Earlier this year, 22-year-old Nate Burch Jr.’s first digital recording, “Encounter,” became available online. It’s a powerful Gospel song he wrote and recorded with best friend Carson Bruce in Alabama.
He attributes the song to God. It is a testament to Burch’s talent, his perseverance and the road he has traveled.
Burch lives in Pell City, Alabama, and attends Jacksonville State University, about an hour’s drive from his home, as a music education major.
His music education, however, began in Columbia and Marietta, where he lived until age 13, when his family moved to Alabama to be closer to mother JoAnn’s relatives.
Born Maalik Muhammed, he was adopted by Nate and JoAnn Burch, of Columbia, at age 7. He took his adopted father’s name.
He showed an early interest in music and was taught to play the piano by the late Wanda Davis.
But due to a speech impediment that occasionally affects him today, he confined his music to the piano.
“He didn’t sing because he stuttered a lot,” his mother said by telephone from Pell City.
By 9 years old he was playing the piano at Ashley Tabernacle Church of God in Christ in Columbia. When the Rev. Wayne Scott and his wife, Roberta, arrived at the church, she became the church organist. And it opened a new chapter in Burch’s life.
“When I heard her play, and the power an organ holds ... I was blown away,” Burch said by phone.
His mother immediately signed him up for lessons. Two years later, guest pastor the Rev. Belle McMullen heard him play.
“After church, she asked if I could come and play for her church,” he said.
The two churches — Ashley Tabernacle and Bethel A.M.E. in Marietta — worked out an arrangement that allowed Burch to play at Bethel A.M.E. every other Sunday.
“The deal was I would not be paid because I needed to know how to do things from the kindness of my heart and unto the Lord, and I’m only 11 years old,” he said.
But, he acknowledged, “every now and then the pastor gave me a love offering.”
In 2010, the family moved to the Harrisburg neighborhood of Pell City, where he became pianist for St. Paul Church of God in Christ.
During one choir rehearsal, he stopped playing.
“Those darn tenors couldn’t get it together,” he said. “So I raised my hand and said ‘Do you mind if I can sing them their part?’ ”
He surprised the choir director in part because he sang without stuttering. The next Sunday, he led the choir in song.
“He’s a good singer,” his mother said. “He sings at two churches.”
The inspiration for “Encounter” developed during Bible study at Blueprint Church in Anniston, Alabama, and at a subsequent church service.
“My pastor was talking about the difference between just simply coming and sitting in church versus having an encounter with God,” he said. It planted a seed.
Soon thereafter, while playing soft music to accompany the pastor’s sermon, a new melody came to him and he began to play the chords.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is beautiful,’ ” he said.
He quickly grabbed a piece of paper and began jotting down the notes with one hand while continuing to play with the other.
At the end of the service, Burch wrote the verse to the song. That night, he composed the chorus.
His pastors praised the song, not only for its beauty, but because it matched the sermon.
When he arrived back at school, he met up with Bruce.
“Carson,” he said, “you will not believe what God gave to me tonight.”
Together they worked on the bridge. The song came together in 2016. Digital recordings were made in May 2018 and are available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music and on YouTube. It also can be purchased at CDBaby.com.
Today, Burch also offers singing lessons as he pursues a music education degree.
His focus has shifted from the piano and organ to voice.
“There was something about the voice that I just cling to,” he said.
Burch has sung with a blues band, gospel groups, and he and Bruce sing at women’s shelters.
Burch’s favorite artist is Patti Labelle. When he was younger, Burch said he would skip dinner to watch her on YouTube.
Earlier this year, Bruce surprised Burch with a birthday present by taking him to a Patti LaBelle concert in Augusta, Georgia.
“I couldn’t ask for better friends.”