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Amy Grant: charting a new course.

For singer Amy Grant, these are the best of times. Long a darling of the gospel music industry, Grant "crossed over" into major pop success earlier this year with her first album in three years, Heart in Motion. A single from that album, "Baby, Baby," topped the charts during the summer.

Such immediate and widespread popularity could easily inflate the ego of many performers. Yet Grant has her feet planted firmly in the soil of the rolling hills of her Tennessee farm located south of Nashville, surrounded as always by her family. She is a star most certainly, but one who is happily down to earth.

"My family really is my anchor in a high-wind, megawave ocean," Grant Says. "With so many demands on my time, I know I can count on my family to always be there. I feel their love in a very real, practical way."

Her immediate family includes her husband, songwriter/musician Gary Chapman, and their two children, Matt, 4, and Millie, almost 2. Unlike many other celebrities today, Grant enjoyed a traditional, stable childhood; she and her three sisters remain close.

"I do feel happy right now," Grant admits. "The most basic place in my heart is feeling loved, and that has everything to do with my relationship with God and my family. That settles most of the big issues in life for me. And it's funny. The more my life has become public, the more it's the simple things I enjoy most. It didn't used to be that way. When I was younger I'd want to go to a movie, go out dancing at night, be around a crowd of people.

"But these days, I like a cup of hot tea. I like quiet conversation with a good friend. I like sitting on the front porch watching a sunset. I like singing a lullaby. I think a lot of it has to do with feeling secure in yourself. I know I benefit from having some real important decisions made before this [success]. It's one thing to be 21 and have it happen, and it's another thing to be 30, married, and with two kids.

"Gary and I are now in our tenth year of marriage, and it struck me recently that we're doing just fine. I see so many couples who cease to be themselves when they're around their mates. They almost stop being real, and just sort of assume this role within the relationship. But I've been through the most with Gary. He's very funny, he's intelligent, he helps me think through my thoughts. He's the best person for reminding me that I'm a woman.

"I think the more time you invest in a marriage, the more valuable it becomes. Yet the fact is, family is a battle zone for many people. I know that. But the odd circumstances of my life have meant that my family has been my refuge."

The "odd circumstances" of Amy Grant's life today began with her almost fairytalelike rise to success. She was born into upper-middle-class comfort, and grew up on the 100-acre Nashville farm owned by her family, who are devout Church of Christ members. With the Physician's income of her father, a radiologist, she was able to attend elite private schools.

Grant's unintended climb to fame began during high school. She was 14 when she started performing for friends, instilling Christian lyrics into folk-rock melodies. A year later, her church youth leader played a tape of Grant's music over the telephone for a Word Records executive. Grant was offered a contract, but thought it was all a practical joke.

It wasn't. She recorded her first album at age 16, quickly followed by eight more. Yet her life continued a fairly normal course until 1982, when the demands of her burgeoning career forced her to quit attending Vanderbilt University just 20 hours shy of a degree in English. Grant's first truly big album, Age to Age, was released a year later.

The "YUppie Christian," as she was quickly dubbed, was on her way. She conquered the gospel field with relative ease, blending a bit of pop fun with a message of spiritual salvation. Her original core audience, primarily upscale teenage girls, ate it up.

So did the popular media. The New York Times proclaimed her "the Michael Jackson of gospel music," while Life reported that she was "the Madonna of gospel rock." Rolling Stone magazine, the music world's bible, devoted two pages to her conservative opinions on sex. And in the process she has sold more than 10 million albums and won every major award possible.

Yet Grant always maintained the image of being a devoted Christian wife and mother who just happened to also be extremely musically talented. Her current album--her first all-pop effort--and its ensuing success have changed all of that. Grant says it was unplanned.

"I don't really have any grand scheme about my career, other than I do want to try new things," she explained. "But I didn't want to unnecessarily shock anyone with this album. When I first began working on it, I thought, 'Hey, this feels different.'"

Not wanting to alienate her longtime gospel audience, Grant wrote about the development of Heart in Motion in newsletters to her fans. More than half the lyrics of the album's songs were included in those newsletters, Grant says, so "everyone who felt that close to me would know I wasn't turning into a she-devil or something.

"All the time I was working on this album, I wrote just as many Christian songs. Wanting to do this album had nothing to do with some basic insecurity or need for greater acceptance on my part. At my age, it's best to already have your security base, and I think I do. And when people say I did it to be famous, well, that just makes me want to laugh."

These days, Amy Grant figures it's best to just go with the flow. Promotional work for Heart in Motion took her to Singapore and London in the spring, followed by a nationwide concert tour over the summer. The Thanksgiving holidays will find her doing more promotional work overseas, this time in Germany, France, and Holland.

"My whole life is someone telling me, 'Things have changed,'" she says. "But kids provide the basic ground rules for that type of life, and I have experience with that."

Indeed, Grant manages to combine family life and work quite well. When Matt and Millie were younger, they would accompany their mother into the studio when she recorded, Husband Gary and the children have always gone on tour with her (plus two nannies, one for each child), and Grant wouldn't have it any other way.

"When you're stuck on a bus with your husband and two kids, you learn a lot about what a family means. And that's good. The only time I'm away from them is when I'm actually performing. After that, the rest of my day goes to them. No matter where we are, I can always say, 'OK, let's find a playground, let's go for a bike ride.'"

Not only does Grant take her family role seriously, but also her position as a role model for her fans. She remembers an especially poignant meeting with one teenage admirer years ago in Canada, "an awkward, gangly girl of about 13, who came up to me with teary eyes. Looking at her, I felt all the pain of adolescence come rushing back."

The girl's name was Ellie, and Grant had friends who had just had a daughter they named Ellie. At the end of the conversation with the 13-year-old, "I told her that I was going to call my friends that night, and tell them that I'd met a girl named Ellie who's doing fine. She thanked me with a big, big smile."

Grant admits that trying to bolster the growing pains experienced by her fans at times been hard on her: "There's a lot of vulnerability at that age to try and take on and somehow be a positive influence. But I remember that when I was growing up, I kept four scrapbooks on Sonny and Cher, and I know that if I had met Cher back then and she had just blown me off, well, I would have been crushed.

"So when I meet a fan, in a shopping mall, after a concert, or wherever, I just try to look them in the eye and let them talk. A lot of times my job is to listen."

It is a lesson in humility that Grant tries to always keep in mind. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, and Grant talks of family and simplicity: "I remember my great-grandmother sitting in her room. She had a fireplace in her bedroom, and a big upholstered rocking chair. And there she sat rocking, always humming or singing, usually a church hymn. She would reminisce, but only when you asked her to.

"When I grow up, I want to not be searching for who I am. When I grow up, when all the diapers are behind me, I just want to be there, I want to just be."

Grant views life as seasonal, with spring representing optimistic hope and winter corresponding to the dark periods every human being--even the talented, even the famous--passes through. It is summer right now for Amy Grant.

"Here we are, even living on a farm," she says. "It's one of the busiest times for us. We planted a big spring crop, and now it's time to harvest..."
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:gospel singer now singing popular music
Author:Connolly, Patrick M.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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