Bart Millard: MawMaw's Boy
- Tuesday, August 23, 2005
“My grandparents started a little bitty church outside of Greenville, Texas called Ardis Heights Baptist Church,” begins Bart Millard, recalling that extremely difficult and pivotal chapter in his family history. “My grandfather was a preacher, and my grandmother was a treasurer. My mom and her twin sister were the piano and organ players. My dad and my uncle were deacons. Back before I was born, my grandfather left my grandmother for another woman in the church, took off and kind of turned his back on faith and everything.”
What? That was the first domino to fall in the series of events that would eventually inspire Bart’s solo debut, "Hymned"?
“My grandmother stayed in that church up until the day she died. She had so many reasons to be bitter, but I never saw her say a mean word. She always would say that her prodigal would come home. She really believed that PawPaw would come home. He never did, unfortunately.”
Who could have known this man’s tragic life choices would set the stage for one woman’s profound legacy of faith – a legacy that would leave its indelible mark on the young boy who would become one of the Christian community’s most prolific and influential singer/songwriters?
Numerous factors fuel an artist’s creativity, with family relationships often a chief stimulant. Such is the case with the MercyMe front man, who was compelled to record an album of his favorite hymns as a tribute to his beloved grandmother and as a sacred heirloom for his children Sam and Gracie.
“She’s a huge influence on the project,” Bart says of his maternal grandmother, Ruby B. Lindsey, who left this world in December 1999. “[In deciding] which hymns I was going to use, it really came down to the ones that I had the most vivid memories of her singing. A lot of the decisions we made were based on if MawMaw would like it.”
"Hymned" features Bart’s take on such classics as “Sweetest Name I Know,” “Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” “Power in the Blood,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Softly and Tenderly.” “I listened to a lot of music growing up, country and jazz and blues,” says Bart, who made his debut singing in church at age five. “It all kind of shows up in the record. It’s a very, very organic sound. We wanted it to feel like we were sitting in a circle playing.”
Bart has fond memories of his Texas childhood and the lessons learned from his grandmother. “My relationship with Christ, you can pretty much blame her for it,” he says with a warm laugh. “She loved the Lord with all of her heart, and she just didn’t preach it, she lived it.”
His grandmother’s faith was tested, obviously, and remained strong. When Bart’s grandfather passed away, a cousin went to his grandma to tell her. “She told him: ‘There are only two men I’ve ever loved in my life, the first one is Jesus and the second one is your PawPaw, and I’m much better off with the second one leaving me than the first one.’ And that’s all she ever said about it. That’s when I realized there was probably not a godlier woman on earth than Ruby Lindsey. She wasn’t one to preach. She lived life by example.”
Though she may have been a godly woman, Ruby was far from a talented singer. Bart recalls being next to her on Sunday mornings in the third pew. “She couldn’t sing very well, but she loved making a joyful noise,” he remembers. “She was always the loudest person in the church. I was too short to see, so I would stand in the pew so I would be eye level with her. I’d be holding my hands over both my ears, and she would sing at the top of her voice. It was unbelievable, but now looking back, I have to laugh because I can’t imagine life without it.”
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