Selah: What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- Monday, September 20, 2004
Consider this: a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman with a soulful, husky voice; a young father of twins, who loves to rock out; and a piano prodigy, who also happens to love bluegrass and Dolly Parton. When you put the three together, for a group that sings mainly classic hymns and holds the lion’s share of its concerts in traditional churches, the individual members of Selah are quite different from what one might think.
But that’s the beauty of this Dove Award-winning trio, previously listed among the “25 Most Important Artists Shaping Christian Music Today” by CCM Magazine. Each inimitable member contributes distinctive life experiences and diverse musical styles to the mix. Nicol (Smith) Sponberg is the pop/R&B songstress, her brother, Todd Smith, represents the 1980s-style rocker, and Allan Hall comprises the acoustic bluegrass/country lover. “Selah is its own little musical gumbo,” Allan quips.
Todd and Nicol, along with two other siblings, were raised as missionary kids in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa. They grew up in an outpost home, where they ate mangos and coconuts, learned the native Kituba language and grew to love African tribal music.
Meanwhile, back in the American environs of Knoxville, Tenn., Allan took up piano playing at the ripe age of 7. He learned to read music from church hymnals; and then, some 10 years later, he enrolled in formal lessons. At his first competition in Nashville, he took first prize. Allan vividly remembers one judge’s comments, which read: “I’ve been dazzled a lot by technique today, but no one’s playing made me feel anything until you came to play. I can hear your heart.” And with those comments to boost his self-esteem, he continued honing his talent beyond high school.
These three artists forged similar paths that would eventually cross in the early ‘90s. Allan and Todd met in 1992 at a mutual friend’s Nashville recording session. Nicol, meanwhile, had moved to Music City, where she worked as a waitress at the popular Green Hills Grille and began landing studio gigs, singing background vocals for the likes of Margaret Becker, Michael Bolton, Twila Paris, CeCe Winans and Cindy Morgan, among many others.
Nicol first met Allan in 1994, when he and Todd performed at a Belmont University concert. Todd, thinking it wise to bolster their sound, had invited his sister to lend her voice. Later, when Nicol was offered a chance to perform at a youth-oriented event, she requested that her brother and Allan accompany her onstage.
While the three quickly realized a special chemistry was developing, Nicol’s solo career seemed on the verge of taking off. By 1995, Mike Curb, the influential founder of Curb Records, discovered that one of his family’s favorite waitresses had pipes like nobody’s business; and Nicol soon entered an artist development relationship with Curb’s label.
When the release of Nicol’s self-titled debut was delayed for a few years, she, Todd and Allan eventually found themselves on an unexpected career path. These talented performers had grown up singing classic hymns and seemed to share common threads musically and spiritually. “My mom had just inherited some money, and she gave us, like, $2,000 to record some songs,” says Todd.
That custom recording ultimately landed at Curb Records, where the label decided to add strings, guitar and percussion to the mixes and then released the revised version as Selah’s 1999 debut, "Be Still My Soul." The disc went on to sell more than 130,000 copies, according to SoundScan and earned Selah its first Dove Award in 2000 for “Inspirational Album of the Year.” Riding that momentum, the group captured a second consecutive Dove in 2001 for its sophomore project, "Press On" (Curb), which surpassed 200,000 units in sales and also generated a pair of No. 1 inspirational singles with the title track and “Wonderful, Merciful Savior.” Then in 2002, Selah released "Rose of Bethlehem," a Christmas album that struck a chord with the trio’s core audience.
Recently on Music
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content