DaMarra Chanel Underwood is not your typical teenager.
While most girls her age are concerned about rap music, the latest clothes and boyfriends, Underwood, 17, is focused on living her life and using her clear soprano voice for the Lord.
“God is the one who gave me this voice. It didn’t come from my parents. They can’t sing. It came from God so why not use it to glorify him?” Underwood said.
The Chartiers resident recently released a CD of gospel hymns and spirituals entitled “Ol Skool Gospel.”
“I was used to hearing gospel songs and spirituals in older gospel songs in church. I enjoy singing gospel music because it has more feeling and you can understand it more and you are more touched by it.”
Local heavyweight musicians like Roger Humphries Jr., Roger Humphries Sr., bassist Lorenze Jefferson and saxophonist Derek Redd provided the music for the disc. In addition to lead vocals, Underwood sings the backup soprano, alto and tenor parts on various songs on the record including “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”
She began working on the 12-song disc at Mr. Small’s Studio on the North Side in the summer of 2008. It took her a year to complete the debut project.
“It’s hard juggling everything,” Underwood admits. “But it’s all about time management. I was relieved that I was finished with the record so that people could see the hard work that I put in. I want to get the message of Jesus Christ out in my music.”
Underwood got her start in the music business when she began singing at the age of four as a backup singer in her church choir.
That backup position quickly turned to center stage when she hit fourth grade.
“Her elementary school teacher noticed that DaMarra could sing,” said Underwood’s father and manager, Howard. “The teacher asked her to perform at the fifth grade graduation and people were standing up and clapping and after that she started singing in various churches.”
Some of the places the CAPA High School has performed at include more than 100 churches in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Underwood has also been featured on KDKA’s “Pittsburgh Today Live” several times and interviewed by the station’s storyteller, Dave Crawley. In addition, she performed for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato’s inauguration and opened for her idol, Yolanda Adams, when she came to Pittsburgh last summer. Most recently, Underwood shared her angelic voice with first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitary wives during the G20 summit.
“I can’t put into words how proud I am. She gets up there and sings the old gospel songs that have feeling in them and she handles her life very impressively,” Howard Underwood said.
DaMarra’s mother, Gloria, agreed with her husband.
“She is an amazing child and she doesn’t take for granted what she has. She has her mind set on singing gospel and I’m not going to take that away from her,” Gloria Underwood said.
When she isn’t wowing audiences with her beautiful voice, DaMarra enjoys bowling, movies and hanging out with her school friends. She carries a 3.8 grade point average and is a member of the National Honors Society and the National Music Honors Society. She is also senior class president. Upon graduating from high school, Underwood plans on attending college and studying music and business with a minor in voice. After that she hopes to attend law school.
“I want to be my own lawyer and be able to read my own contracts so that I don’t get taken advantage of,” she said.
You can buy “Ol Skool Gospel” at Stedeford’s and Dorsey’s Record shops and on the Internet at www.cdbaby.com. The disc can also be downloaded on iTunes.