Carbaugh finds 'fame' in serving God
by Dana Williamson

Damaris Carlbaugh, singing jingles for television couldn't open the doors that God did.

MT. VERNON, N.Y.- When Damaris Carbaugh took first prize in the American Song Festival competition in 1983, she thought she was on the way to fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming the next big pop star.

The prize was a CBS recording contract, but her pop album, which was released the next year, in Carbaugh's words, "went nowhere."

Some four years later, she discovered why.

Accompanying Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor Jim Cymbala to a small struggling church in Argentina, Carbaugh saw something she wanted.

"Everyone was wearing coats because it was cold in the church and the cement floor was hard," she recalled. "Yet, though extremely poor in material things, these people were rich in Christ - far richer than I."

Carbaugh and her husband, Rod, a former cameraman for PTL, who is now her manager, said they hoped for success in the secular world, seeing it as a means to glorify God while maintaining their Christian integrity and testimony.

Carbaugh had had a successful career singing commercial jingles for Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Minute Maid and Wrigley's Double Mint Gum, as well as being the singing voice for Fruita Manzanta, a Sesame Street animated character. Yet, as much as she enjoyed the variety of work, it wasn't unlocking the door to fame.

However, after her experience in Argentina, she felt a need to give herself totally to the Lord, and began praying for ways to use her talents more fully for Him.

Carbaugh gave her life to Christ at the age of 8 while living in Puerto Rico. She was born in New York City to a mother, Aimee Garcia, who was an evangelist, and a father, Joseph Cortese, who was a classical pianist and singer. She said she was named for one of Paul's converts on his visit to Athens.

The Corteses traveled regularly between New York and Puerto Rico, and their engagements took them to Mexico, Cuba, Central and South America, anywhere a Spanish-speaking congregation called them.

While in Puerto Rico, Carbaugh's father started a children's choir, and she fell in love with music. When the family returned to New York when Carbaugh was 11, she started taking voice lessons with Del Terzo at Carnegie Hall, which her mother had negotiated for $10 a lesson.

As a teen, Carbaugh and her two sisters sang as a trio and traveled with their mother. At 15, she was asked to sing at a recording studio, and soon she was in demand by producers and advertising agents in New York. In the years since, Carbaugh has sung with many well-known artists in recording sessions.

In 1990, when Brian Felten, director of The Discovery Singers with the Radio Bible Class was looking for a new female singer, he called a friend in the business who suggested one name - Damaris Carbaugh.

Today, Carbaugh is the marquee singer for Discovery House Music and appears regularly as a soloist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and Singers, and has appeared on most of their albums. Her first gospel recording, "Never Alone," was released in 1990. Her 10th recording, "Just Hymns," was done in September 2002.

In the early 1980s, the Carbaughs helped Damaris' parents open a new church, Crossroads Tabernacle, while maintaining their friendship with their former pastor, Cymbala and his wife Carol, at Brooklyn Tabernacle. Today they are members of Manhattan Grace Tabernacle, where Carbaugh's sister's husband, Luis Rivera, is pastor.

Carbaugh said she takes some 30 new weekend bookings each year, filling in with her appearances with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers and The Discovery Singers.

"With few exceptions, we are back every Sunday for our home church's worship service," Carbaugh said.

Carbaugh said the size of the host church where she sings isn't as much concern to her as what the pastor and his leadership want to see God do if she comes.

"Traveling with my parents, my mom noticed the disappointment on our faces when the crowd was small," she recalled. "She'd say, 'If the size of the crowd gets too important to you, you've lost the heart of Jesus.'"

Carbaugh said she considers music an incredible tool.

"The music is my excuse to work my way into someone's heart to tell them how wonderful the Lord is," she said. "Music softens the heart so the Word of God can go in. When it's all said and done, and we're in Heaven, it will be music forever. There won't be any more preaching, but there will never cease to be singing and adoration."

The song most associated with Carbaugh is "He's Been Faithful," written by Carol Cymbala, choir director at Brooklyn Tabernacle. The song was written at a time when the Cymbalas' daughter had turned her back on God and Carol was diagnosed with second-stage cancer.

When Carbaugh heard the song at choir rehearsal, she said, "I want to sing that song."

"I had not written that song specifically for Damaris, but I know now that it was God's plan all along," said Cymbala.

Carbaugh said she wants to be a servant.

"It's easy to say, 'I just want to be a servant,'" commented Carbaugh. "But that's what I'm striving to be. God has been so merciful to me. I want to share His love and mercy with others and encourage them to draw closer to God."

Reprinted by permission, Baptist Messenger.

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