In the midst of the USA’s COVID-19 shutdown, and the Black Lives Matter protests prompted by the death of George Floyd, pastor Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church had the opportunity to interview The Voice coach and former Destiny’s Child singer, Kelly Rowland.
In their conversation, Kelly – who attends the LA church with her husband and son – talked about her faith, the beginnings of Destiny’s Child, mistakes and lessons she’s learnt along the way, and her thoughts as an African-American mum about the Black Lives Matter movement. She also shared some advice on dating and marriage, and her best tips for surviving quarantine…
On Growing Up With Beyonce
EM: A lot of people don’t know that you’re a part of our community here at Mosaic. But everybody knows that you’re one third of Destiny’s Child. What was it like to be there with Michelle [Williams] and with Beyonce [Knowles] – and can you give us a little bit of your own story?
KR: Of course. I mean, myself and Beyonce grew up together, ever since we were 10 and 11 years old. And you know, we experienced so many adventures together in the industry, and personally – and she is one of the closest people to me. Her and her mother, and her sister Solange and [cousin] Angie, and, you know, we’re a tribe.
And then of course, as the group progressed, Michelle came into the group, and it was literally like a breath of fresh air. She came in and it just… I remember at the time, we said it was a “click”, like, the formula was right. And she was just so instrumental in not just our sound, but our faith – in our walk.
I’m just so blessed to have the girls not just as – you know, singing on stage and doing photoshoots and all these other amazing things together – but as my ‘life sisters’ – and the only thing that separates us is blood.
EM: I know you grew up in Atlanta, and so that’s where the story kind of began. How old were you when Destiny’s Child finally formed together into an actual unit?
KR: We were 10 years old in Atlanta. My first solo was in church. I sang, I Want to Walk and Talk with Jesus. I’ll never forget how it felt to stand on this chair. My mum gave me the ugliest little outfit, but it was cute in that time. But I just looked like a cupcake… frosted everywhere, and all these bows and everything. My gaze at the crowd was from right to left, and from left to right again, and there were church hats and people like, singing and dancing – like, I felt the essence of it. And I was like, “Oh yeah, I love this. I love singing”.
EM: So you discovered your gifts actually in the community of faith in the church?
KR: Absolutely. And everybody was so encouraging. And I learned so much. And I learned style, you know what I mean? I felt like style was there, flair was there, and feeling and soul was there.
How Destiny’s Child Began
EM: You’re obviously an underachiever by starting [Destiny’s Child] at 10… What was the first big break for the band?
KR: The first big break was actually Star Search. At the time, we were in ‘Girls Tyme’, that was the name of the group, and it was eight of us on Star Search. We were hip-hop rapping, and went against this band Skeleton Crew… I remember they’re like “Skeleton Crew gets four stars and Girls Tyme gets three stars”… You’ve never seen kids cry the way you saw us cry. We thought that the dream was done, we thought that it was over.
“We wanted to eat, drink, sleep dream music, and each other, so that we could be of one accord. And it definitely paid off.”
We switched management and he was like, “I believe in you girls, let’s go get this deal and let’s move forward”. And we did. Through that process, it was a lot of rehearsal. It was a lot of hard work. But it was fun. We didn’t care. All our friends are going to pool parties and doing all kinds fun stuff, we’re like, “No, we’re gonna one more time, 5,6,7,8”, learning how to walk in heels and, and harmonising together and blending. We wanted to eat, drink, sleep dream music, and each other, so that we could be of one accord. And it definitely paid off.
EM: When people ask me, “How do I know if I’m pursuing the right dream?” I will oftentimes tell them, “it’s not about your desire for the outcome. It’s about your love for the process”. When you love the process, you know you’re pursuing the right dream. It sounds like you guys just loved the process. Everybody else was playing but you were going through the discipline of greatness.
KR: Yes, yes, it’s true. And I think that a lot of the times in that space, you get told “no”. You get told, “Oh, well, you’re just not ready,” and we’re like, “Okay, well then, let’s just go get more ready”, or, “What do we need to work on?” [We wanted] to craft something really special, and that was unique and genuine and authentic to who we were.
EM: What was it inside of you, that didn’t allow you to give up? That kept you believing that you could create the future you’re imagining?
KR: I think that it was seeing. Like if I closed my eyes, I saw it. And I remember writing down when I was five years old, my mum said that I wrote down, “When I grow up I want to be a singer like Whitney Houston and wear a red dress”. And funny enough – I can’t think of which year it was but I called my mum, I said “Mama, I wore a red dress!” “I wore a red dress!” “I wore a yellow dress!” “I wore a black dress!” “I wore a blue dress!” “I wore this, I wore that.” I was like, “I can’t believe that it’s happening!” And she was like, “I know baby”. I loved that she reminded me of that. And I loved how I never silenced that part.
And by the way, I lost my confidence a lot. I really really did. Because there would be different producers come in and say, “Oh, well you shouldn’t do that”, and be very hard on me – extremely hard for a 12 year old. It was very aggressive. But for some strange reason, I stuck to it. And I had the group with me. And we had someone behind us who saw the greatness.
When you see someone, and you see their greatness, you do want to push them and nudge them a little bit more, because if they’re already great, there’s definitely space to be greater.
EM: I’m reminded of the passage in Ecclesiastes when Solomon talks about a three strand cord, and how when when there are three together, they’re stronger. A lot of times people use that passage when it comes to to marriage… but really, it’s just as powerful in friendships – when you have those people that you walk with through your life and they don’t let you settle for average… and their pursuit of greatness causes you to pursue greatness. It sounds like you’ve had that throughout your life in friendships.
KR: Absolutely. I definitely say iron sharpens iron for sure, in my space.
I’ll never forget this one performance in New York. It was when Destiny’s Child [the album] was out and we were doing some really great things. We were number one, and headed for another number one, and I’ll never forget – we were at this show in New York, and when they call that name, they’re like, “Ladies and gentlemen, Destiny’s Child!”
Boom – we got the loudest ‘boo’, and we were like, “What in the world?” And so we sat there for a second like, “Oh my gosh, are we gonna go out here?” I saw – I call it ‘The Tiger’ – I saw ‘The Tiger’ in B’s eye. And I saw her run out and I was like, “Oh, I’m going out with her. I’m not gonna let her go out there by herself”. And then like, everybody comes on, and here we are on stage and we’re singing and they’re still booing.
“Here we are on stage and we’re singing and they’re still booing… we did a gospel medley… we sang Survivor… and we were okay. I think that it was something that we had to get through to just kind of, give us a little bit more grit.”
And then I’ll never forget, we did a gospel medley. And we said, “Oh, y’all gonna boo God?” And we kept going and we sang Survivor … But we were okay. I think that it was something that we had to get through to just kind of, give us a little bit more grit. And I’m happy we did. I felt really proud after that performance. I felt like, “I’m a muscle person”.
The Role of Faith
EM: That’s so interesting. Because even as a as a young girl, you had to deal with haters. And you had to decide whether you’re going to listen to the voices of those around you or the inner voice that calls you forward in your life.
Now, I know that you’re a person with a deep faith. How does your faith interplay throughout your career and throughout your own personal journey?
KR: In the time when me and the girls first came out… we were just on fire for God, period. And I truly believe that that’s why He just started opening up doors. We just trusted, in a way. We were just, like, unstoppable. And I felt this protection, I felt prepared. I felt ready, I really did.
When we lost members, and we were thinking “What are we going to do?”, we were in church one day, and it just felt like something was in the air. Like, I don’t want to say healing, but just ‘mending’, like, you know, almost like something was being like mended together. And I was like, “Lord, I don’t know what you’re doing”… and next thing I knew, here comes Michelle, who’s got this great faith and is awesome and teaching us about faith. She came at the perfect time and she was just a blessing.
She came onto a moving train. At that time there were two number one records… and we were going into another number one record, and here she is, just jumped right on and came right on like a soldier that she is.
I remember getting into my first relationship – like first real relationship with a little boyfriend – no good. And I’ll never forget how that robbed me of bit of my innocence… I remember losing my faith a bit… because I was in this really toxic relationship… And I’m wondering where God was – when he was right there all along. I experienced a lot of growing up in the industry. And it was heavy. And I remember my faith going in waves. Once my best friend asked me “Has [God] ever left you?” I said, “No”. She said, “Have you ever suffered?” I said, “No”. She said, “You’re fine. I promise you, you’re going to get through this. You will have another hurdle and you will ask God where He is – and he’ll be right there. So it’s okay.”
EM: It must be so hard to to grow up in front of a national audience… a global audience, to have to mature and go through experiences while everybody’s watching. Most people get the the grace of making their mistakes in private.
A Tip for Young Artists
EM: You’re one of the judges on The Voice. When you’re looking for that spark, you’re not just looking for a great voice; you’re looking for this composite of what makes a star or what creates an artist. What are some things you look for?
KR: I look for grit. I look for hunger. Like, how hard are they willing to work? I just remember how hard me and the girls were willing to work. And I always say, when I’m doing my pitch to get other artists I’m like, “In Team Kelly, we are down to do the work, you have to be down and do the work. I’m gonna be on you. But it’s only because I’ll see something in you. And I see something in you because I’m pitching to you to be your coach.”
Sometimes you get someone who is like, definitely down to do the work – and other times, you get somebody who might not be ready yet.
EM: So it sounds like you don’t actually think the talent is the ceiling as much as it is the determination.
KR: Absolutely. I’m sure you’ve watched The Last Dance. I remember a long time ago, I think it was either Jay Z or my husband saying that, you know, the talent is one thing, the work behind it is another. And you see Michael Jordan, you see, Beyonce, you see, like all these different artists, put in the work. And it’s remarkable – it’s what separates you from everybody else – is the work.
EM: Yeah, I think a consistent theme. Every time I talk to someone who accomplishes anything really great, it’s that there’s an endless amount of work. It’s not always the most talented person who accomplishes the greatest things. It’s really the person who takes the talent they have, and they just squeeze every fibre of that talent out of themselves to accomplish something.
Marriage and What to Look for In a Man
EM: You mentioned your husband, Tim, and you have a little boy named Titan. Tell us a little bit about your husband, your marriage and your son.
KR: My husband I met when Michelle got in the group, but we didn’t like start dating until much later. Michelle came in the group in 2000. He and I didn’t get serious for another eight, almost 10 years. We were not in a hurry. I was dating, and he was dating, and he would come with Michelle to certain events and on tours sometimes, and sit in rehearsals or whatever. But I wasn’t really looking at him then. Michelle always had this funny thing, she was like, “Tim loves you”. And I was like, “Huh!”
But we just started talking on the phone one day, and we just never stopped. And, he scared me because I know he was my husband. And I was like, “Oh, I’m, I’m not trying to hurt this man, let me just back away for a second” – and I did, but I missed him so much, and I missed our talks. And I knew he was mine, and I knew I was his, and next thing we knew we were dating for years, and then got married in 2014. So it was just really beautiful and natural and organic.
He is so talented, and he just really pushes me to always be the best version of myself and I’m so grateful to him for that.
EM: We have a lot of single women right now who are listening to you. What would you tell them are two or three things they should look for, in a man they want to marry?
KR: Honesty; a good communicator; and above anything, a man who is clear on his faith.
I remember dating someone who said “Yeah, I believe in God”. But he had his hands in so many different things as far as faith and religion was concerned. And when we’d have talks, they would end up in bickers… So it was nice to have conversations about God and faith and Scripture with Tim, when we first got on the phone – and his grandfather was a pastor, his father was a pastor, so I was just like, “This is perfect!” I was so excited… Tim just had this very solid, honest and pure place where he talked about God. It was incredible to be able to have this really great bond with him.
“Honesty; a good communicator; and above anything, a man who is clear on his faith… Tim just had this very solid, honest and pure place where he talked about God.”
And by the way, it’s hard. It really is, because I didn’t get an example of what marriage was supposed to be like. My mum was in her own situation of what she thought relationships were, and I’m learning how to be a wife. I’m learning how to communicate, I’m learning how not to hold something in because I’m trying not to kick up dust – but then I need to know how to communicate it pleasantly.
EM: So what are some things you’re learning about marriage that would be really valuable for others?
KR: To be patient. Because sometimes, I won’t know how to communicate something. I’ll get impatient with myself and then I’ll be impatient with Tim. And learning how to communicate has been a big one for me.
And not expecting that mess on TV – because it’s not real! TV and movie relationships are not real! Relationships require work and they are constantly changing and evolving. And you are constantly changing and your spouse or husband or wife is constantly changing and evolving. And you have to allow them the space to do so. It’s fair.
Generosity and God’s Provision
EM: When I first met you, you were visiting Mosaic, trying to see if this is where you’re supposed to come with your family, and you said to me, “I can’t wait till we’re here, because I love to give.” I have to tell you, that almost never happens!
Talk to us a little bit about how you came to love giving, and how that’s become a conviction and your in Tim’s life – and what you’ve learned in the process?
KR: I watched my mum be a generous person. I watched her give her very last. I watched her give with faith. I watched her like, you know, clutch her chest and then give.
And even going through my own time where there was a lot of – no one will believe – this is actually the first time I talked about it – where I almost lost everything, because I was so busy trying to keep up.
Whether it was the look, whether it was the wardrobe, whether it was the car, whether it was the place, whether it was the – you know what I mean, all that silly… “rich-broke”.
And I will never forget having this moment where I called my best friend, and I said, “I just don’t know what to do.” And I told her all these different things that I was going through… and she has the gift of discernment, she was like, “When was the last time you gave, Kelly?” I said, “I don’t know, but I can’t afford to give right now”. And she said, “You have to.” She said “The very next cheque that you get, I need you to give.” Okay. I called my business manager. I told him and he’s like, “Are you kidding me? Have you lost your mind?” He was like, “You cannot do that right now”. I said, “You know what? You have to, this has to happen”. I was like, “Either I’m going to do this or I just have to let you go”. Like, “okay, cool, fine.”
Good. I give.
Literally, the following week, things just started to happen. Just good things … and it wasn’t even necessarily financial. It was like, “Oh, that’s already been taken care of, you’re okay”. Or, “A cheque just came in from something that you did 10 years ago”. It was just certain small things, or just grace. I was like, “there’s something to this”. So I kept going.
And I remember calling my business manager, I said, “This month, I’m giving 20 percent”. He’s like, “You have lost your mind”. And I said, “No, no”, I said, “I have not. I said, you just watch how God is gonna flip this.”
Literally, it was like, for what I gave, I got back double. And I was like, “This ain’t mine!” Like, it really isn’t mine. It’s not my money. It’s not. And that’s how I see it.
I’m like, “But look, God, I like this and I like that, and I know I got expensive tastes so I know I got to be careful”…But he’s like, “I got you”. When I gave it was always like, “let’s do it”, and I would just drive my business manager crazy.
I love to give. It just makes me so excited because now I know it’s not even just about me, it’s a household. It’s about my son. Then it just becomes an extension and it’s so beautiful and it makes me so happy.
On Black Lives Matter
ER: I also know that you’re a person of strong convictions. And I loved just even some of the conversations I read with you and [son] Titan about being a black man, and how, I think one day when he says to his Dad, “Dad, I’m a handsome black man”.
KR: Yes. We tell him all the time, yeah.
EM: And so you’ve made it a really intentional part of your family culture to build into your son of pride for being African American, and a deep sense of identity.
We just had the death of George Floyd. It seems like every few weeks or so there’s someone else who has lost their life to police brutality or some extension of racism or social injustice. And you’re a person that has experienced great success… yet you also know the challenges of being black, and a society that has a history of slavery and social injustice. Could you talk to us a little bit about that, as a wife and as a mum?
KR: Absolutely. I remember when I found out that I was pregnant, I was so excited. I remember Tim was like, “Are we gonna learn the sex of the baby?” I was like, “Yeah, we’re gonna learn the sex of the baby. Yes, this is important.” And so she comes back… and she’s like, “it’s a boy”. And I go, “Yay, I’m so excited!” And then there was this really weird rush that came over me. And I just kind of felt a great feeling of anxiety. And I just held my belly. And I got so scared, because I was like, “Oh my god”, like you have all of these different murders that have happened to all these beautiful black lives, period.
All I could think about was, you know, babies are cute when they’re little, but when they grow up, and they’re black kids, you know, they’re a certain height, look a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way or have a specific kind of like, urbanism to their twang – when they talk, they’re going to be judged and looked at in a different way. And it could cause hurt to them.
KR: And it made me so scared because I was like, “How am I going to prepare him? What am I going to say? How early am I supposed to say it?” And instantly I felt this rush and God was like “I got you. I’m going to give you everything and surround him with the right people”.
But even still, like, George Floyd was a good man. You know, I mean, Treyvon was just taking a walk. And everyone else’s stories that fall under the senseless acts… it just makes me angry. I had to talk to a friend about it today. I was like, “I know that the Bible says that we’re not supposed react and move on anger but I’m so angry”. I’m thinking things I know I shouldn’t think. And she said “it’s okay, I need you to not come down so hard on yourself because the enemy will toy with you like that.”
And I calmed down. And I felt much better. And all I could think of is “what do I need to do, to put together a plan to really bring my people together so that we can start taking definitive steps to justice?”
As far as this next generation is concerned, the generation that we’re in now and to make our ancestors proud and to make each other proud, is going to take some real dissecting of the justice system, of the legal system. Because it seems so intricately woven and evil.
It’s a lot of work. You can’t be afraid to do the work. Same thing that we were talking about earlier. You have to enjoy that process in some strange way, because I’m sure there’s going to be so many things that I learn about that will shock me… But in a walk to freedom, in a walk to a system that won’t harm my people, I have to I got to do the work.
“In a walk to freedom, in a walk to a system that won’t harm my people, I have to I got to do the work.”
And we’re all looking for a leader. And I think we all are leaders. We have our own way. I think we have our own way of contributing. So we have to look within ourselves to be leaders.
EM: Yeah. Okay, so true. And I know that there’s this always this tension between being angry and also not wanting to reinforce preconceived notions. You know, it’s almost like if you’re black and you’re angry, then the very people who are more inclined to be racist would go “You see, there’s our justification”.
KR: “You’re an angry black woman”, or “you’re an angry black man”, or “you got a chip on your shoulder”.
“No, I’m sorry, but that’s years upon years of oppression is on my shoulder!”
EM: And yet if we don’t get angry, nothing’s going to change. And the Bible actually says, Be angry, but do not sin. And so you’re allowed to be angry. You just want that anger to be fueled to righteous action.
EM: And in fact, sometimes I think we’re not angry enough. Yes. And we are too passive. To tolerance and to apathetic, and we just expect things to get better, somehow. Someone else will make it better.
I look at the scriptures, God’s always telling his people to care about the outsider, care about the person on the fringes, to care about the person who’s defenseless, the person who doesn’t have a voice, the person who doesn’t have justice, the person who’s the poor, or the widow or the orphan. And I don’t know how in a moment like this, the church doesn’t understand that we have to be a voice for justice, we have to be a voice to make things right.
This has to be the time we just go “Enough is enough”.
I know you were saying “I have to find a way to get my people” but I want you to know, even though I’m a Latino – I’m your people!
KR: I know you are my people.
EM: And we are your people. And what we’re going to make sure that happens is that being the “we” isn’t about color. It’s about justice. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about love.
I just hope and pray that maybe our generation, our lifetime can be the transitional generation with generations to come can look back and go, “it used to be different, but now we’re all equal. Now we have all that we have that justice. Now, our legal system, is truly blind justice.”
I’m one of those eternal optimists. I actually believe that if we work hard enough, we could provoke the good in people.
KR: Yes, we can.
I just filmed a show called Regular Heroes, and to see all of these people who are really stepping up during COVID19 and helping so many other people, I’m so happy that I was able to see this. I feel like the enemy will show you something just to taunt you.
And I’m just like so happy that I saw this… and that you see people marching quietly and protesting in peace. Some people are angry and they have a reason to be that angry. I feel the same amount of anger. But when you see people that are doing good, it just makes you feel like “We’re good. We’re gonna be okay.”
Finding Peace in Quarantine
EM: People have been quarantined for months. They’re locked up. Some of them are stir crazy. So I just want to give you a moment to let you be a therapist to everyone who’s locked down in their house. What are some things that have helped you deal with quarantine, keep your sanity, and stay inspired?
KR: Me and my son do this thing where we go outside and we just look at the sky. And he has the wildest imagination. We were looking at the sky but he was like kind of distracted by these trees and he was able to tell me a whole story behind the trees, and how “this one was good”, and “this one did this”, and “this one is not so nice because you see how the leaves are in the” da-da-da-da. So I try to think like him, sometimes because he’s so creative. I play a lot with him and that strikes creativity.
I write down and journal my thoughts; that strikes creativity.
I also meditate, just to empty… I try to close my eyes and have, like, a clear sky, and just literally emptying all of my thoughts, just so I can just have a moment of peace.
We are thinking about so much right now. You know, there’s so much space for it. Usually that’s taken up with a phone call, or social media, or your job, or your relationship, or lunch here, and dinner there, and like, so much! And now it’s just like, “ho hum!”
So you need to empty your thoughts.
And me and my husband have been in therapy together, and that’s been awesome. We’ve been able to, like, work on us and our marriage and learn about each other and learn about ourselves.
And then I go back to journaling. Yeah, that’s been pretty awesome.
A Lesson From the Life of Jesus
EM: I’m just wondering, is there one particular story in the life of Jesus that has inspired you?
KR: Like we were talking about earlier, He didn’t stay in the church, to hang out with everybody, He was out in the world. And I remember when the group was going through this very interesting time, where we ran into someone who passed a lot of judgment on us because they were like, “Aren’t you church girls, and how come you don’t sing for the Lord?” And we’re like, “We sing for the Lord, like, we didn’t know we had to pick a side”. So I’ll never forget that.
When we were in the middle of Belgium, we were doing the gospel medley that we do. It was so beautiful Pastor Erwin, to watch all these kids come to the front of the stage while we were singing “All to thee my blessed saviour, I surrender all”. And next thing it was just kids like laying their heads at the front. And we were praying, and Michelle was praying. And I’ll never forget what that felt like, and how electrical it was on the stage and how, in that moment, I was like, “We’re doing exactly what we need to be doing. We are exactly where we need to be.”
Because had we just been in church, all those folks know God. “Y’all know God. That’s great!” What about these other kids who are going through their own struggle? And after they leave this concert what are they going home to? What are they dealing with? Did we just make them feel something? Have they discovered God here? How cool is that? To be used!
“Titan went to children’s church… and he’s obsessed with whales. How is it that, the first time, just out the blue, it was Jonah and the whale that the kids were talking about that day?”
EM: Awesome. So good. Kelly, thank you so much for joining me and having this conversation with me. It’s been so much fun. And we look forward to one day seeing you, not in a box, but gathered together.
KR: And I look forward too. You know, I’m very vocal when you start to preach. I’m looking forward to singing in the crowd again.
Coming to Mosaic Church
EM: What was something that attracted you to Mosaic when you first started coming?
KR: One, it felt like family. Two, Titan went to children’s church, remember? And he’s obsessed with whales. The first time, how is it that, just out the blue, it was Jonah and the whale that the kids were talking about that day?
EM: That’s beautiful.
KR: So it felt like it was the place we were to be as a family.