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Sarah Kelly: Finally Free

  • Lindsay Williams CCM Magazine
  • Published Oct 24, 2006
Sarah Kelly:  Finally Free

Imagine sitting next to Steven Segal at the 2005 GRAMMY Awards dressed in a $20,000 Jennifer Nicholson dress flowing in hues of pink, green and orange.

Then, as if being there wasn’t enough, imagine being nominated for “Best Rock Gospel Album.”

This dream became a reality for Sarah Kelly with the success of her debut project, "Take Me Away" (Gotee). Kelly reflects on that night with so much excitement that you barely catch all the words, “I was like a Disney princess for a day … I mean I can’t even explain to you what a day that was! It was like a big dream for me.”

Most would consider Kelly’s career, thus far, quite the dream. In addition to the GRAMMY nod, 50,000 copies of "Take Me Away" sold, two hit singles and touring stints opening for Jars of Clay, a life-size portrait of her appears in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Photo Exhibit” seen in 140 Guitar Center stores nationwide.

But don’t be fooled. Take one listen to the honesty found on Kelly’s new disc, "Where the Past Meets Today," and you begin to sense that her life has been far from that of royalty. In fact, it’s just been in the past year that Kelly has been able to come to terms with a lifelong battle with abusive relationships that began when she was 12 years old.

“To be honest, it’s an addiction,” she says. “That’s why women stay. [The men] are so nice to you for four or five days after that. …You go through what you need to [in order to] get through to the make-up period.” Kelly speaks from experience, having had tables and chairs thrown at her and, even, having been locked in a closet for days. “I was hiding this room in my heart from God for the longest time, so I was literally disqualifying myself from peace until just last year when I finally drew the line,” she admits.

Incredibly, Kelly’s Top 10 single, “Take Me Away” was written while she was still in a violent relationship. She quips, “I mean what do people think I’m talking about [when I sing] ‘Take Me Away’?” On a further sobering note, Kelly adds, “One out of four women have dealt with physical abuse; and if we think that’s different in the churches, we’re just fooling ourselves.”

Kelly’s sophomore album, which released this past summer, has proven to be a source of healing for her; and she hopes that it will also impact others in a similar way. “I watched God, through the making of the songs on this album, bring me full circle to honesty and, finally, acknowledging my role in it – my sin in it – in enabling these people to do this,” she continues. “[This album] is like the end of my rope meets the beginning of my life.”

With Mike Clink (Guns N’ Roses, Metallica) at the production helm and co-writers James Michael (Alanis Morissette, Meatloaf) and Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction), among others, it seems inevitable that mainstream ears will perk up. Kelly says Gotee is her “dream label,” but she welcomes general market opportunities. She puts it this way, saying, “You know, if Jesus was walking around today and he was a singer, I don’t think He’d just be singing to Christians. I’ll make a very bold statement: I don’t think He’d forget them either. I love the church, but, for whatever reason, God – not me – opened up these doors. So I’m gonna bust through them with everything I’ve got.”

Gotee co-founder tobyMac is one person who knows Kelly has what it takes. “Sarah pushes beyond the typical ‘ccm safe’ female voice. Lyrically, she is so honest; she writes from the depths of her soul,” Toby explains.  “She is a true artist – a worshiper.”

Though originally an English teacher in her hometown of Rockford, Ill., Kelly now has apartments in both Rockford and L.A., where life has pushed her into the throes of mainstream culture and the lives of many non-believers from whom Kelly seems to have gained infinite insight into the human psyche. She says, “These people are not as far from God as we think they are. Musicians are such spiritual beings, and they know that there’s a God. They know it because they encounter it every time they play. And they’re either running to Him or running from Him. I’ve had some really great talks and, even, prayers with some people that would blow your mind – real people with real lives on the journey trying to figure it out just like everyone sitting in a church pew.”

When not performing, Kelly strives to help others continue on their own unique journeys through mentoring students. “There’s only one theme of my life,” she says, “and that’s to help people write music so they can connect with God.”  

Free from abusive relationships and better able to pour her energy into the lives of others, Kelly is poised with a fresh perspective: “People are people – everyone is just trying to find their way. I’m not up there claiming that I’ve found the perfect way ‘cause, honestly, I’m still searching, too. If we’re dead honest, we are all still figuring it out.”

With "Where the Past Meets Today" releasing, opportunities looming and a full touring schedule in the works, Kelly’s quest continues. Sounds like a dream coming true.

© 2006 CCM Magazine.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.   Click here to subscribe.