11 pop stars you’d never believe used to be choristers

24 December 2018, 16:36 | Updated: 24 December 2018, 16:43

Ed Sheeran sang in his church choir, in Suffolk
Ed Sheeran sang in his church choir, in Suffolk. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

It’s pretty hard to imagine Avril Lavigne getting stuck into some William Walton – but she isn’t the only unlikely pop star to have made her beginnings in church music.

These artists all found their voices in church choirs…

  1. Ed Sheeran

    Before he became the king of the modern love song, Sheeran was just a choirboy in a church choir, in his hometown of Suffolk.

    He recently took on a role as the new Patron of the Choral Foundation for St Mary-le-Tower in Ipswich, promoting singing at the church and in the wider community.

    Sheeran told EADT: “I am thrilled to be asked to be Patron. As a former chorister myself, I appreciate the benefits which singing brings to young people both physical and emotional.

    ‘‘Singing teaches you lots of skills and provides many opportunities which will help, enrich and sustain you throughout life. There is nothing equal to the joy of performing wonderful music with other like-minded people.”

    Ed Sheeran
    Ed Sheeran. Picture: Getty
  2. Usher

    Before Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs took him under his wing, young Usher Raymond IV used to perform solos at his church, from the age of nine.

    How he made the transition from ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ to ‘Yeah’, we cannot be sure.

    Usher. Picture: Getty
  3. Avril Lavigne

    Admittedly, Lavigne’s pop-punk image isn’t naturally associated with a church upbringing. But the ‘Complicated’ singer was brought up by strict religious parents, and first found her voice singing in a church choir.

    As a teenager, Lavigne learned to play the guitar and write her own music, and gravitated towards country music before finding her niche in pop-rock.

    Avril Lavigne
    Avril Lavigne. Picture: Getty
  4. Jessica Simpson

    As the daughter of a youth minister, Simpson grew up singing in her father’s church. She eventually found fame on an MTV reality show, but the first album she ever recorded was all gospel music. The album was shelved after the record label went under, but Columbia Records managed to track down a copy of it, and immediately signed Simpson to their label.

    Jessica Simpson - Don't Pull Away

  5. Justin Timberlake

    Before his fabulous hair and NSYNC dance breaks came gyrating into our lives in the mid-90s, Justin was a star on the Mickey Mouse Club. There, 12-year-old Justin would meet Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and make the first big leap into his successful career as a singer-songwriter.

    But well before that, he was just a young boy singing in his local church choir, of which his father was music director.

    Justin Timberlake
    Justin Timberlake. Picture: Getty
  6. R Kelly

    R Kelly grew up in a musical family, and began singing in his local church choir at the age of eight. His second, self-titled album was peppered with a number of songs with gospel-infused lyrics.

    R. Kelly - U Saved Me (MTV Edit/NTSC)

  7. Diana Ross

    Raised a Baptist, Diana Ross was actively involved in the church choir in her hometown of Detroit. She sang in the choir from an early age, before joining the Primettes at 15.

    The Supremes and The Primettes
    The Supremes and The Primettes. Picture: Getty
  8. Katy Perry

    Perry, who used to go by the name of Katy Hudson, grew up in a strict household. Her parents, who were pastors, banned her from listening to secular music, taking Perry along to their church choir instead.

    She started out in gospel music, but soon fell into pop and found chart fame when she partnered with producer Dr Luke on ‘I Kissed a Girl’.

    Search Me - Katy Hudson (Katy Perry) (March 2002)

  9. Snoop Dogg

    Snoop Dogg was criticised this year for releasing a 32-track album of gospel music called Bible of Love – but for the rapper, the album was all about returning to his roots. His mother is an evangelist and young Calvin (Snoop’s real name) used to sing in their local church.

    The video of the first single on the album, ‘When My Words Are Few’, was filmed entirely in a church. The lyrics of the song read: “I know God is calling me, I’m not where I’m supposed to be”.

    Snoop Dogg
    Snoop Dogg. Picture: Getty
  10. Jamie Foxx

    As a child, Foxx had a strict Baptist upbringing, which he stuck with through his teenage years. From the age of 16, he played the piano and was a part-time choir director in Terrell’s New Hope Baptist Church, before winning a scholarship to United States International University to study musical and performing arts composition.

    Much later, Foxx met Kanye West and collaborated with the rapper on ‘Gold Digger’, achieving his first No. 1 single in the pop charts at the age of 36.

    Jamie Foxx
    Jamie Foxx. Picture: Getty
  11. Britney Spears

    Before joining a young Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera in The Mickey Mouse Club, Britney sang in a Baptist church choir as a child. Her voice might get a bit of flack these days, but think back to ‘Everytime’ – those pure vocals would have blended perfectly in a Magnificat.

    Britney Spears
    Britney Spears. Picture: Getty