Amy Grant still makes Christian music

Amy Grant: The Rise and Fall of a Christian Superstar

July 26th, 2002 in youth, no reader opinion
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25 years in the Christian music business. Amy Grant revisited. A report by Markus Spieker for idea

The New York Times newspaper called the singer Amy Grant the “Michael Jackson of the gospel scene”. The superlative fits. She has sold 20 million records. She has been awarded a Grammy five times, the most important music prize in the world. As the first pious interpreter, she made it to number 1 of the international sales hit parades. For 25 years when she made her first record, Amy Grant has been an integral part of the. On the occasion of her career anniversary she has released a new, meanwhile her 17th, CD: “Legacy”, (legacy). Looking back at her career is of course a bit sad. Because the brave girl image has recently gotten a few scratches. She also has that in common with the scandal-tested Michael Jackson: On the successor, the descent.

Perhaps everything went too smoothly in the beginning: Amy Grant grew up in the US state of Georgia, the heart region of the American “Bible Belt”. She was the eldest of four daughters of a successful cancer specialist and attended the Protestant “Church of Christ”. In 1977 the then 16-year-old sent a demo cassette with songs she had written herself to a record company. She promptly got a contract. Her debut album sold 250,000 times. In 1979 the song “My Father’s Eyes” catapulted them to number 1 on the Christian charts. Three years later she had her final breakthrough with the record “Age to Age”. It contained the modern worship classics “El Shaddai” and “Sing Your Praise to the Lord”, which even stubborn traditionalists reconciled with the trendy sound.

The secular critics still turned up their noses at the shallow sacral pop, but with the follow-up albums “Straight Ahead”, “Unguarded” and “Lead Me on” Amy dispelled all doubts about her artistic caliber. God was still in the center of the lyrics, but the soundscape was rockier, edgier. On the album cover for “Unguarded”, Amy Grant showed off a sexy swing of hips and a jacket with an ultra-cool leopard print. In an interview with the music journal “Rolling Stone” she chatted openly about nude bathing in South Africa and about the sexual needs of modern Christians. Strong stuff for the “Bible belt”, but definitely promotes sales. After all, what distinguishes the star from the saint is the emotional closeness to his fans. And they liked to identify with the flirtatious southern beauty, who combined pious devotion with carefree zest for life. Finally one of them, who also found recognition beyond the church ghetto! In 1987 Amy Grant was at the top of the American “Top 100” with “Next Time I Fall”, but only as an accompanist to rock veteran David Cetera. In 1991 she made it solo. “Baby, Baby” became the summer hit of the year. Christians from Sao Paulo to Stuttgart, proud of the successful religious sister, sang the catchy refrain exuberantly.

30-year-old Amy Grant literally had the world at his feet. The tabloid magazine “People” chose her among the “50 most beautiful people on earth”. You usually only get such broad approval if you forego depth. The higher Amy Grant rose in the charts, the more she screwed back the Christian text portion. On the CDs “Heart in Motion” (1991) and “House of Love” (1994) germ-free cuddly pop predominated. And if you read through the lyrics in the booklet to “Behind the Eyes” (1996), you looked in vain for “God” or “Jesus”. The cash registers rang, but the pious music scene had a problem: did a record that managed without any religious reference even deserve the attribute “Christian”?

A little later came Mrs. Grant's marital problems. In 1982 she married Gary Chapman, three years her senior: preacher's son, singer, songwriter. Most of the songs on Age to Age came from his pen. For this he was named “Songwriter of the Year” by Christian colleagues. There was a spark between him and the “singer of the year”. But just a few years after the wedding, the marriage meltdown threatened when Amy noticed that her husband was addicted to alcohol and cocaine. There followed months of addiction and marriage therapies. But the couple stayed together. In interviews with Christian magazines, they spoke frankly of their marital crisis. Gary admitted that he sometimes suffered from living in the shadow of his superstar wife: "When I open up for her show, it clearly scratches my ego." But, both assured them, the “rocky, wild times waren” were now over, the marriage had got “new momentum”. The Christian scene breathed a sigh of relief. Because in the mid-nineties, the pious celebrities filed for bankruptcy in a row. First Michael English, who had an affair with the also married singer of “First Call”. Then Sandi Patty and Susan Ashton who left their husbands for new lovers. The sight of Amy and Gary on the cover of the music journal “CCM” in the summer of 1994 was balm for the troubled Christian soul: tightly embraced.

That fall, Amy told her husband that she no longer loved him. After all, she did not leave him immediately, but instead allowed herself to be persuaded into further therapy sessions. Gary later said that he had "begged Amy on his knees" several times not to leave him, mostly because of their three children. But in 1998 Amy didn't want anymore. She divorced and a year later married country singer Vince Gill, with whom she had been friends since 1993. The Christian public was presented with a fait accompli in 1999. Amy emphasized that she was at peace with herself: "God released me from this marriage." And: "God is a God of second chance." She had learned from her pastor: “Marriage is there so that two people can enjoy each other. But if the opposite is the case, if people get sick inside as a result, then the marriage can be dissolved. " In their interviews, the terms “injury” and “healing” appeared by the dozen, while “sin” and “repentance” were hardly mentioned.

The public outrage was limited. Most saw with a shrug of shoulders that Christians were gradually catching up not only in the charts, but also in the gossip columns with the “world”. The magazine “Christianity Today” posed the rhetorical question of whether Christian musicians should not have the same high standards as pastors. Only - what conclusions should be drawn with Amy Grant: possibly a boycott? In fact, some business owners withdrew their records from their range. Some disappointed fans demonstrated in front of the concert halls in which Amy Grant and her “newcomer” performed together. Amy Grant's days as a superstar, it seems, are numbered anyway. On her new CD “Legacy”, now 41 years old, she sings church hymns à la “What a friend is our Jesus”. The critic tenor is lukewarm. “This album is a pathetic attempt to please the Christian scene,” writes a teenage Internet reviewer. "But my generation expects Christian artists to actually live their faith."

The author has a doctorate in history and is a television editor at Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk.

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