"The only thing that's important to me is that I continue to glorify God in every chance I'm given."
--Natalie Grant

She may be a debut artist, but {{Natalie Grant}} has achieved a first in Christian music -- a designer clothing endorsement. It happened through her management company, which also does work as a modeling agency in San Francisco. A few phone calls to Shelli Segal, the creator of the Laundry clothing line, and boom -- free clothes! "All women think that's a cool thing," Grant laughs, who says Segal's contemporary designs outfit mega-stars like Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, the "Days of Our Lives" cast...and now her. The willowy blonde wears her Laundry designs to public appearances, photo shoots, interviews and concerts, and she still can't wear them all. "I'm engaged, so I make my fiancé take me to cool places so I can show them off."

Click to hear a clip from "Waiting For A Prayer"

Lest you think this a frivolous start for a new Christian artist, read on. At 27, Natalie Grant has a lifetime of music ministry behind her. First in the Seattle church she grew up in, touring Western Europe and Canada as part of a traveling children's choir, doing street ministry with her youth choir in Paris and Russia. Then as a member of {{Truth}}, an experience she lovingly describes as "Christian boot camp." "We did 325 concerts a year," she says. "You didn't live anywhere, you lived on the bus. I made lasting friendships, learned a lot about church ministry; it broadened my whole perspective on the world."

{{Truth}} took her to Europe again, where the group teamed up with the Slavic Gospel Association in Bellarus, Russia. Working with missionaries, they ministered to the second-generation children of Chernobyl. She saw children suffering the ravages of radiation sickness, met orphans who were under-nourished, under-developed and wouldn't live past their 16th birthdays. Grant says it changed her life forever, especially after getting to know the workers. "They are like little "Jesus-juniors," all those people, because they give their life to it," she says. "There were so few of them, these people have no money, very little food themselves and they're round-the-clock working with these kids." She says it gave her a real heart for missions.

Click to hear a clip from "I Am Not Alone"

After Truth, Grant moved to Nashville to work as a session singer and immediately immersed herself in the music ministry at Strong Tower Bible Church in nearby Franklin. It's an interracial church with an African-American pastor. She worked with the pastor's wife to develop the choir and was led full-circle back into missions work - the church has an outreach program to inner-city neighborhoods and projects. Grant says she's right at home, and that's where she needs to be. "I think it's important to be involved in church -- especially when you're an artist. It's so easy to allow what I do to replace church, because I'm in church almost every day, but it's important to surround yourself with believers that will keep you grounded, keep your feet on the ground." As an artist, Grant says she believes she'll continue to be involved in mission work. "Most artists have a ministry they hook up with. I'm interested in Feed the Children, because it's important to take care of people here at home. As far as overseas, I think I'll always be involved in that, even if it's through the local church."

At the time of our interview, Grant was homesick for her home church. She was wrapping up the "Stories from the Heart" tour with Christian music veterans {{Bob Carlisle}} and {{Russ Taff}}. What a thrill, she says, to hear Taff sing "Medals" and then join him and Carlisle on stage to sing "We Will Stand." Grant felt no hesitation conveying her excitement to her tour-mates. "I told them, 'I hope I'm not making you feel old, but I grew up listening to both of you!'" She says both took her under their wings and gave great advice, especially during appearances at Gospel Music Association Week in Nashville, a week-long mixer for artists, retail and radio folk. "Russ told me, 'Remember, this GMA thing doesn't matter, this is not who God has called you to be. Don't get caught up in the reviews; some people aren't gonna like you and some radio stations won't play your song.' He challenged me to be transparent, to break down the wall between artist and audience and let the audience see you for who you really are."

Click to hear a clip from "There Is A God"

The real Natalie Grant is the youngest of five children and describes herself as very opinionated, very strong and very independent. "I should have been Italian," she jokes. Her strong personality is an asset on the road, especially now that she's no longer part of a group act. Grant misses the close, tight harmonies of ensemble singing, and says she had mixed feelings about her first few times on stage as a solo act. But she strives hard to take {{Russ Taff}}'s advice and make sure that with her audiences, what you see is what you get. "I think God is challenging me to find the time to spend with Him. It's every day becoming more difficult," she says. "You get so worn out on tour, you're in a different city every night and it's challenging to have something fresh to share with the audience. I need to have a fresh, new word from Him."



Grant says she's been hearing from the Lord recently about her personal testimony. "I used to want some big flashy testimony," she confesses. "I'm totally a church girl, through and through; I was raised in Christian home. Now I understand that it's such a beautiful example of God's grace. He's placed me with two parents who love each other, who've been together 43 years. To whom much is given, much is required," she quotes, adding that she believes her ministry is to reflect the compassion and unconditional love of Christ. "Colossians 3: 12-14 - that's the theme verse of my ministry because it reminds me to clothe myself in compassion and humility," she says.

"So many Christians are so judgmental, the voice of church criticism is so loud and the secular media sees us that way too. Jesus was not about that; He was about loving people and showing them how to be restored from their sin, showing them the way. The church is not a museum where we display perfect Christians; it's a hospital where people can find healing love and compassion."

Healing love and compassion seem to be the cornerstones of Grant's self-titled debut album: "At Your Feet" touches on love and forgiveness; "I Am Not Alone" reminds us that Christ travels with us down each road; and "The Way It Is With Love," co-written by Grant, Mark Hammond and David Mullen, tells us there is no love without sacrifice. She also co-wrote her first single, the soaring groove-pop anthem "Heavenly."

Click to hear a clip from "Heavenly"

Grant's vocals, compared by some to Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, are soaring and strong. Her tourmates agree. {{Bob Carlisle}} describes her as "soulful;" {{Russ Taff}} says, "The girl's a powerful singer." Her performances on her debut project, as well as the backup singing she did on the "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack, have captured even some secular media attention. Grant's reaction? "It's great to see the Christian industry getting more mainstream media attention - {{Sixpence None the Richer}}, {{Jars of Clay}} and all those guys -- as long as the Gospel remains the focal point. Personally, the only thing that's important to me is that I continue to glorify God in every chance I'm given."

After a few days' rest, Grant gets another chance to glorify God as part of the "Summer Jam '99" tour; she's on the bill with {{NewSong}} and {{Clay Crosse}}, {{Aaron Jeoffrey}} and {{Margaret Becker}}. So it's back on the road for this well-traveled "debut" artist. While she's thankful to have a record company that believes in her, she admits being a little uncomfortable with the hype and self-promotion -- yes, even the free designer clothing. "Joshua talks about 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom,'" she reminds us.

Far from being frivolous with her platform, Grant says she's very serious about the responsibility it brings. "In the midst of all the stuff that's going on all around me, the most important thing is to know and understand the Lord. Out of that will come ministry and right relationships," she says. "The thing I need to focus on is to know and understand God."