Pop Life

Oh Jesus! Rock's Top 5 Religious Conversions

Rocks Off understands the need for a good detox now and then, as most of our evening antics often leave us feeling less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed come morning. We also imagine the damage inflicted by lifetime of hard partying and endless touring in the company of morally compromised music-industry execs and other unsavory characters would be considerably harder to erase. Certain circumstances might even require a soul-cleanse.

Perhaps that's why so many musicians take solace in a higher power, seeking some sort of absolution for the sins of stardom. Five of the most memorable faith-swapping artists are listed below.

5. Prince Proselytizes Door to Door

As hard as it is to imagine The Purple One in any sort of religious context, the man behind sexed-up songs like "Pussy Control" and "Sexy M.F." has been a devout Jehovah's Witness for more than a decade now. Prince joined the nontrinitarian sect in 2001 following a two-year-long debate with friend and fellow Witness Larry Graham, describing the move as more of an awakening than a conversion.

In a 2008 interview with The New Yorker, His Purple Majesty described his newfound faith as "a realization", adding, "It's like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix." As for the whole preaching door-to-door practice the denomination is famous for, Prince does that too, saying, "Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they're really cool about it."

4. Isaac Hayes Hearts Xenu

Had it not been for South Park most of us would've never known that Isaac Hayes, once a devout Christian, was a faithful follower of L. Ron Hubbard. The soul singer began lending his deep baritone to the character of "Chef" in the controversial animated series shortly after converting to Scientology in 1995, lampooning every race, religion, and public figure imaginable. But when his own religion was satirized in "Trapped in the Closet", a 2005 episode portraying celebrity followers of the faith as alien-worshiping weirdos, Hayes pulled the plug.

In an Onion AV Club interview following his 2006 departure, Hayes says he told creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, "Guys, you have it all wrong. We're not like that. I know that's your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?"

Hayes remained an active and influential member of the Church of Scientology until his death in 2008, and "Shaft" remains one of the most badass, funkalicious songs of all time.

3. Little Richard Renounces Rock and Roll

Before the flamboyant sequined outfits, quivering pompadour, and outrageous piano-pounding performances, the artist born Richard Wayne Penniman had dreams of becoming a preacher, and by the early age of ten was already gaining notoriety as a faith healer in his hometown of town of Macon, Georgia.

These devoutly religious roots were in constant conflict with the reckless, drug-addled, anything-goes mentality of the music industry - not to mention a number of homosexual encounters - and in 1957 Penniman publicly renounced the genre he is credited with laying the foundation for and enrolled in Bible college to become an evangelist, recording nothing but gospel for a number of years.

However, the lure of the British Invasion proved too strong, and Little Richard was back thumping out the devil's music within five years, and spiraled into deep drug and alcohol addiction before returning to the faith in 1977. He has since changed his position somewhat, saying that rock and roll can be used for good and evil, and continues to produce rock-inflected gospel tunes he refers to as "messages in rhythm."

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Lauren Marmaduke
Contact: Lauren Marmaduke