And then the memories come, faster than her lips can speak them: drug addicts of every age, race and class, stumbling into the park to buy crack cocaine, from her, Linda McCrary, who had traveled all over the country with her sister and brothers to sing about the love of God. Doctors’ and lawyers’ wives driving to the park in their Mercedes with their babies in the back seat.
The park, then expected to become one of the most drug-infested in the country, has now been transformed into a place where kids swim and play. And Linda, who thought at one time that she would not live to see age 30, has been transformed as well. She has been free of drugs for 17 years–since the morning she was delivered from cocaine in a hotel room in 1989.
Linda’s story begins in the kitchen of her family’s home in Youngstown, Ohio, when she was a tiny girl, singing at the kitchen sink with one sister and a “slew of brothers.”
“We’d be in there washing dishes, and my father would hear us singing,” she said. “We didn’t even know he was listening. I think he knew before then that we had some talent, because I remember tagging along when he took my older brothers to sing at convalescent homes when I was about 4 or 5.”
Charles McCrary had always loved music. He traveled with his brother and cousins to sing in earlier years, and Lue, his wife, was a pianist.
“My dad began teaching us and training our ears very early on,” Linda said. “And my mother wrote the first song that we sang.”
The McCrary children got their start singing in front of large audiences with evangelist Katherine Kuhlman, who came to the 5,000-seat auditorium in Youngstown from time to time.
“During one meeting, when my second oldest brother, Leon, was home on leave from the Army, Katherine Kuhlman decided to dedicate our whole family to the Lord,” Linda said. “She had all 10 of us children on stage, and Leon gave his heart to the Lord that night. A couple of years later, he was killed in a car accident.”
Leon’s death drew Kuhlman closer to the McCrary family and she began to invite the children to sing on her programs. About that time, Lue McCrary started a Wednesday night Bible study in her home, and five of the children formed a group and sang at those meetings. Sam, Alfred, Howard, Charity and Linda developed a close harmony that brought them instant appeal.
“We had soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass,” said Linda, who was 6 at the time. “So we had all the parts covered. We started singing in different churches and by the time I was 11, we were traveling full time on the weekends. We got permission to leave school early on Fridays and come back late on Mondays, and we were singing as far away as Pennsylvania, New York and Canada.”
When Linda was 12, the McCrarys sang on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, which she refers to as the American Idol of the ’60s. They won second place and soon had their own television show, which brought them invitations to sing on the West Coast and exposed them to contemporary Gospel greats like Andraé Crouch and Mylon LeFevre. Eventually, they were invited to move to California and serve as youth leaders at a church in Hollywood.
“We decided to make the move because not only did it give us an opportunity to serve at the church, but musically there was a lot to offer us. My parents came along later.”
Within a few years, the McCrarys had a major recording with Capitol Records, which featured the No. 1 hit, “You,” with Stevie Wonder playing harmonica. But as the McCrary children became adults, priorities began to change.
“There was some drinking on our part,” Linda said, “And Howard suddenly got married. So, after several years in California, our group broke up. It was terrible. I think I drank at that point because I was so broken.”
Linda started doing back-up vocals for secular artists, including Michael Jackson, Elton John and Diana Ross.
“Things were really rolling,” she said. “I was young, and I was making great money.”
But inside she was restless. She could feel herself getting further away from the life she knew she should be living. Slowly, she slid into the drug scene.
“The record companies would have these parties after a performance, and people would be passing around plates of cocaine,” she said. “Thinking back, I had never made my own decision to follow Christ. I had always depended on my mother’s prayers for strength. I was hanging out with people who sold drugs and who used drugs. If you’re not secure spiritually, you fall right into trouble.”
Gradually, the drugs started to take over. She lost her apartment and wound up living in Hansen Dam Park.
“I ended up giving my life over to all the demonic oppression that was crushing my head,” she said. “It was Satan’s plan to kill me. He wanted me to die.”
For more than five years, the park was her home, except for an occasional night in a hotel or a brief stay in an apartment. Heartbroken, her parents prayed for her deliverance.
“I would go home and visit my mother on occasion and she never turned me away,” Linda says now. “She always opened her arms to me and she always loved me. She just kept praying for me.”
God finally answered those prayers–when someone knocked on Linda’s hotel door about 4 o’clock one September morning. It was Buddy, a flight student who had often bought drugs from her. The two had become friends and, somehow, Linda always wound up talking with him about God.
When she opened the door to him, he said: “I’ve got to come in, Linda. I’m getting delivered from cocaine.”
She stared at him incredulously as he continued.
“You know all that stuff you’ve been telling me about the Lord? Well, I feel it right now. I’m getting delivered. Would you pray for me?”
Her eyes widened.
“I can’t pray for you,” she said.
“Would you read some Bible verses to me?”
“No. I can’t. I don’t want to.”
Buddy left, then came back later with the same plea. Linda screamed and cursed at him. Then she snatched the drawer open and grabbed the hotel Bible. It fell open to Psalm 40.
She began to read:
“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me. And He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of despair and out of the mud and the mire.”
Her voice broke.
“He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing and a hymn of praise to our God.”
The years of pain and disappointment started to melt away. Her tears flowed freely.
“It was like something was breaking off of me,” she says. “Deliverance took place for me right there, at that moment. That was Sept. 8, 1989, and from that day to this, I’ve never touched another hit of cocaine.”
Linda moved in with her brother Alfred and his family, and she began to read the Bible and pray. Alone in the house during the day, she would fall on her knees and weep and cry out to the Lord.
“I’d lay before Him hour after hour, asking for His forgiveness and His healing in my life,” she said.
God began to give her songs and Alfred started putting them to music. She now travels with the Tommy Coomes Band, with worship leader Tommy Walker, to do solo concerts and to share her testimony. In 2000, she married John Fisher, who just finished building a recording studio for her to work on her CD projects.
“It has been an amazing journey,” she says. “God has given me a loving and wonderful relationship with my son, and a husband who shares my heart for seeing people set free and delivered from the sin that I was caught up in. Our home is full of love.
I sang for all those years, and I had no idea who I was in God–until after that morning in the hotel room,” she says. “My one purpose in life is to see people come to the Lord at a younger age so they don’t have to go through what I went through.”