Listen to up-and-coming singer Dario Starks and you might think he’s a battle-tested r & b veteran. Though the 23-year-old Brockton, Mass. resident has yet to amass a lengthy list of album releases, he boasts rare talent and innate musical sensibilities that lend him the polished sound of a ready-made star.
Like many r & b artists, Starks got his start as a youngster in the church choir. Growing up in a musical family, he was uniquely inspired by his cousin Chris Bender, a singer signed to East West Records who was fatally gunned down in 1991.
“He had a CD out and I used to sing with him around the house,” Starks said. “He was about to become big until he got shot. As I got older, I wanted to carry on his legacy.”
Starks’ talent led him to sing with the Boston Pops at age 11. In middle school, he moved from Brockton to Cambridge and formed relationships that would eventually prove crucial to his career, befriending fellow Cambridge teens Jose Fuentes and Chris Davis, who later became the rap duo Certified G’z.
Though Starks would dabble in street life, he shifted his focus to music in 2004 with help from musically-inclined friends Fuentes and Davis.
Starks took voice lessons at Berklee College of Music for nearly two years and linked up with key Boston-area talent, namely singer-songwriter and former Interscope Records artist Cyrus DeShield, who is helping to mold and develop Starks’ sound.
Since devoting himself to music, Starks has appeared on the 2006 Certified G’z mixtape “Goin’ Hard,” collaborated with Boston rapper J-Menace and recorded background vocals on the song “Shakedown for Life” by rapper Red Café, who is signed to both Akon’s Konvict Muzik and Diddy’s Bad Boy Records.
Starks has also worked with producers including Vybe, Boston up-and-comer International Show and Cambridge native J. Cardim, a beatsmith for major artists such as Joe Budden, The Lox and Ludacris.
Aware that his gift doesn’t guarantee him a spot in the r & b elite, Starks isn’t kicking back in relax mode, expecting success to find him.
“I’m trying to go as hard as I can,” he said. “I’m hungry. I have talent and I’m going to work. I’m willing to learn and accept what I have to do to get to the top.”
Starks is currently recording an EP scheduled for release this spring. The material is undeniably radio-ready without compromising the classic sound of his key influences, ranging from Sade, Michael Jackson, Brian McKnight and Avant to Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Gladys Knight.
“I like some of the new sounds, but I prefer to sing a song rather than use Auto-Tune,” he said. “I like r & b that makes you feel good, real music that talks about real situations that people go through — relationships, love, sadness, sorrow. God is what really matters. Keep God first and pray every day.”
Ultimately, Starks is more than a standout singer with smooth vocal stylings and serious potential. His spiritual foundation gives him a depth that is all too rare in modern r & b.
“Without a positive male role model in my life, I grew up on the streets,” he said. “I had to struggle for what I wanted and I got caught up in the street life as a way to maintain. God really saved me and let me know there was a different way. I realized that my singing, that could be my way out.”