Women in Christian Music: This One's for the Girls
- Tuesday, November 21, 2006
“We definitely appreciate the Dove Awards and the Stellar Awards,” Erica Campbell says, “but to know that people outside our genre pay attention is absolutely amazing.”
Like Mary Mary, Leigh Nash has made a strong impression in both the Christian and general markets. She started finding her artistic voice as a girl growing up in New Braunfels, Texas, listening to strong women of country music such as Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Tanya Tucker.
Later, Nash and church-mate Matt Slocum assembled Sixpence None the Richer, eventually gaining worldwide popularity and a Grammy nomination with huge hits such as the No. 1 smash “Kiss Me” and their cover of The La’s “There She Goes.” It was a bittersweet taste of success, as record label foils repeatedly nagged at the group during its 12-year career. No one would have blamed Nash if she had walked away from music to treasure life out of the limelight with her husband, producer and former PFR drummer Mark Nash, and their son, Henry. Yet, Leigh continues to shape the face of music with the recent release of "Blue on Blue," her long-anticipated solo debut via her own imprint, One Son Records.
“I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s also something I really want to do,” Leigh explains. “I guess I think that, as long as God is making it possible and it keeps on seeming like it’s the next thing, [I’ll do it]. That’s what I’m into – you say your prayers and then you do the next thing.”
And remember that admonishment from 1 Timothy? Check out Kiki Sheard. Following her stellar 2004 debut, "I Owe You" (EMI Gospel), Sheard is a student in Detroit and continues to record and perform. She recently released the R&B delight, "This Is Me" (EMI Gospel). With an emphasis on her own songwriting for this project, the 18-year-old says, “This is my testimony. It’s about me going through life experiences as a young adult. It’s about me stepping out into the music industry and being less under Mommy and Daddy’s wings.” Broad wings they are: Kiki’s mother is Karen Clark Sheard of the landmark gospel group The Clark Sisters (whose mother was Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, a revered gospel music matriarch). Kiki’s father is Detroit’s highly-respected Pastor J. Drew Sheard.
Between Rock and a Hard Place
The achievements by these women and others in the last year should warrant a celebration of Greek wedding proportions – if it were not for the current dilapidated state of female artistry in Christian music.
“There’s always been that strong core of empowered, successful female artists. And we still have that,” Natalie Grant observes. “It’s just a little lopsided now with male artists.”
That’s a generous description.
An unscientific polling of Christian industry insiders suggests Christian music is facing a unique condition today: Its offerings by female artists run thin. As previously reported in CCM, the 2006 record release schedule is deluged with band acts. Rock is the sub-genre flavor of choice, as it has been the past few years. (Some might argue rock is edged out by the continuing popularity of worship music. Yet, more worship music today than ever is rock & roll. Think David Crowder Band, Starfield, Building 429, The Longing and Dalton, not to mention longtime staples such as Delirious and Sonicflood.)
This year’s trends mirror last year’s tendencies. Billboard’s 2005 Year-End Top Christian Albums chart contained one female title in its Top 10 (Mary Mary). Natalie Grant’s "Awaken" and Amy Grant’s "Rock of Ages: Hymns & Faith" (Word) were the only additional projects from women to crack Billboard’s Top 25. Only nine projects by women landed in the year’s Top 50. And, between March 2005 and February 2006, only one out of 14 albums certified gold (500,000+ units sold) was a female act’s title (again, Mary Mary) as tallied by the Recording Industry Association of America.
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