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Many years have passed since DeLeon Richards emerged on the gospel scene as one of its youngest recording artists. She was 5 years old. By age 7, DeLeon had a recording contract.

Many years have passed since DeLeon Richards emerged on the gospel scene as one of its youngest recording artists. She was 5 years old.

By age 7, DeLeon had a recording contract.

Two decades later, the gospel sweetheart has released a new album, Here In Me, on her own label DeMari Entertainment.

Over the years, DeLeon has appeared on television, performed at the Auditorium Theatre and at the Chicago Gospel Fest.

In a recent interview with the Defender, DeLeon, a mother of three, who lives in north suburban Waukegan and is now married to baseball standout Gary Sheffield, spoke very candidly.

“The bible doesn’t lie,” she said. “Proverbs 22:6 ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’Well, it’s true! I knew as a child that God had marked me… when He chooses you, there is nothing you can do but be obedient and surrender your will to Him,” she said.

Now 30 years old, DeLeon reflected on her younger years.

“Since you saw me many years ago during my younger years, my career has really grown. I’m an executive record owner, wife, mother, baseball fan and singer.”

When Ben Branch first introduced young DeLeon to the gospel world, she referred to herself as “God’s little helper.” A tenor saxophone virtuoso, Branch was the musical director of the Breadbasket Orchestra that performed benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Operation/PUSH. After hearing DeLeon sing at PUSH one Saturday, he arranged for her to perform at the Chicago Stadium (now the United Center) before a full house where she received an enthusiastic ovation.

DeLeon still holds the distinction of being the youngest gospel singer to have been nominated for a Grammy. She is looking forward to 2009 Grammy nods for Best Gospel Performance and for best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album for Here In Me.

A win would be a big payoff for her hard work on the album.

“I did 87 percent of the writing on Here In Me, and I’m the executive producer,” she told the Defender.

“I really want to share my ministry with other youth and artists as well as bring others into the recording industry who possess talent and want to pursue their dreams.”

She spoke about how God guided her life and especially her character, growing up. “Many of my songs were like testimonies or messages,” she said.

“While my current release is contemporary, it is edifying, very gospel, praiseworthy of Jesus Christ,” DeLeon said of her latest album that was released in September.

“Sometimes the presentation must reflect what and how you bring your concept to the music, and my message is very clear.”

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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