Song Story: "Because of Who You Are"
- 2005 10 Oct
Forget preaching to the choir… just sing to it! Worship leader Martha Munizzi says that she can reliably measure how well a congregation will respond to a new song by teaching it to the choir first. One day in the late nineties, Munizzi – then the music director for a church in Orlando – taught the choir “Because of Who You Are,” a song she had recently written about the character of God. She remembers leaving that rehearsal with a sense that the song would work well in a congregational setting. “The first couple of times the choir sang it through,” she says, “They hadn’t learned it yet, so it wasn’t really getting into their spirits. But by the end of the rehearsal it was such a worshipful atmosphere we knew we had something special. It was such a revelation to people of who God is. Sometimes we sing about Him. But when you sing to Him about who He is, there’s such power in that.”
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“Because of Who You Are,” which has become a worship standard in churches across the country, was born out of a season in Munizzi’s life when she was longing to dig deeper into worship. “My relationship with God shows up in my songs,” says Munizzi. “I think that’s true of most writers – you can kind of tell where people are by what comes out of their hearts. [This particular song] was kind of the birthplace of my saying, ‘God, I really want to know you. I don’t want to sing about you. I don’t just want to have an emotional experience, I really want to know you.’ I wrote the first part of it – ‘Because of who you are/I give you glory/Because of who you are/I give you praise/Because of who you are/I will lift my voice and say/’Lord I worship You/because of who you are.’ But that’s all I had for the longest time!”
As Munizzi tried to finish the song she realized she had some work to do. “I realized that I had to go deeper,” she says. “[The song says] ‘Because of who you are,’ but… who are you? I really wanted to make that as plain as I could.”
Munizzi went straight to the Bible, studying the names of God, and scouring scripture for clues about His identity and character. She called colleagues and friends and talked with them about her findings, asking for insight on things that were unclear. And though it was an incredibly fruitful and enlightening endeavor, she began to wonder if all of the rich theology she had recently encountered would translate well into rhyme and meter. “I wondered, ‘Is this going to be singable?’” she remembers. “But once I started to study, it really flowed. I said, ‘Okay, Lord, Who are you? You’re Jehovah Jireh – you’re the God who’s more than enough, my provider. You’re Jehovah Nissi.’ Some songs are studied, and some songs are supernatural. The ones I have had to sit down and study have been the ones that have lived the longest, and the ones people ask me the most about.”
Besides being curious about the origins of her best-selling songs, another thing folks are sometimes curious about is the fact that Munizzi, a white woman who grew up singing southern gospel, is immensely popular in the black gospel market. One journalist observed that while many black gospel artists find wide crossover success in the adult/contemporary and pop markets, it’s rarer to find white artists who have a strong, staying presence among black gospel fans. Munizzi may be the poster child for such crossovers, as earlier this year she became the first non-African American artist to ever win a Stellar Award. Her ministry takes her almost exclusively to African American churches across the country, which is where she says she is most at home. “The church we attended was very multi-racial, and so that was where I really felt the most comfortable,” says Munizzi. “And then when we started to travel and actually show up on SoundScan, we knew gospel was the place we needed to be.”
Munizzi spends a lot of time ministering alongside some of gospel music’s greatest voices, including Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, and Fred Hammond, to name only a few. Asked if she ever receives some friendly ribbing about sticking out like a sore thumb, Munizzi laughs. “Everybody else points out that I’m always the only white person,” she says, “but I don’t think about it. My colleagues will say, ‘Is everybody treating you right?’ Everyone celebrates what God is doing. They just really care about what’s anointed. If it’s blessing people and changing people, that’s really the bottom line. It’s like Israel Houghton said, ‘It’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing; it’s a Jesus thing.’”