A celebrated gospel artist who also made impressive creative detours into jazz and pop, Daryl Coley was born in Berkeley, California on October 30, 1955.
After the divorce of his parents when he was five, Coley and his siblings grew up with his mother in Oakland, California. His mother loved music and the Lord, and the sounds of gospel, classical, and jazz filled their home. Inspired by the music that surrounded him, young Coley learned to play piano and woodwinds. When the Edwin Hawkins Singers scored a major pop hit in 1968 with the updated gospel sound of "Oh Happy Day," Coley became especially enthusiastic about spiritual music. At the age of 14, he began performing with the well-regarded gospel group Helen Stephens & the Voices of Christ. He continued to work music in throughout his high school days, but stepped away from performing to attend college. Coley studied business, but in 1977 he left school when he landed a steady gig with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Coley stayed with Hawkins until 1983, when he landed a new position as an accompanist with James Cleveland. Coley also served as musical director for gospel singer Tramaine Hawkins, and in the mid-'80s he began to branch out stylistically. Coley began singing in jazz clubs, working with jazz artists such as Nancy Wilson and Randy Franklin, providing backing vocals for Stevie Wonder, and accompanying disco legend Sylvester. Coley also provided the singing voice of Springfield's greatest jazz artist, Bleeding Gums Murphy, on the hit TV series The Simpsons. In 1986, Coley released his first solo album, Just Daryl, where he merged his jazz-inflected vocals with gospel fervor and a Christian message. It was the first of a series of albums that turned Coley into a commercially successful and critically acclaimed gospel artist. In 1991, Coley's life and career reached a roadblock when he was diagnosed with diabetes; the illness cost Coley his sight for a while, though he would in time regain his vision and continue to make music. Coley remained active in the studio and on-stage, as well as working with other artists, serving with a ministry in Oakland, and hosting a gospel radio series, God Said I Can. In 2016, Coley's health problems took an unfortunate turn, and on March 15, 2016, he died in hospice care in the company of his family. He was 60 years old. ~ Mark Deming