’ My dad stopped me and said, ‘That’s the one thing I needed to hear.’ They said ‘We’ll make it work and do whatever we have to do.’”
While attending Belmont, Kirkley landed an internship with BMG Music Publishing, working in the Gospel division. “I worked there two years and I fell in love with publishing,” says Kirkley, who worked with industry veteran Joe Shell. “I actually never had written a song before I started working there. I never had a concept of what a singer/songwriter was. Within my first couple of weeks there, Joe took me on what he called a field trip. It was a mastering session for Kyle Matthews, which was cool because that was actually the first time I met [Centricity A&R VP] John Mays.”
After his internship at BMG, Kirkley landed a job at Brentwood Benson Music. He also began pursuing his goal of being an artist. People began paying attention to Kirkley’s talent and it was obvious he didn’t belong behind a desk or behind a studio console, but on stage and in front of a microphone. Wanting to do a project from start to finish totally on his own, Kirkley released an independent album in 2003. He began getting calls to perform at churches and events.
When a friend introduced him to Guy Zabka, Director of A&R, at Centricity Records, he found a label home and people who were excited about his innovative sound. Kirkley’s vocal style incorporates elements of his classical training, fused with vibrant pop sensibilities, and the blend results in a unique sound, unlike anything on the contemporary Christian music landscape. His rich full voice is seasoned by years of performing and tempered by a classical education that places Kirkley in a class by himself as a vocalist.
Kirkley’s first single, “My New Dawn,” was penned by producer Matt Bronleewe. “The song talks about wondering around in the darkness and just kind of being trapped, but coming to a beautiful moment and realizing that from here on, it’s a new beginning and a new start,” says Kirkley. “It’s a beautiful song and I just really connected with it lyrically. It’s all about leaving everything that hinders you and everything that has weighed you down behind. Then realizing that there will be a new day every morning and it will be beautiful and bright. Just move forward.”
Now is Daniel Kirkley’s time to move forward. He’s paid his dues and he’s been faithful to the calling on his life. The folks in South Carolina may have lost a potential pediatrician, but the world has gained a tremendously gifted artist with a powerful voice and a vision to share hope. God had a plan and Daniel Kirkley has been faithful. The result is music for a bright new dawn.