Okay, I have avoided this for a while. Not because I am not a fan, but because the task of writing about this week's artist's volume of work is a bit overwhelming... Today we go back to the beginning of the rise of popularity of CCM and talk about Amy Grant. Grant was born the same year I was and it seems that I grew up listening to her music. She started in contemporary Christian music (CCM) before a successful crossover to pop music in the 1980s and 1990s. She has been referred to as "The Queen of Christian Pop".
In 1976, Grant wrote her first song ("Mountain Top"), performed in public for the first time at Harpeth Hall School, the all-girls school she attended in Nashville. She recorded a demo tape for her parents with church youth-leader Brown Bannister. When Bannister was dubbing a copy of the tape, Chris Christian, the owner of the recording studio, heard the demo and called Word Records. He played it over the phone, and she was offered a recording contract, five weeks before her 16th birthday.
In 1977, she recorded her first album, Amy Grant, produced by Brown Bannister, who would also produce her next 11 albums. It was released in early 1978, one month before her high-school graduation. Toward the end of 1978 she performed her first ticketed concert after beginning her first year at Furman University.
In May 1979, while at the album-release party for her second album, My Father's Eyes, Grant met Gary Chapman, who had written the title track and would become her first husband. Grant and Chapman toured together in mid-1979. In late 1980, she transferred to Vanderbilt University. Grant then made a few more albums before dropping out of college to pursue a career in music—Never Alone, followed by a pair of live albums in 1981 (In Concert and In Concert Volume Two), both backed by an augmented edition of the DeGarmo & Key band. It was during these early shows that Grant also established one of her concert trademarks: performing barefoot. To date, Grant continues to take off her shoes midway through performances, as she has said, "it is just more comfortable."
1982 saw the release of her breakthrough album Age to Age. The album contains the signature track, "El Shaddai" (written by Michael Card) and the Grant-Chapman penned song, "In a Little While". "El Shaddai" was later awarded one of the "Songs of the Century" by the RIAA in 2001.
Grant received her first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Gospel Performance, as well as two GMA Dove Awards for Gospel Artist of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year. Age to Age became the first Christian album by a solo artist to be certified gold (1983) and the first Christian album to be certified platinum (1985).
In the mid-1980s, Grant began touring and recording with young up-and-coming songwriter Michael W. Smith. Grant and Smith continue to have a strong friendship and creative relationship, often writing songs for or contributing vocals to each other's albums, and as of 2019, often touring together annually during November and December putting on Christmas concerts. During the 1980s, Grant was also a backup singer for Bill Gaither.
Grant followed this album with the first of her Christmas albums, which would later be the basis for her holiday shows. In 1984, she released another pop-oriented Christian hit, "Straight Ahead", earning Grant her first appearance at the Grammy Awards show in 1985.
The head of NBC took notice of Grant's performance and called her manager to book her for her own Christmas special.
Hardly had Grant established herself as the "Queen of Christian Pop" when she changed directions to widen her fan base (and hence her musical message). Her goal was to become the first Christian singer-songwriter who was also successful as a contemporary pop singer. Unguarded (1985) surprised some fans for its very mainstream sound (and Grant's leopard-print jacket, in four poses for four different covers). "Find a Way", from Unguarded, became the first non-Christmas Christian song to hit Billboard Top 40 list, also reaching No. 7 on the Adult Contemporary chart. She also scored No. 18 on Billboard AC in 1986 with "Stay for Awhile". Grant scored her first Billboard No. 1 song in 1986 with "The Next Time I Fall", a duet with former Chicago singer/bassist Peter Cetera. That year, she also recorded a duet with singer Randy Stonehill for his Love Beyond Reason album, titled "I Could Never Say Goodbye", and recorded The Animals' Christmas with Art Garfunkel.
Lead Me On (1988) contained many songs that were about Christianity and love relationships, but some interpreted it as not being an obviously "Christian" record. Years later, Lead Me On would be chosen as the greatest Contemporary Christian album of all time by CCM Magazine. The mainstream song "Saved by Love" was a minor hit, receiving airplay on radio stations featuring the newly emerging Adult Contemporary format. The album's title song received some pop radio airplay and crossed over to No. 96 on the Billboard Hot 100, and "1974 (We Were Young)" and "Saved By Love" also charted as Adult Contemporary songs. In 1989, she appeared in a Target ad campaign, performing songs off the album.
When Heart in Motion was released in 1991, many fans were surprised that the album was so clearly one of contemporary pop music. Grant's desire to widen her audience was frowned upon by the confines of the popular definitions of ministry at the time. The track "Baby Baby" (written for Grant's newborn daughter Millie) became a pop hit (hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100), and Grant was established as a name in the mainstream music world. "Baby Baby" received Grammy nominations for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Record and Song of the Year.
Four other hits from the album made the Pop top 20: "Every Heartbeat" (No. 2), "That's What Love Is For" (No. 7), "Good for Me" (No. 8), and "I Will Remember You" (No. 20). On the Adult Contemporary chart, all five songs were top 10 hits, with two of the five ("Baby Baby" and "That's What Love Is For") reaching No. 1. Many Christian fans remained loyal, putting the album atop Billboard Contemporary Christian Chart for 32 weeks. Heart in Motion is Grant's best-selling album, having sold over five million copies according to the RIAA. Grant followed the album with her second Christmas album, Home For Christmas in 1992, which included the song "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)", written by Chris Eaton and Grant.
House of Love in 1994 continued in the same vein, boasting catchy pop songs mingled with spiritual lyrics. The album was a multi-platinum success and produced the pop hit "Lucky One" (No. 18 pop and No. 2 AC; No. 1 on Radio & Records) as well as the title track (a duet with country music star and future husband Vince Gill) (No. 37 pop).
After she covered the 10cc song "The Things We Do for Love" for the Mr. Wrong soundtrack, Behind the Eyes was released in September 1997. The album struck a much darker note, leaning more towards downtempo, acoustic soft-rock songs, with more mature (yet still optimistic) lyrics. Although "Takes a Little Time" was a moderate hit single, the album failed to sell like the previous two albums, which had both gone multi-platinum. Behind The Eyes was eventually certified Gold by the RIAA. The video for "Takes a Little Time" was a new direction for Grant with her image re-cast as an adult light rocker. She followed up Behind The Eyes with A Christmas To Remember, her third Christmas album, in 1999. The album was certified Gold in 2000.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Grant's "I Will Remember You" saw a resurgence in popularity as many radio DJs mixed a special tribute version of the song.
Grant returned to her roots with the 2002 release of an album of hymns titled Legacy... Hymns and Faith. The album featured a Vince Gill-influenced mix of bluegrass and pop and marked Grant's 25th anniversary in the music industry. Grant followed this up with Simple Things in 2003. The album did not have the success of her previous pop or gospel efforts. The same year, Grant was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame by the Gospel Music Association, an industry trade organization of which she is a longstanding member, in her first year of eligibility. Grant released a sequel in 2005 titled Rock of Ages...Hymns and Faith. Amy Grant has several more albums, written books, and provided many performances in the following years and continues today to record and perform. Just last week we introduced a new collaboration with Ryan Stevenson, "When We Fall Apart".
As of 2009, Amy Grant had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, won six Grammy Awards and 22 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, and had the first Christian album to go Platinum. She was honored with a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 for her contributions to the entertainment industry. Among praise for her contributions to the Contemporary Christian genre, Grant has also generated controversy within the Christian community, from "complaints that she was too worldly and too sexy" to a "barrage of condemnation" following her divorce and remarriage. Despite this, Amy Grant has had a hugely successful career and had a great impact on the success of Contemporary Christian Music. Here is a Spotify playlist of Amy Grant: Essentials to enjoy.