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Selah

Selah

Gospel group

One of the cutting edge favorites of Contemporary Christian Music, Selah is a trio whose style incorporates smooth pop, passionate devotional influences, and more than a touch of South African atmosphere. Especially popular are the early recordings that featured the blue-eyed soul singing of Nicol Smith, sister of co-founder Todd Smith. Steadied by Allan Hall's rock solid tenor and semi-classical piano playing, along with Smith's rich sense of tone, the trio fashioned a series of award-winning disks that helped re-energize popular sacred music.

Nicol and Todd Smith were born in Michigan but spent several years of their childhood in South Africa with their parents, who were missionaries. In fact, their grandfather Laban Smith and his wife had established a mission station in Nkara-Ewa in 1948. Years later Jim and Nancy Smith followed suit, bringing practical aid and a religious message to underdeveloped regions. The time the family spent in the Congo, from 1978 to 1986, was spiritually rewarding, but the living conditions—disease, poverty, and lack of common utilities such as electricity—were hard to endure. "When we left Africa after living there for eight years," recalled Nicol in her Curb Records biography, "the people said, ‘don't forget us,’ and that was so hard. As a Christian, I know I shouldn't forget the poor because they are my brothers and sisters. At the same time, it's good for me to remember that they had peace in spite of their poverty, and a spiritual richness because they had to depend on God. I never want to forget that."

Born into a musical family, both Todd and Nicol relied on music to bolster their spirits. In turn, the native cultures shared their songs with the Smiths, and both can sing songs in the Kituba language quite fluently. However, by parental edict the music they listened to and sang had to be Christian, not rock or pop. Even Christian rock was disallowed. However, Todd's older sister Shawn gave him an LP by pioneer Christian rockers Petra, and he fell in love with the sound. Later, while attending a boarding school in Kinshasa, he gave himself a first-class schooling in rock 'n' roll. "I really took to groups like Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, Journey, Toto, and Genesis," he reported in his on-line biography. "I heard everything from Madonna to Prince to the Doors to the Beatles."

When the Smiths moved back to the United States, the youngsters felt as if they were in a cultural time warp, and worked hard to catch up with the trends and fashions of the West without sacrificing their own spiritual values. Nicol graduated from Wheaton College in Chicago, while Todd began attending Belmont University in Nashville. They then met their future partner in song, Allan Hall.

A native of the South, Hall had been playing piano since the age of seven. He grew up listening to traditional country acts such as the Osbourne Brothers and Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass boys, and listened to such mainstream artists as Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline. Sporadically schooled on the piano, the young keyboardist learned his instrument through diligent practice and by learning to play by ear the songs in his parents' record collection. While still a teenager, he played for a country music review in Busch Gardens and with future producer Jason Kyle in an group called Caney Ridge, which opened shows for such established country stars as Sammy Kershaw and Clay Walker. While in college he also sang as part of a bluegrass trio before hooking up with Nicol and Todd Smith.

Ironically, Nicol Smith did not set her sights on being a professional singer of sacred music. She envisioned herself as a pop singer, and moved to Nashville to pursue that dream. While working as a waitress, she provided backup vocals on sessions for established country powerhouses such as Wynonna, Amy Grant, Michael McDonald, and Martina McBride. Her audition tape caught the ear of label honcho Mike Curb and she was signed as a pop singer, although her first album was not released until 2000. While she was working on her own recordings, the music she made with her brother and with Hall began to catch on. Subsequently, Selah—whose name means "to lift up the voice in praise"—became a top priority at Curb before Nicol's solo work emerged.

Selah's debut album Be Still My Soul, was a low-budget affair that smartly featured the group's finest attributes—Hall's sincere church tenor and the Smith's black gospel influences. Besides writing top-notch original material and arrangements, they also gave vent to their African influences with their renditions of "Wayfaring Stranger" and "Bika Mono Ve (It Is Well)," which is sung partly in Kituba. Armed with a fresh new sound, the youthful group benefitted from regular airplay on Christian Contemporary Radio. Subsequently, their first album was a major seller that earned them a Dove award from the Gospel Music Association.

The group's sophomore effort, Press On, is considered by many to be Selah's masterwork. Co-produced by Selah and Jason Kyle, the disc boasted a bigger sound while still capitalizing on the basic elements that made the group distinctive. Speaking to Christian Music Lighthouse, Todd Smith explains, "This is probably what Be Still My Soul would have sounded like anyway, if we'd had a budget when we first went in to record it." Mixing well-known standards like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" with such Congolese praise songs as "Yesu Azali Awa" (Jesus is here with us), they scaled the Christian music charts with the speed of a hot pop act.

Appearances on such television programs as The 700 Club, The Hour of Power, and LeSea Broadcasting's Live from Studio B cemented their reputation with the faithful, while subsequent albums such as Rose of Bethlehem and Hiding Place attracted a younger audience for Christian music via the Adult Contemporary charts. In 2004 all of Selah's principal members put out secular-based solo discs. Hall's disc had a bluegrass feel; Todd Smith leaned more on rock and pop, and Nicol Smith leaned heavily on modern R&B; with a devotional edge.

In addition to her work with Selah, Nicol Smith maintained a solo career, releasing her first self-titled album in 2000. In 2004 she married Greg Sponberg and left the group to help run a ministry with her new husband. Her replacement was an old friend, Melodie Crittenden, who stayed with the group less than a year before leaving to start a family. After several auditions Hall and Smith found Ann Perry. Though less influenced by black gospel than either Sponberg or Crittenden, Perry's voice matched well with Smith's harmonically. "I had heard of them," Perry told Christianity Today, "I had just never heard them. I know it sounds funny, but I don't listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music. I am more drawn to worship music, and being on a praise team at a big church before I joined Selah, that was all I had been listening to."

Perry was on board with Selah in time to record Bless the Broken Road: The Duets Album in 2006, which featured guest appearances by Cynthia Clawson, Nichole Nordeman, BarlowGirl, the Crabb Family, and Plumb. Despite the loss of the popular Nicol Smith-Sponberg, the band has remained a powerhouse that attracts new listeners to their genre. Through it all, founding member Todd Smith has remained dedicated, reflective, and thankful. "In the end it's all about finishing the race completely—not giving up and being obedient to His will," he stated on his website. "I think that comes through when you live a life with passion. Choosing to do things that make you feel like you're alive—that's what God really wants for us. And that's huge."

For the Record …

Members include Allan Hall, piano, vocals; Nicol Smith-Sponberg and Todd Smith (Both Smiths are the children of Jim and Nancy Smith of the Laban Ministries.)

Gospel group originally consisting of Todd Smith, Nicol Smith (Sponberg), and Allan Hall, formed 1998; recorded for Curb Records, 1998-; Nicol Smith left group to pursue solo career, 2004; Melodie Crittenden briefly replaced her, 2004; Ann Perry hired as permanent replacement, 2005; group appeared on such religious television programs as The 700 Club, The Hour of Power, Life Today with James Robinson, and the TBN Christmas special Rose of Bethlehem.

Awards: Gospel Music Awards, Inspirational Album of the Year, for Be Still My Soul, 2000; Inspirational Album of the Year, for Hold On, 2002; Traditional Recorded Gospel Song, for "Hold On," 2002; Inspirational Album of the Year, for Hiding Place, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—Curb Records, 48 Music Square E., Nashville, TN 37203, website: http://www.curb.com. Management—Jannsen Management, 1707 Richbourg Park Dr., Brentwood, TN 78716, phone: 615-370-4768, fax: 615-370-1082, website: http://www.jannsenmanagement.com. Booking—Breen Agency, 110 30th Ave. N., Ste. 3, Nashville, TN 37203, phone: 615-777-2277, fax: 615-321-4656, website: http://www.thebreenagency.com, e-mail:info@breenagency.com. Website—Official Artist Website: http://www.selahonline.com.

Selected discography

Be Still My Soul, Curb, 1999.

Press On, Curb, 2001.

Rose of Bethlehem, Curb, 2002.

Hiding Place, Curb, 2004.

Greatest Hymns, Curb, 2005.

Bless the Broken Road: The Duets Album, Curb, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, June 26, 2004.

Online

"Introducing…Amy Perry," Christianity Today,http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/interviews/2006/amyperry-mini-1006.html (October 30, 2006).

"Nicol Sponberg," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 20, 2007).

Nicol Sponberg bio, Curb.com, http://www.curb.com (February 22, 2007).

Nicol Sponberg: Resurrection, Curb.com, http://www.curb.com (February 22, 2007).

"Selah," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 20, 2007).

"Selah bio," Curb.com, http://www.curb.com (February 22, 2007).

Selah biography, Christian Music Lighthouse,http://www.christianmusiclighthouse.com/main/biographyselahbio/index.htm (2001).

Selah Official Website,http://www.selahonline.com (February 20, 2007).

"Staying Busy and Loving It!," Christianity Today,http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/interviews/selah-1202.html (December 16, 2002).

Todd Smith Official Website,http://www.toddsmithonline.com (February 22, 2007).

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"Selah." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/selah

Selah

Selah (sē´lə), obscure Hebrew word occurring many times in Psalms and in Habakkuk. Its derivation is unknown. It may be a musical notation signifying a pause or the end of a phrase.

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"Selah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Selah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/selah

"Selah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/selah

selah

selah Heb. selāh, occurring often at the end of a verse in the Psalter and in Habbakuk 3, supposed to be a musical or liturgical direction, perh. indicating a pause.

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"selah." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"selah." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/selah-0

"selah." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/selah-0

selah

selah in the Bible, occurring frequently at the end of a verse in Psalms and Habakkuk, probably as a musical direction.

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"selah." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"selah." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/selah

"selah." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/selah