Amy Grant hails gospel documentary ‘The Jesus Music’ en route to The Birchmere

Hear the full conversation on today’s “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Amy Grant at The Birchmere (Part 1)

Amy Grant fans will have two chances to see the gospel-pop singer in the coming days.

First, she will perform live at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia this coming Monday.

“We have worked like crazed people to bring a great show and walk down memory lane of 40 years of music,” Grant told WTOP. “After all of the Zoom music, that does not hold a candle to either being in the audience or being on stage. Music just brings us together.”

Then, she will appear in the new gospel documentary “The Jesus Music” on Oct. 1.

“The beautiful thing about the documentary is that it’s really about the beginning of Contemporary Christian Music,” Grant said. “I love anything that explains where something has come from. I love knowing about my family roots, I love knowing about musical roots. My husband [Vince Gill] was really involved in the Ken Burns series about country music.”

Her roots began in Augusta, Georgia, before her family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.

“The music we listened to when I was a kid, like, really young, was Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Steve Wonder, the Kingston Trio, Roger Miller,” Grant said. “Then I had three older sisters who were on the front edge of Beatlemania, Elvis and the great singer-songwriters.”

She started singing gospel music in the pews of her local church.

“I went to a church that didn’t even have a choir,” Grant said. “I grew up in a family that went to church three times a week, so my experience of faith music was singing hymns.”

Her idea of faith broadened when her older sisters came home from college in Boston and started attending what they called “The Hippie Church” on Music Row in Nashville.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, people are wearing bluejeans and barefoot?'” Grant said. “Young musicians from the church would play at this coffee shop next-door. … Kids from all walks of life, colors, family configurations. For someone that grew up with church being a cultural experience, it was mind-blowing. It ignited my faith and made me want to write about it.”

The church was located on the edge of the projects with a bar diagonally across the crosswalk, music studios all around and buskers roaming the street with guitars.

“I must have been 14 or 15 standing next to the preacher at the front,” Grant said. “A woman comes in and says, ‘Preacher, I take my clothes off for a living. Can I come to church here?’ … He says, ‘Ma’am, just follow Jesus, he’ll tell you what you can and can’t do. That’s not my job. Of course you are welcome here.’ And I was like, ‘Yes!'”

At the same time, she attended an all-girls prep school.

“I went to the head of school and said, ‘Can I do a program?'” Grant said. “I sang Carole King, James Taylor, John Denver, Joni Mitchell, then added the songs I was writing. I was like, ‘Everybody writes great songs, but I can’t find anyone writing songs about faith.'”

Her break came when a Texas company came to Nashville to start a Christian label.

“This producer walked in studio that happened to be a day that the engineer was making a copy of a tape that I had made for my mom and dad,” Grant said. “He said, ‘Who’s that?’ He said, ‘That’s Amy Grant.’ … ‘She’s not very good, but she sounds really sincere.'”

Smash-cut to five Grammys for Best Gospel Performance throughout the 1980s, including “Angels” and “Ageless Medley. She also recorded the gospel hit “Father’s Eyes.”

“‘Father’s Eyes’ was written by Gary Chapman,” Grant said. “I met him at the bookstore where they would have live music on Saturday nights. I actually didn’t meet him until after I had recorded his song, and we wound up getting married and stayed married for 17 years.”

She found crossover success with the blockbuster pop album “Heart in Motion” (1991), including the single “That’s What Love Is For,” which topped the Adult Contemporary chart.

“I love that song,” Grant said. “I still do that every night. A great message. When I think about that song I think about this crazy music video we did for that. I don’t know if it ever saw the light of day. It was weird. We did it in Zion National Park or Craters of the Moon.”

The album also featured “Baby Baby,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“I wrote that with Keith Thomas,” Grant said. “I’m so glad he let me write a lyric. I wrote it about my daughter, Millie. … I was pregnant with her making a lot of that record, she was on the Grammys with me when she was one. … Now she’s pregnant with a baby girl.”

The upbeat track “Every Heartbeat” hit No. 2 as another big single.

“I wrote that with Charlie Peacock and Wayne Kirkpatrick,” Grant said. “A feel-good song. Life felt like one big party at that point. … Fun, upbeat songs that celebrated.”

You’re also guaranteed to remember the catchy beat of “Good for Me.”

“That little popcorn snare!” Grant said. “Because I mentioned Mario Andretti, that actually got me invited to the Indy 500. … Their team was led by Paul Newman. That led to subsequent invitations to his Camp Hole in the Wall Gang for kids. … One thing just led to another. That record really exploded the circle of my life into a much bigger arena.”

In 1994, she recorded the duet “House of Love” with Vince Gill, whom she married in 2000.

“His manager reached out to me to do a Christmas show with him, Michael McDonald and Chet Atkins,” Grant said. “I had never heard him sing in a live setting. His voice is a phenom! … I said, ‘Would you sing on my record?’ The harmony was too high for me. He’s the only dude I know who can sing that high. … Life took a lot of turns I did not expect.”

Today, she’s producing “The Jesus Music,” chronicling the gospel genre’s humble beginnings at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California to a multibillion-dollar industry.

“I was not aware of how instrumental Billy Graham was in providing a platform for contemporary gospel music,” Grant said. “He opened up his trusted platform to people who looked, dressed and sounded differently. He wasn’t trying to protect the cultural status quo. Billy Graham was welcoming … people who expressed faith differently than he did.”

How does she pitch the documentary to nonbelievers or people struggling with their faith?

“My belief is that we’re all on a faith journey,” Grant said. “If people feel like they’re at arms-length from God, that’s about as far as they’re gonna get because we’re the only ones that can put our arms up. … I think we’re going to get to the other side of life and say, ‘How did I ever see myself as separate from You?’ … He says, ‘Whatever you think you know about me, you don’t.'”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Amy Grant at The Birchmere (Part 2)

Hear the full conversation on today’s “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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