On the Wings of a Dove: Country’s Elite Revisit Their Roots
- Friday, February 06, 2004
On Nov. 7, 2001, Alan Jackson walked onto the stage of the Country Music Awards in Nashville, sat down on a solitary stool, gently picked his guitar and sang these words: “I know Jesus and I talk to God/And I remember this from when I was young/Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us/And the greatest is love…”
Voted CMA’s “Song of the Year” the following season, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning?),” Jackson’s heartfelt response to the violence of Sept. 11, 2001, relayed the redemptive, faith-based theme that has long been a part of the genre.
Country music’s first family, the Carters, was the genre’s earliest successful recording group to fuse country music’s core components — the rural Southern lifestyle and the importance of faith and family values — in singable melodies with mass audience appeal. Classic Carter tunes such as “In the Highways” and “The Far Side Banks of Jordan,” though often mournful as they relayed the hardships of Appalachian life in the 1930s, resounded with a faith in the God who sustained them and a hope of better things to come “when we see paradise.”
Over the years, country music’s popularity with the American public has fluctuated. Folks like Randy Travis took the genre to new heights in the 1980s when the trend turned from the pop-influenced production of the 1970s to a more traditional sound. The last several years have seen, again, a pop-tinged country market, though lately the content of the tunes hearkens back to country’s gospel roots.
Last year a slew of established country heavyweights released records with crossover appeal in both the Christian and country markets. Three-time GRAMMY winner Travis, country music legend George Jones and singer-turned-actor Billy Ray Cyrus recorded albums with classic hymns, story songs about real life from a faith perspective and even a few modern-worship tunes. Additionally, songs that invoke Jesus’ name, while commonplace in the contemporary Christian music market, have raced up the country radio charts in recent months. Take, for instance, Travis’ chart-topping “Three Wooden Crosses,” Columbia recording artist Buddy Jewell’s “Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey’s Song)” and MCA newcomer Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train.” Even CMA’s 2003 “Duo of the Year” Brooks & Dunn sing about “where I met Jesus” in the upbeat “Red Dirt Road.”
The result of this return to roots has undoubtedly translated into ringing cash registers at retail stores. But more importantly, it has served as an entry point for those unfamiliar with the gospel of Christ. As Travis tells CCM Magazine, “It’s music ministry, plain and simple.”
For Travis, country success paved the way for a ministry he “couldn’t walk away from.”
George Jones, a country music legend and believer who came to know God in the latter years of his life, released his Gospel Collection earlier this year. He told CCM Magazine: “I always included a gospel song as the last cut on my records over the years because I felt it made an album complete, and I’d always wanted to make an entire gospel album.” Finding time to execute the idea and convincing his record company that it was a worthy venture were the stumbling blocks to making that a reality, according to Jones.
Randy Travis, a longtime Jones admirer, found himself in the same predicament after the release of his multi-million selling debut, "The Storms of Life," and his even more successful follow-up "Forever and Always."
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