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Supermom Sandi Patti.

Gold records on her walls, a tour on her mind, and twins on her lap: gospel music's First Lady could write a book on time management. . . if sheweren't so busy.

At a time when hype springs eternal and every singer is dubbed a "superstar" by his or her publicist, one voice soars above the others. Called the "Voice of Gospel Music," Sandi Patti's set of pipes can touch off an epidemic of gooseflesh. If she isn't a household name yet, it's only because she refuses to go the "pop" route and insists on blending preschool carpool duties with an international concert tour.

When Sandi isn't making records, she's breaking them. At age 32, she has four Grammy awards, sales of 3.5 million albums, and four gold discs to her credit. She made her name singing the national anthem for presidents; bringing gospel music to the "Tonight Show"; and selling out such sophisticated, secular strongholds as Radio City Music Hall, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta.

None of this was planned. Sandi does admit that as a child she would sometimes pretend a tablespoon in her hand was a microphone; occasionally practice her autograph; and dream of wowing her generation as the next Karen Carpenter. But then she got serious. A career teaching high-school music seemed appropriate for a preacher's daughter, so she put herself through Anderson (Indiana) College singing Juicy Fruit commercials in an Indianapolis recording studio.

The problem was her voice. It kept getting in the way. It couldn't be confined to a classroom; it dominated every back-up chorus; and, as Peter Jennings of ABC News once commented, it seemed "to reach to the heavens." It simply had to be shared. "I didn't see it coming," Sandi says, still surprised at her phenomenal success. "I wanted to teach school, and it really didn't cross my mind to pursue singing. But when doors began to open, and people began to invite me to come places, I thought, Hmmm, I could enjoy this. Then I felt God's call, and I knew it was the right thing to do."

If her audiences haven't been the same since her decision, neither has her life. The organized 9-to-5 workday of a teacher was impossible as she and her manager-husband, John Helvering, crisscrossed the country on the concert circuit and learned the ups and downs, the twists and turns, of the gospel-music industry "I continually battle the fact that what's normal for me isn't normal for somebody else," she says. "I can't just moan and groan that I want normalcy. Actually, there's a lot of consistency and planning in what we do, and so you could say we have an abnormally normal life. Sure there are times when I'd rather just be home, and that's when I suggest to John that we need a couple of days of quiet, to relax, or just to read a book without being interrupted. But for the most part, I'm very grateful that I can include my family in what I do. I know there are a lot of women who have to work and can't be with their children as much as they'd like. For that reason I don't ever want to complain about my schedule."

The family that shares her career has expanded. Just about the time Sandi was coming to terms with her "abnormally normal life," Anna Elizabeth arrived and now, 4-1/2 years later, Jennifer and Jonathan have joined the Helvering clan. Yes, twins. Sandi, told two months into the pregnancy to expect a double delivery, had stashed away pairs of outfits, cribs, toys, and supplies, Still, she wasn't prepared for the excitement and chaos of two babies at once. Her physical recovery took longer than she expected-the twins had a combined weight of a robust 15 pounds-and her energy was sapped by the demands of three little ones under the age of four.

"I was overwhelmed," she recalls. "Like a lot of women, I suffered from superwoman syndrome. I felt like I had to do everything. After all, for years and years everybody else had done it all, and I wasn't going to admit that I needed help. I spent too many months with that kind of guilt. I regret it because I needed to allow myself the emotional and physical time to recover so I could be a good mother. Right now, a year later, I have more energy with three kids than I did 12 months ago when I only had Anna. There's really no better timemanagement course than having a family. Especially twins."

* * *

What goes on in Sandi's personal life tends to spill over into her career. Her current preoccupation with kids has led to a children's album set for release in February and a revamping of the Friendship Company, a special ministry to youngsters aged 8 to 12. Membership in the Friendship Company numbers about 20,000, according to the club's overseer, Scott Tilley, and expansion plans are in the works. Club perks include a newsletter (called a "Pal-o-gram"), activities calendars, and birthday cards ftom Sandi.

Another offshoot of Sandi's motherhood has been her renewed sense of patriotism. Her stirring renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," concluding New York's Fourth of July Liberty Weekend in 1986 and kicking off George Bush's 1988 campaign, attracted widespread attention. She says she now feels an obligation to become knowledgeable on political issues. Although she stopped short of endorsing a candidate in the November election, she did accept an invitation to sing at the GOP national convention in New Orleans, and she was a star attraction at Dan Quayle's hometown celebration. "My father instilled real patriotism in all of us kids," she says. "He's the kind of person who always sings the national anthem at the top of his lungs and generally cries when he does it. But quite honestly, I never took it seriously until I had a family of my own. Then I realized that I can stand by and not care, but the things that are happening now are going to affect my kids in 15 or 20 years ftom now. I decided I better start doing something about it."

Her star-spangled patriotism has proved an unlikely entree to the secular world. She's avoided being labeled a modern-day Kate ("God Bless America") Smith; she hasn't compromised on her pledge not to perform crossover songs; and she's succeeded in introducing contemporary gospel to audiences that may never have sampled it otherwise. The opportunity to sing on such highly rated TV shows as Johnny Carson's has been both exciting and unnerving. "Someone like Johnny Carson is very aware that I am a Christian artist," she explains. "So it becomes more than my name at stake when I encounter him. It's the name of Christianity, and as we know, so many things have given that a negative connotation. It's a challenge to present who I am in the light of being a Christian and to leave a positive feeling with people. I only have one shot to do it, or maybe a couple."

Such impressions are as important in her hometown of Anderson, Indiana, as they are in New York or Los Angeles. She isn't overconcerned about her appearance when she does her weekly grocery shopping or drives Anna's carpool, but she's very aware of the impression she gives and the message she projects. She works hard at keeping her priorities straight, and part of her strategy to accomplish that is to remove herself from the dollars and cents of her career. She purposely doesn't know how much money is generated by each tour or each album. "Maybe there is a side of me that keeps me from knowing the statistics so that I don't start saying things like, 'Oh, wow!' I couldn't begin to tell you what our financial situation is. I only know we don't have to worry about things like my parents did, and that probably takes some of the stress out of our relationship. I have good people who handle all that, and I trust them completely. I know if it got really awful, they'd tell me."

It's doubtful anything will get "really awful." Her current world tour, in support of her album Make His Praise Glorious, has earned rave reviews. Sponsored by Chick-fil-A, an Atlanta-based national fast-food chicken chain and longtime corporate booster of gospel music, the tour takes Sandi to 90 cities.

"They [Chick-fil-A] are a company founded upon Christian principles," Sandi explains, "so they were kind of looking for an outlet, a kind of getting behind a touring person. But because of what they stand for, they didn't just want to link up with anyone. . . . And the same for us."

Among the few negative aspects of 1988 was a recently published unauthorized biography. It revealed no dark secrets, but it was a bit of an embarrassment because of its poor quality. One of these days Sandi herself will write her story, but for now such a book is one more item penciled in on her "things to do" list-currently topped by a one-week getaway vacation, sans kids, to celebrate Sandi and John's tenth wedding anniversary. Here, too, they're unorthodox, for a change of pace for them is TV dinners by the fire, long walks, and no hotel wakeup calls in the morning.

The new year may bring an added element of normality as Sandi and John adjust their lifestyle to accommodate their growing family. A move is planned to a larger home, and their travel agenda will be curbed when Anna begins kindergarten in September. Concert dates will be clustered on weekends, and studio sessions can be scheduled in the summer.

"We'll do what's normal for us," Sandi says, "Having my family and John's family close by helps to bring us back to our roots. When we get together for a birthday, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, we sit around and ask, 'What did you do this week?' The fact that we may have been in Europe doesn't matter. It's no big deal. We still end up in the kitchen washing dishes with everyone else."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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