ATLANTA (AP) -- Donnie McClurkin can hardly talk. Fred Hammond could barely walk. But the Grammy-winning gospel singers are preparing for the Festival of Praise Tour, which spans 31 cities.
The tour, which includes Cleveland, Detroit, Miami and Atlanta, kicked off this week as McClurkin recovers from surgery to remove precancerous cells from one of his vocal cords and Hammond recuperates after having a bilateral knee replacement.
"We're not 100 percent, but trying to get better," Hammond said. "But maybe people need to see that."
Hammond, 53, had surgery on both knees in January. He took his first steps after the procedure six months ago, but doesn't yet have full range of motion.
Doctors removed an inch of scar tissue from McClurkin's right vocal cord in mid-August. The 54-year-old discovered a cyst several months ago after having some difficulty singing. A biopsy revealed some precancerous cells.
Fear initially struck McClurkin. "I started to cry," he said. "It was a tough time for me."
After surgery, McClurkin went through a series of exercises. One technique: sticking a straw in his mouth and humming on various vocal scales to improve his range. He often drinks water with sea salt to moisten his throat muscles.
Last week, McClurkin wondered whether he should perform on tour because he was unable to clearly speak.
"I've got a lot to live for, and I had to make myself realize that," he said in a deep raspy tone. "As hard as it was, I had to pull myself out of it. I started praying more. And each time I tried to sing, it becomes a lot better. It's going to take a moment, but it won't be so problematic that I can't perform."
Hammond knows they will have to encourage each other. "We've both worked so well with each other because we've built such a great synergy."
McClurkin and Hammond have asked other gospel artists to help out. Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and some contestants from BET's "Sunday's Best" will appear onstage to perform.
"God uses imperfect and broken people," McClurkin said. "If we can go through our cycle and still produce, that means anybody can. This (tour) is predicated on our willingness."