Doris Shields sipped hot tea and sat on the edge of a chair near her stereo to hear the first strains of music flow from the new record album.
"Wow, that's beautiful," she said, as the rich sounds of violins, horns and a young woman's mellow soprano voice filled the family room of her Silver Spring home. "I always knew Kristle would do something great with her life," Shields told a visitor. "I'm really happy to see her make good."
But making good hasn't come easy for Kristle Murden, 23, a gifted singer and composer who is working under a three-year contract with Light Records, which released her first solo gospel album last month for international distribution.
Shortly after she signed the contract, Murden -- whose voice spans three octaves -- became the featured guest singer on an album, "I'll Be Thinking of You," that last February won a Grammy, the record industry's equivalent of the movies' "Oscar."
Just 18 months ago Murden, one of nine children and the product of a broken home, was just another disillusioned face among Washington's army of unemployed.
Her childhood years were marked by frequent and bitter disputes between her frustrated musician parents that eventually led to their divorce. She lived periodically with grandparents in Annapolis, where she began at age 3 to sing in a children's choir at the church where her grandfather has been an organist for 37 years.
But possibly the greatest influence on Murden's development as a musician came in 1972 when, at 14, she was taken from her mother by court order and placed in the custody of Robert Markush, a research scientist who also had a special interest in music.
Markush had built onto his Northwest Washington home a special music room that housed two baby grand pianos and a full-sized pipe organ. Murden remembers she spent many hours rehearsing on the instruments and often played piano as the five Markush girls played string instruments in at-home concerts. p
At age 18, after living with the Markushes for four years, Murden returned to court and obtained her own custody. After a ruptured appendix blocked her attempt to attend college to study music, Murden took several odd jobs to earn money to live on her own until she could find work as a musician. She was despondent and "between jobs" when she decided to pursue a recording contract in 1978.
"I had worked as a receptionist at one point and I'd taught music at a piano studio," Murden said. "But when I needed work most, nothing would open up for me.
"Some of the people at my church were beginning to say I was slothful and that I didn't want to work," she continued. "But they didn't know the mental anguish and depression I was going through."
"In November of 1978 I just sat down one day and started seeking and praying," she said. "I felt that maybe the Lord wasn't opening doors for me to get a job because He had planned another direction for my life."
Murden said that what she wanted most was to become a professional gospel singer. In her wildest fantasy, she would be a top solo artist under contract to Light Records, a Waco, Tex., recording company that has several of the leading artists in the field of Christian music.
"I had always wanted to have a contract with Light, but somehow I didn't believe that a dream like that would come true for me," said Murden, who currently lives in Tacoma, Wash. "When my life started to go crazy, that dream started to fade from my mind."
Then two years ago, a friend, by chance, suggested to Murden that she send a cassette tape of her voice to Light Records.
The rest is a storybook tale that could only have happened to a person who wrote love poems when she was 5 and taught herself to play piano and write music when she was 11.
Gentry McCreary, director of radio promotions for Light Records, said he received Murden's tape and put it with a collection of hundreds of others he did not have the time to listen to.
"I met Kristle later during a promotional tour in Washington and personally promised her I would listen to her tape," McCreary said. During a flight several days later from his office in Los Angeles to Detroit, McCreary said he finally settled down and listened to Murden's tape of a concert she did at a local church.
"Her voice knocked me out," McCreary recalled in a telephone interview last week. "She had a tremendous voice and I couldn't believe no other record company had signed her to a contract."
"I changed my travel plans and flew to Washington to meet Kristle, talk with her and to hear her sing again," McCreary said. That same week, McCreary said he personally arranged for Murden to be flown to Tacoma to live with the family of a friend, Bishop Robert Edwards, and to become the choir director at the minister's church.
Meanwhile, McCreary's efforts to promote Murden among his colleagues in Los Angeles as Light Records' next solo artist had hit a snag. She was flatly rejected after some record company officials who heard Murden's tape felt her voice did not meet the firm's quality standards. Others said she sounded too much like singer-actress Eartha Kitt and would not do well in gospel music.
McCreary said he then took Murden's tape to Andrae Crouch, an internationally popular soul gospel singer and one of Light Records' most profitable artists. Crouch was overwhelmed by Murden's talent and went to the president of Light, Ralph Carmichael, and suggested that she be offered a contract, McCreary said.
Murden signed the contract on Aug. 15, 1979. She was immediately featured as a special guest soloist with Crouch and his group, the Disciples, on a new album that was being recorded when Murden joined the company.
On the album, entitled, "I'll Be Thinking of You," Crouch and Murden teamed up for a duet on the title number.
Murden's name and her talents became known quickly as she crisscrossed the United States and Europe in concert tours with Andrae Crouch and Disciples.
Her biggest accomplishment -- fulfilling her lifelong dream -- was her own album recorded in Los Angeles last November and released this month. The record, which is dedicated to her mother and father, is expected to be on sale in the Washington area by the middle of this month.
The album, "I Can't Let Go," is a collection of nine contemporary soul gospel songs.
One song -- "Because He Loves Us" -- speaks of world confusion, hatred, child abuse, and the order that can come out of such chaos through Christian faith.
Murden was born in Newark, N.J., the fifth of nine children. Her father, Charles Murden, worked in the computer-programming field, but had dreams of excelling as a progressive jazz pianist. Her mother, Doris, has also worked with computers, but at one time studied piano in hopes of someday performing concerts.
The Murdens met at age 16 in their first year as music students at Howard University. They later decided to marry, drop out of college, and move to New Jersey.
"The first years of our marriage were very difficult," recalled Doris Shields, who has remarried twice since she divorced Charles Murden in the late 1950s.
When the couple separated and later divorced, their seven children were shuttled back and forth for several years from New Jersey to Annapolis, to live with grandparents, Henry and Annie Murden, and finally to Washington to live again with their mother after a court battle for their custody.
In 1972, former D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert H. Campbell took 14-year-old Kristle and three sisters and brothers from their mother and placed them in the custody of Robert Markush and his wife, Martha, neighbors in Northwest Washington. The Markushes, who were the parents of five girls, now live in Birmingham, Ala.
"Living with the Markushes was very different," Murden said. "They had a philosophy of trying to understand their kids and trying to talk problems through. . .
"The Markushes treated us like one of the family," Murden said. "At first I tried to figure out why a family who didn't know us would be trying to help. iEventually, I just accepted what they wanted to offer us."
"It's really funny how things worked out," Murden said. "All of my sisters and brothers sing or play instruments. The Markushes all played string instruments -- violins and violas. Frequently, we would all get together and sing and play."
On her 18th birthday, Murden said, the Markush family presented her with a bass fiddle and for a short time she took lessons -- her only formal instruction in music.
After she graduated from McKinley Senior High School, Murden went off to study music at Norfolk State College in Virginia. However, she said that three months after she enrolled in college she suffered a ruptured appendix and left school. She never returned to her studies.
The year after she returned from college, Murden said she worked as a receptionist at the Bureau of Social Science Research. She later was employed as a piano instructor at Jordan Kitt's, a Washington music store.
Doris Shields, 48, attended her daughter's last Washington concert with Crouch on June 19 at the Kennedy Center. Murden has sent a copy of her new album to her mother, whom she plans to visit when she returns to the city in November to appear in a concert with the Star of Bethlehem Choir, the local church choir she sang with before she moved away.
Until two years ago, Murden had not seen or heard from her father for several years and his whereabouts remained a mystery. She was surprised one day when she received a carefully wrapped package from her father in New York City. It was a small electric piano.