Meet Amy Grant
For all of us, the anchors that hold us steady throughout our lives take on a sacred quality. Maybe it’s a parent’s sage advice, an insightful song lyric, an author’s profound words. For A&M Records/Word Records recording artist Amy Grant, the early century hymns that laid the foundation of the Church worldwide continue to be her stalwart moorings.
So it seems appropriate that the five-time Grammy winner who started out singing hymns in church each Sunday, would return to her roots to commemorate her 25th anniversary in music and record her 17th album. Legacy… Hymns & Faith features 15 arrangements of hymn classics such as “It Is Well With My Soul,” “Nothing But the Blood,” “This Is My Father’s World, ” “My Jesus I Love Thee” and “How Great Thou Art” as well as four new contemporary songs and an instrumental.
“I really see Legacy as identifying for myself a long overdue musical expression of my roots,” says Grant who in the past 20 years has garnered six No. 1 pop hits, including “Baby, Baby,” “Next Time I Fall” and “I Will Remember You.“ The more life you live, you realize how precious it is to be moved. I just thought how much I would like to be moved again by these songs that really fashioned the framework of my faith as a child.”
Hence the album, Legacy, an appropriate title, says Grant who thinks about the rich legacy her family has left her. She remembers standing in the church sanctuary every Sunday with her great-grandmother Mimi beside her. “She would sing the harmony parts to those hymns,” she recalls. “I remember in the second grade memorizing all those verses and choruses throughout the week and then listening to Mimi sing them in church.”
In fact, Grant’s understanding of theology was born out of these words penned centuries ago, she says.
“It’s tough to whip out in 90 minutes, in time for next week’s worship time, something that 200 years from now people are going to be singing. To me, it’s like hearing a pop song on the radio and comparing it to Handel’s Messiah. One has its place for the moment. The other has its place in history.”
To give new life to vintage standards, Grant enlisted veteran Brown Bannister (Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace) and husband and country superstar Vince Gill to co-produce the album as a team — the first time the two have paired up. Grant drew on Bannister’s familiarity with the songs and the fresh ears of Gill who didn’t grow up singing church music.
Together, Bannister, Gill and Grant plus well-known Nashville players Chad Cromwell (drums), Leland Sklar (bass), Tim Akers (Hammond B3), John Jarvis (keyboards) and revolving guitarists Kenny Greenberg, Gordon Kennedy and Richard Bennett. worked to retain each hymn’s original melody in an intimate musical setting.
“We’d go in with what we thought needed to be the direction and basically keep changing instruments, changing keys, changing tempo until we found something that moved us,” Grant explains. “I kept saying, ‘Okay, an alien has visited our planet. We have the opportunity to introduce them to this song for the first time. What’s the most compelling way we can do it? I wanted to re-introduce these songs with the hope that the people who grew up on them could also be moved again.”
The 17th century hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” was recorded in one setting with each player in the studio facing each other. “Just recording that one hymn so differently than we usually approach songs was really special,” Grant says, “and the environment fostered a very intimate recording.”
The same holds true for the stirring arrangement that integrates refrains from hymns “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “The Old Rugged Cross” and flows effortlessly into the chorus of the 19th century “How Great Thou Art.”
British pastor Robert Robinson’s 18th century work, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” was the only song the team took liberties with, as they added moving harmonies to the familiar melody. The result is poignant lyrics (“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love/Here’s my heart, O take and seal it/Seal it for Thy courts above”) packaged in a contemporary musical framework a la The Eagles.
“What I hope this project does is provide for people who grew up with the same musical heritage I did a way to enjoy those songs again in a very intimate setting,” she says. “I just kept thinking about one person sitting at home listening to these songs. It’s not about radio. It’s about one person listening.”
In addition to the vintage collection, Legacy includes four signature cuts: “The River’s Gonna Keep on Rollin’,” written by Gill, “The Things We Left Behind,” written by Grant, “Imagine” written and previously recorded by Bart Millard of the group Mercy Me and “Do You Remember?” written by Grant, Gill and Grant’s longtime producer Keith Thomas. Each song, she says, fits with the intimate nature of the record, both musically and lyrically.
Instead of taking the usual six to eight months to make a record, Grant and her Nashville-based management team of Mike Blanton, Dan Harrell, Jennifer Cooke and Chaz Corzine took a different approach. The idea was to record the record in 25 days, not overscoping or overanalyzing any song.
“That was the great thing about doing this record,” she says. “We really just kept going. The only important thing was that we were moved.”
25 Years Worth Celebrating
It’s those unique musical moments that characterize Grant’s repertoire, as well as her 25-year career. She points to numerous “small world” experiences as some of her best surprises through the years.
“I run into people all the time who come up and say that my music has been a part their lives,” she says, telling a recent story of meeting a Starbucks employee who in Fall ’94 had seen her show in Bangkok. “It’s all about sharing unique moments, and often I don’t realize that maybe someone was sharing a moment until they come up and identify themselves. It feels like the richest experience in the world and it all was born out of music. That’s the best thing.”
Legacy marks the beginning of Word’s yearlong celebration of Grant’s 25 years in music. In 1978, at age 17, she signed her first record deal with the Word-owned Myrrh label and has since made her mark on the world at large. She has sold a total of 22 million records, including one quintuple platinum record (Heart in Motion), one triple platinum (Home for Christmas) and one double-platinum album (House of Love), as well as six additional platinum and three gold album releases.
Her numerous media appearances include “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “Oprah,” “Late Night With David Letterman” and “Larry King Live,” among others, as well as special TV productions such as the Lifetime Television special “Women Rock!: Girls & Guitars,” The Grammy Awards, The American Music Awards, Christmas In Washington, an acting debut role in a CBS network original movie A Song From the Heart, as well as hosting the CBS network "A Christmas to Remember" special.
Grant was honored as 2001’s Nashvillian of the Year for her leadership and community awareness strides encompassing her work with the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the Nashville Symphony. Grant also participates in Nashville’s Leadership Music Program and meets with terminally ill children as part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
As one of Word Records’ premiere artists, she has pioneered the path for contemporary Christian music, winning 20 Dove Awards, the highest honor in the genre. As part of its celebration, Word plans to release an Amy Grant boxed set next Spring 2003. A studio album is also in works.
After 25 years of recording music, Grant remains true to herself and the faith that has sustained her. “ You assess things differently. There’s less pom-pom waving and more appreciation about the fanfare of the things that are real. So it’s an exciting challenge to articulate faith at this point in the journey. But I think it’s important for me to continue trying.”