Meet Michael W. Smith

“I want people to be broken and hungry for God like they’ve never been hungry before…”
"I’ve never seen the power of the Holy Spirit sweep across a generation like I’m seeing today.”

--Michael W. Smith

On an early summer evening in Lakeland, Florida, a crowd of nearly 9,000 people gathered at Carpenter’s Home Church to experience a moment in time they’re not likely to forget. As the lights dimmed, a hush of anticipation fell over the sanctuary as a 23-member choir of familiar faces inconspicuously took the stage, directed only by the swell of the music. Sitting at the piano just off to the side was the evening’s musical director and worship leader, Michael W. Smith, who skillfully ushered the audience into an unforgettable night of worship with the opening strains of the very first chorus.

This unprecedented worship experience was all part of a vision Michael has had for many years, an album he has always wanted to record yet he had set the idea aside until now. During his 18-year career he has become one of the most influential artists in the Christian music industry, recording 15 albums that have yielded 27 Dove Awards, numerous GRAMMY nominations and two GRAMMY Awards and an American Music Award. His albums have sold more than seven million copies, reaching platinum and gold status. And yet, this newest project, the live recording simply titled Worship, is something Michael has been looking forward to for years.

“I’ve been a worship leader now for 20 years,” Michael says. “I’ve been a part of some amazing worship moments – moments I’ve experienced at Belmont Church and now at my new church, New River Fellowship. Something has been happening there that I’ve never been a part of before.”

Michael’s experience last year at The Call in Washington, D.C., was also a catalyst for his desire to capture something special in a live setting. It was there that he saw nearly a half million teenagers literally weeping and crying out for more of God, an experience he says made a lasting impact.

Michael notes, “It was life-changing. I’d never seen anything like it. To see those kids crying out to God with so much passion was just amazing. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what you pray for… this is a piece of heaven.’”

Then earlier this year, Michael was asked to lead a special worship event for the Gospel Music Association at its annual Gospel Music Week in Nashville. Michael invited several artists to join him on stage that evening as part of a choir, with no solos or step-out performances planned. The group came together simply to help lead the audience in a time of worship.

The response Michael and the GMA received from that event was overwhelming. It struck a chord in the hearts of the artists involved, and in the hearts of the music industry professionals who witnessed and participated in it. It was then that Michael knew he wanted to try to capture that kind of a moment on a live recording.

As the wheels were set in motion to plan the live event in Lakeland, Michael began to assemble a group of artists to come and join him on the recording. Many of the participants from the GMA event wanted to be involved again, plus several other friends were called upon to join the ranks. In the end, friends including Amy Grant; Chris Rice; Cindy Morgan; Out of Eden; Ginny Owens; Darwin Hobbs; Greg Long; Phillips, Craig and Dean; members of Plus One and several others came together to form the 23-voice choir that sang with Michael on stage.

“It was great to have these artists there who had a heart for worship,” Michael explains. “Everyone came and dropped all their agendas. They came clothed in humility. I think our time together that day, especially before the evening began and afterwards, was just as great as what happened out on stage. It was a family, with everybody talking about how much they needed each other. People were exposing their hearts and talking about how we need to do this more often. My relationships with all of them have truly bettered my life.”

Michael’s commitment to worship is not new. While he’s been a worship leader for local church congregations most of his life, he has also been able to incorporate worship segments into his concerts over the years. His written contributions to the worship community include classic songs like “Great Is The Lord,” “How Majestic Is Your Name,” “Thy Word” and “Agnus Dei,” to name just a few.

In choosing the songs for Worship, Michael says it was important that he pick a collection of songs that had become mainstays in his own worship experience. “These are my favorite songs that I sing all the time in my car or in my church. I picked the songs that move me the most – and these songs can totally stand on their own through the test of time.”

In fact, Michael was so committed to the selection of songs on this project that out of everything he chose to perform in the live concert, only one song was one he had written – “Agnus Dei.” Other songs included on the project are “Breathe,” “Draw Me Close,” “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” “Forever,” “The Heart of Worship” and “Awesome God.”

“I think we captured something that night,” Michael says. “I wanted people to experience what I experience at church, or what happens at a festival when there are 50,000 people singing out to God. We set up microphones around the entire audience so we could record a true corporate worship time. To hear 9,000 people singing ‘Awesome God’ is almost too much. It was amazing.”

Michael also recorded a moving rendition of the worship song, “Above All,” written by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche. It’s a song he chose to perform earlier this year when invited to sing during the 54th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service held at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Worship includes both a live and studio version of this song, and it is the album’s first radio single.

The only other studio cut on Worship is a new song, “Purified,” co-written by Michael and his wife, Debbie. “I wrote the music in five minutes one day,” Michael admits. “I knew it was something that needed to be on this album, and Debbie was the first person I thought of to write the lyrics because she loves to write worship songs.”

Michael’s true desire was for Worship to be different than any other project – not just another Michael W. Smith recording, but pure worship. Even the cover art was uniquely created to fit the theme behind the project.

“Everything about this album is different from anything else I have ever recorded,” Michael explains. “Our whole approach with Worship has been to do something different; even the cover projects a unique feel by incorporating an original piece of artwork by Jimmy Abegg. Using a unique piece of artwork only adds to the spirit of the album...something that a typical headshot would not have communicated.”

The album artwork makes the perfect backdrop for this musical moment in time, a glimpse of what has become a massive worship movement across the nation and beyond. Michael told the crowd at Carpenter’s Home Church, “I’ve never seen the power of the Holy Spirit sweep across a generation like I’m seeing today. I’m seeing things I never would have seen 10 years ago.”

And that night in Lakeland, Florida was an experience Michael says he won’t forget. “I’m still astounded that even with all the baggage we carry, when we come together to worship the Lord something supernatural happens. It’s the real thing. We knew going into that night that it would be great, but we had no idea the magnitude of what would take place. And I think there may be some things about that night that we may never know about until we’re with the Lord.”

Above everything else, Michael says, this night and this album are about lives being changed. “I love the fact that we got to play a small part in ushering in the presence of God. I’m unworthy, but I thank Him for letting me be a part of it.”

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