Amy Grant: The Queen Of Christmas Music – Forbes

Singer-songwriter Amy Grant performs on stage during the CMA 2016 Country Christmas on Nov. 8, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

There is something to be said for a proven track record. Starting in 1983 with her first Christmas album, Amy Grant scored a platinum, multi-platinum and gold Christmas collection, as well as a total of six top 10 albums on the U.S. Christian charts.

Her fans associate Grant with Christmas music, as proven yet again with the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s new Tennessee Christmas collection, which hit No. 1 on the U.S. Christian chart.

Grant spoke with Monica Molinaro and I about the new album, the holiday season, the importance of music and the impossible Christmas song for her.

Steve Baltin: After four decades of Christmas music, is there a song that you haven’t tackled yet that you want to do?

Amy Grant: “O Holy Night” is one that I will not tackle because I know my tool kit. Our limitations create our style. And I’m not great with range-y stuff. It’ll only happen at gunpoint.

Baltin: Have you ever sung it at Karaoke?

Grant: I have not tried it at Karaoke. For vocalists, that’s like the song they want to sing. Every year, for the last 10 or 11 years I put together a free outdoor Christmas show. They provide a college choir, and a high school and elementary school choir, and I have all different kinds of guests. We have thousands of people show up, and there’s hot chocolate, snacks, and food. My belief is that music should be available to all people at all times, so I guess before I launch on a ticketed tour, I sort of cleanse my palette with a free show. But “O Holy Night,” we’ve created a beautiful arrangement, we have this university choir backup, and it’s gorgeous. Two of our daughters chomp at the bit to sing the song, and have sung it with the choir, but it scares me to death.

Monica Molinaro: It is special to have your family so involved in your music and in your writing. Isn’t Christmas time music also a special tradition between you and your husband Vince [Gill], since before you were married?

Grant: Yes, during the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, a lot of symphonies were way in the red. It was not a good time for symphonies across the country. But the National Symphony had asked me if I would do a fundraiser for them, a benefit. It got to be November, and I thought, I guess it will have to be a Christmas show. And so, right about that time, Vince’s manager called my manager and said, “Hey, Vince is recording a Christmas special with Michael McDonald and Chet Atkins, would Amy be a guest?” And I said, “Well hey, I’ll do your TV show, if you’ll be a guest of mine on this fundraiser.” So we actually worked together—I flew to Tulsa and worked with him, and then just a few days later we came back and did this Christmas show together in Nashville. Clearly that really made me look forward to Christmas, because I knew I would get to see him. Because it was years before we got married, and both living very public lives, and trying to carry on with integrity. But eventually I had to get off the road I was on and get on the road he was on.

Baltin: Your music connects deeply with people. What does it mean to you to hear these stories as a songwriter?

Grant: If Vince is around the house and he’s got a song idea or if I have a song idea I’ll go, “Well, play it for me.” I know it’s especially gonna be a good song if he gets choked up and it doesn’t even have to be a sad song. I wrote a lot years ago with Wayne Kirkpatrick, he and his brother did all the music for the Broadway play Something Rotten. So we would be writing together and talking lyrics ideas back and forth. We would take turns singing what we had so far. But, to me, I would always go, “Your turn, your turn,” because if it was good or moving on any level I would get choked up trying to sing back to him. And I think it’s just because you can’t fake being moved. To me, that’s the whole goal of a song, to articulate something real and honest enough somebody goes, “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I feel” or “That’s how I wanna feel.” So yeah, creativity and a lump in the throat, those things go hand in hand.

Baltin: What is the one song that gets you every time?

Grant: It can also be the other extreme too where something energizes you in a way and you just want more and more of it. My earliest memory of singing, when I was already being creative myself and I felt like I could dance on the ceiling and I don’t even know why, was “Cecelia,” by Simon & Garfunkel. It was the first song I remember having an actual physical reaction to. I don’t even know why, but that song I had a physical reaction of boundless joy. And interestingly enough, in my younger days, when I was trying to pick songs for the radio, I would invite my nieces and nephews over, and then when my children came along, and I would play music, something I was working on in the background, and see what changed the energy in the room. But the first crying to a song I don’t know. Music, relationships, food and the spiritual realm, to me, those things are always the endless frontier. They should be a part of all of our lives.

Molinaro: When you said you can’t fake being moved, to me, sometimes it is hard to be moved, so I think it’s special you came from that place to reach people in this album. It’s beautiful, but it can be such a hard time of year.

Grant: I know, it is, it’s a real tenderizer. End of the calendar year too, so you look back and go, “Well, there went 2016.” So it’s kind of a taking stock kind of thing too. You know the song on this record that just wiped me out was “Joy To The World.” And here’s the crazy thing, Ed Cash, who was the producer on that song, he says, “I have an idea that I want this song to be sung very slowly.” So we played it down the first time, I think right now it’s 92 beats per minute, we started it seven clicks slower. It was so slow I couldn’t even figure out how to sing it. I think that song is always done quickly, kind of a rousing something, and it’s one of my dad’s favorite songs, so I wanted to do it for him. My dad has crazy dementia, he hasn’t said my name in years, but hearing that song in a different speed context, a different tempo, really undid me. I felt like I never heard it before.

Molinaro: Was there one that made you think of your mom on this album?

Grant: I think about her all the time. I think about my mother so continuously, all the time, from, “Wow, mom, I remember when your stomach started looking like mine.” Mostly just realizing how many things she did seemingly effortlessly and being appreciative all over again.

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