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If you want to know Amy Grant's story, all you really have to do is listen to her songs. From the first time she picked up a guitar as a teenager and sang for her school friends, to the albums she's recorded that have racked up multiplatinum awards, Amy's always found a musical way to share her life. And in the process, she's not only become an icon in Christian music (and could, in fact, be credited with launching the genre) but also one of the most celebrated artists in pop music today.
Music was always a part of Amy Grant's life. She can still recall the thrill of a cappella singing at her family's Church of Christ services and later, as a teenager, discovering a freer musical expression with the young people in her school and church. In fact, one of Grant's first performances was at a chapel service for her fellow students. The event was pivotal for Amy -- it unveiled not only a musical talent, but a true gift of connecting with her peers. From that day on, Amy Grant was marked as an artist, a role model, a kindred spirit and a seeker. Through the next 25 years none of those titles ever faded away.
Although Amy Grant is truly a daughter of Nashville, she was actually born in Augusta, Georgia in 1960 during her father's doctor's residency there. Amy was still a baby when the family returned to Nashville. The youngest of four daughters, Amy and her sisters (Mimi, Kathy and Carol) grew up in a home of privilege, strong family loyalty and fervent religious faith. In church she learned the hymns and stories that would inspire both her life and her music. During her years at Nashville's most prestigious private schools, those inspirations found a home and an outlet as Amy began dabbling with songwriting and performing.
A Star Is "Discovered"
Like a Hollywood story, Amy's break into music came while she worked part-time sweeping floors and demagnetizing tapes in a Nashville studio. Her friend, producer Brown Bannister, allowed her to use the studio to duplicate a tape of her original songs that she wanted to give to her family. A Word Records company producer heard the music and, charged with finding new talent in Nashville, felt he had just "found it" and played the tape over the phone for his company executives. The seventeen-year-old was signed almost immediately.
Amy's first album, the aptly named, AMY GRANT, introduced the world to a fresh-faced and fresh-voiced young woman with a contagious faith and engaging spirit. Contemporary Christian music was still an undefined amalgam of gospel music, church hymns and the more provocative Jesus Music movement, but somehow this new foray that seemed to combine all three elements found a quick home. AMY GRANT the album, was a hit. And so was the woman who recorded it. Amy soon found herself traveling and singing across the country in churches, festivals, camps and schools. More albums followed in her burgeoning new musical career. FATHER'S EYES in 1979, introduced her to Gary Chapman, the title cut's songwriter and soon her opening act on tour for the following album, NEVER ALONE. Gary and Amy married in 1982. Two live albums (the second recorded with popular gospel rockers Degarmo and Key as her backup band) pushed Amy's musical envelope from her folky, singer-songwriter style into an edgier pop/rock category. It didn't matter to listeners. Christian music was growing. Amy Grant was the leader and fans were following every step of the way.
Setting a New Standard
The year 1982 saw the release of what was to become Amy's signature album, AGE TO AGE. Record company execs stepped up the production and marketing of both the album and the artist, and the investment paid off. AGE TO AGE won Amy her first Dove Awards including Contemporary album of the Year and Artist of the Year, plus a Grammy win for Best Gospel Performance. Age To Age was the album that brought the songs "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," and "El Shaddai" to the modern church's hymnbook and sent Amy Grant on her most ambitious tour yet. The album's success led to the quick turnaround follow-up album, STRAIGHT AHEAD, which brought more sales records, radio #1's and Dove and Grammy wins, including a performance of the album's hit, "Angels" on the Grammy Awards national broadcast. It was a first for Christian music and for the Grammys, and certainly not the last time Amy Grant made news and made noise.
In 1985, Christian music was a formidable force, but still a world within itself. Enter Amy Grant and a new concept, sort of: crossing over. Some early Jesus Music folks had tried to take their music to the broader mainstream world. In truth, most of them had begun in mainstream music and used that platform to introduce their faith-based music. Amy Grant was different. She was firmly entrenched in the gospel world and was ready to take her message to the outside world. UNGUARDED was the vehicle for that dream--an album made with "crossing over" definitely in mind. It also marked the beginnings of tension between those who thought crossing over was tantamount to "selling out the gospel" and Amy's desire to share her heart, her music and her faith in any arena that would listen--even if that meant pop stardom.
Breaking More Ground
And that's exactly what it did mean. UNGUARDED opened doors that Christian musicians could only dream about before. Her first single, "Find a Way," found its way onto mainstream radio and even birthed a video for MTV. The album charted in Billboard and Amy made her way through the maze of national publicity opportunities, including morning television talk shows, late night talk shows, afternoon entertainment shows and a host of specials, including her own CBS Christmas outing.
In her personal life, Amy became a mother with the birth of Matthew Garrison in 1987, while recording her next album, LEAD ME ON. The album passionately reflected the new turns her life had taken. Its unmistakable folk leanings and stark vulnerability of lyric marked it as a decided departure from UNGUARDED, yet the album seemed a very natural progression for this always surprising and innovative artist. In fact, it became Amy Grant's most critically acclaimed album. Her ever-present vulnerability, both in her music and her life, seemed even more poignant and her new maturity as she began the adventure of motherhood permeated the songs. Two years later, Amy welcomed Gloria Mills ("Millie"), her first daughter and the inspiration for what was to become Amy's trademark and breakthrough song, "Baby, Baby." Recorded for HEART IN MOTION, the now multiplatinum album that made Amy a mainstream pop star, "Baby, Baby" was the first "Christian" music song to reach the coveted number one spot on Billboard's chart. A video for the song that celebrated the romantic over the motherly translation of the tune landed lauds from the MTV crowd, but controversy from some of Amy's older fans, who again saw her courting of a mainstream audience as a sell-out of her faith. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but Amy didn't let the criticism rule her. As her celebrity grew, so did the opportunities. Amy soon found herself shoulder to shoulder with Hollywood heroes, singing icons, politicians (including a friendship with the Bush families) and the entertainment world in general. As Christian music's most well-known export, Amy became an ambassador for the faith and for the musical tradition that celebrated it. Amy Grant put Christian music on the map and was having no trouble keeping it there.
Two years after the birth of her second daughter, Sarah Cannon (named for beloved Grand Old Opry star and Grant family friend, Minnie Pearl), Amy's 14th album, HOUSE OF LOVE released. The album included the hit title cut duet with country superstar Vince Gill. Although not the multiplatinum blockbuster of its predecessor, the album hit double platinum and continued the trail that HEART IN MOTION blazed. Lighthearted love songs mingled with straightforward songs of devotion to God in a pure pop package proved again to be a winning combination.
Life's Hardest Stretch
Three years later, life became very different for Amy Grant. Her 15th album, BEHIND THE EYES, released to critical acclaim, but lacked the upbeat quality of previous releases. Fans noticed and critics noted the "darker side" of Amy Grant and her music and soon the news of an impending divorce brought context to the brooding lyrics and music. The album very much showcased the natural ease with which Amy always poured her life into her songs, but for many the news of her divorce superseded any artistic catharses and led to rumors, speculations and chastisements. Amy weathered the storm, taking time to sort through the changes and recharge her family and musical callings. Amy did not enter the studio or hit the road again for two years.
Becoming a Holiday Tradition
They say the third time's the charm, but for Amy Grant, the release of her third collection of Christmas music, CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER, in 1999 was really just the continuation of an already grand tradition. Amy first stepped into the seasonal spotlight back in 1983 with the release of A Christmas album, a holiday offering that birthed her now classic and signature song, "TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS." Seven years later, Amy did it again with HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, a Yuletide ride that put another classic into everyone's holiday repertoire: the haunting and elegant "Breath of Heaven." Back in 1993, with two holiday albums under her belt, it seemed only natural to take the magic on stage. That year Amy, together with her hometown Nashville Symphony, started what became an annual tradition--Amy Grant's TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS--a live concert event filled with music, nostalgia, friends and the spirit of the season. To date, the annual tour has raised millions for many of the countless charities Amy supports.
It was also in 1999 that Amy tapped into her other talents and took a turn at television. She not only hosted her own prime-time network television Christmas special, Christmas to Remember, but she starred in the made-for-TV movie, A Song from the Heart. In the movie Amy played a blind music teacher searching for and finding love and meaning. In her own life, Amy did the same. In March of 2000 Amy Grant married Vince Gill, and a year later the family grew with the welcome addition of daughter Corrina Grant Gill.
Celebrating The Journey
Today Amy is happily settled into another round of motherhood and celebrating the comforts of home and family. Approaching the anniversary marking her 25th year in the business of making music, Amy Grant has finally come full circle. A 2002 release, LEGACY HYMNS & FAITH, brings Amy both in her music and her faith back to her roots. A collection of favorite hymns (and some newly penned tunes) provides a nostalgic look back at the songs that, as Amy recalls, truly shaped the woman she is today and the truths she holds in her heart. Produced by long time friend and producer Brown Bannister, together with Vince Gill, the music is a comfortable mix of Americana, folk, bluegrass and gospel. Critics might call this musical move a departure for Amy, but in reality, it's a returning. Amy Grant is home again. And happy. And it is these songs that have provided the soundtrack for her life all along its journey.
Amy’s much-anticipated 2003 release, “Simple Things” was three full years in the making. Was it worth the wait? You bet. Emotional, honest songs, glistening productions, arrangements that sweep through fields of strings and settle into a nest of solo acoustic guitar—every detail of her seventeenth album exceeds the her standards, which are as high as standards come in this business.
Which brings Simple Things into full circle. From the personal to the global, from the playfulness of "Happy" through the impassioned duet shared by Amy and Vince on "Beautiful," Simple Things is perhaps the most intimate glimpse ever offered into her heart. With tracks brilliantly produced by Keith Thomas, Brown Banister and Wayne Kirkpatrick, this music seems to rush through storms and sunlight before coming to rest in "After the Fire," a summary of all that we've experienced on our own and heard on this disc—simple, soft, and quietly triumphant.
In the fall of 2004, the first “best of” collection from Amy to span her pop career, Greatest Hits 1986-2004 (A&M/UTV/UMe), was released featuring two new recordings, “Come Be With Me,” featuring Keb’ Mo’ and co-written by Beth Nielsen Chapman (Faith Hill’s “This Kiss”), and “The Water,” co-written by Grant and with husband Vince Gill on electric guitar.
Executive produced by Grant, Greatest Hits 1986-2004 picks up where her platinum 1987 retrospective, The Collection, left off. Along with the pair of new tracks are 17 of the best-loved recordings, each digitally remastered, including 15 of her Top 40 Adult Contemporary hits (all but her first two), with nine of those on her scorecard of pop Top 40s to date (all but her first).
It seems a lifetime ago that a young Nashville girl picked up her guitar and her heart and decided she had something to say to the world. Today Amy Grant would tell you she never meant to leave a legacy, she was just doing what she loved. But those who have been touched by her and her music know differently. Amy Grant knows how to capture a heart. She's been sharing her life, her music and her faith for decades--and somehow, through that amazingly graceful and vulnerable spirit she's caught up thousands in her circle. And that's been the story of Amy Grant's life.
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