Amy Grant has grown stronger through some of life’s most difficult times. That strength and those lessons are infused in her music and reflect in her latest album.
Singer/songwriter Amy Grant was having what would become one of her final conversations with her mother, Gloria Grant, who died in April 2011, when the inspiration for her new album became clear.
“My mother suffered with dementia for several years and so she was not quite in her right mind. She didn’t remember that I sang,” Grant said by telephone last week from a Smoky Mountains vacation with her 12-year-old daughter, Corinna Grant Gill. “But we really had this lovely visit. When I told her I had to go pack for a couple of shows that weekend, she was so enthusiastic, as though this was all new information. I remember her saying, ‘You sing? Will you sing something for me now?’ So I chose an old hymn, because those old songs tend to be logged way deep in the memory. At the end of the conversation, she called out in a really upbeat manner, ‘When you walk out on that stage, sing something that matters.’”
Her mother’s advice reflected what has long been a tenet of a career that has seen Grant, known as “The Queen of Christian Pop,” become one of the best-selling Christian contemporary artists ever - with 30 million albums sold to date. The Georgia native landed her first recording contract just weeks before her 16th birthday when the demo of “Mountain Man,” a song she wrote and recorded for her parents, was played for the owner of Word Records, a Nashville-based Christian label that released Grant’s eponymous first album in 1977, when she was a high school senior.
In the mid-1980s, Grant took her career in a new direction, scoring her first Billboard No. 1 pop hit with the Peter Cetera duet “The Next Time I Fall in Love.” Her best-selling album to date, 1991’s “Heart in Motion,” kept her at the top of pop charts with singles including “Baby, Baby,” “Every Heartbeat” and “That’s What Love Is For.” While blending pop hooks with spirituality on most of her recordings in the 1990s, Grant returned to her musical roots with the 2002 release of “Legacy … Hymns and Faith,” an album of traditional gospel and bluegrass influenced by country superstar Vince Gill, whom she married in 2000. Her first marriage, to fellow Christian singer Gary Chapman, ended in divorce after 17 years in 1999.
A six-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the 52-year-old acknowledges that without even realizing it, she has honored her mother’s request with her latest album. Even though the songs on “How Mercy Looks From Here” were not written with her mother in mind, the album is dedicated to her. Produced by Marshall Altman for Sparrow Records, the album features many guest artists, including James Taylor, who joins Grant on “Don’t Try So Hard,” the first single.
“I had approached James Taylor about recording together several years ago, but he didn’t like the song I gave him to consider then. I was luckier this time around. And I am so glad, because James Taylor’s music is the wallpaper of my life.” That luck continued on collaborations with Carole King, Sheryl Crow and husband Gill.
“This is my first all-new studio album in a decade,” Grant said. “Preparing to record it, I was full of anticipation. I told Carole King that this might well be my ‘Tapestry.’ I meant that, too, because the long lapse of time made it instinctive for me as a songwriter to take life lessons and put them to music. These songs are life affecting, even if you don’t realize it when you first hear them.”
Grant’s father, Dr. Burton Grant, also suffers from dementia. As she tours this summer in support of her new album, Grant will be thinking of her father and remembering her mother.
“Early on when my parents became ill, I think I was angry and I didn’t want to accept that this could be happening to them. I felt overwhelmed because things weren’t the way they used to be. My three sisters and I had to become the caregivers. A friend told me, ‘This is the last great lesson your parents will teach you.’ With those words, everything changed and I began to realize that even the toughest situations can be beautiful.”