Chapman, Stephen Curtis
Stephen Curtis Chapman
The fast-growing popularity of contemporary Christian music has been helped along by the songs and albums of Steven Curtis Chapman. The winner of three Grammy awards and numerous Gospel Music Association Dove awards, Chapman has gathered a large following of listeners, sometimes attracting more than 360,000 people to a concert. Although he has become a popular singer and performer, his songwriting skills have greatly contributed to his success; he has either written or cowritten every song on his seven albums. In addition, other well-known Christian and country singers, including Billy Dean, Charlie Daniels, Sandi Patti, and Glen Campbell, have recorded his songs.
A musician from an early age, Chapman began playing the guitar when he was six years old. In his first-grade singing debut, he took the stage with his brother Fred in a school show that featured the boys’ versions of Glen Campbell’s “Try a Little Kindness” and Mac Davis’s “I Believe in Music.” The performance established a singing partnership that would last until Fred left for college. Chapman did not concentrate solely on singing, however; he took advantage of being the son of a music store owner by learning to play most of the instruments available to him.
When Chapman graduated from high school he planned on a career in medicine, not because he passionately wanted to be a doctor but because he felt he should pursue something practical. Before embarking on this conventional course, though, he spent the summer performing at the Opryland theater in Nashville, Tennessee. He enjoyed the experience, and during his first semester at Georgetown College in Kentucky, he decided to abandon his premed studies for a musical education. He transferred to Anderson College in Indiana to major in music, tempering the risky move by concentrating on songwriting. Chapman performed each summer at Opryland during his college years, but he continued to feel his best chance at a career in music was as a songwriter. He stuck with that decision after transferring to Belmont College in Nashville.
Gradually, Chapman was persuaded to attempt a performance career. During his college years, several publishing company and record label representatives suggested he could succeed as a recording artist and songwriter. Sparrow Records then confirmed those suggestions by signing the contract that led to Chapman’s debut album, First Hand . Released in 1987, the LP was the first in a steady string of popular contemporary Christian albums for Chapman. A combination of country, rock, pop, and folk music, First Hand contains three songs that made it into the Top Three of the contemporary Christian music (CCM), or inspirational, charts.
Born in Paducah, KY; married; wife’s name, Mary Beth; children: Emily, Caleb, Will Franklin. Education: Attended Georgetown College, Kentucky, and Anderson College, Indiana; received B.A. from Belmont College, Nashville, TN.
Signed contract with Sparrow Records, mid-1980s, and released debut album, First Hand, 1987.
Awards: Grammy awards for best pop gospel album for For the Sake of the Call, 1992, The Great Adventure, 1993, and The Live Adventure, 1994; Dove awards for songwriter of the year, 1989-95; for contemporary recorded song of the year for “His Eyes,” 1989, “Go There with You,” 1994, and “Heaven in the Real World,” 1995; for artist of the year, 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1995; for inspirational recorded song of the year for “His Strength Is Perfect,” 1990; for southern gospel recorded song of the year for “I Can See the Hand,” 1990; for male vocalist of the year, 1990, 1991, and 1995; for contemporary album of the year for For the Sake of the Call, 1992, The Great Adventure, 1993, and Heaven in the Real World, 1995; and for song of the year for “The Great Adventure,” 1993; numerous awards from American Songwriter Magazine, Campus Life readers’ choice poll, and CCM Reader, all 1993; named number one artist of the year in a Cash Box year end poll, 1994.
Addresses: Home — Nashville, TN. Record company — Sparrow Records, Box 5010, Brentwood, TN 37024-5010. Management— Creative Trust, 1910 Acklen Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212.
The following year, Sparrow released Chapman’s second album, Real Life Conversations, which carried the sudden success of the first even further. Several songs rose to the Top Five of the CCM charts, with two songs, “His Eyes” and “My Turn Now,” reaching Number One. “His Eyes” won the Dove Award for contemporary recorded song of the year. In addition, the album earned him another Dove Award, for songwriter of the year, and a Grammy nomination for best gospel performance— male.
From the beginning of his recording career, Chapman has upheld a serious commitment to ministering to people through his music. “Since the fall of certain religious leaders,” Chapman commented in Billboard, “a lot of people are viewing Christianity with a certain amount of skepticism. How I personally respond to that, how I handle that is important. ‘For Who He Really Is’ [from the album Real Life Conversations ] is my heart’s cry.”
Billboard said of Chapman’s 1990 release, For the Sake of the Call: “Like previous releases, [it] contains plain-spoken spiritual insights, set to pleasant, hummable AC/pop music. Chapman is an affable and appealing artist, but his lyrics are never lightweight.” The musician has explained that his lyrics are developed only after serious research and preparation; for the 1990 album, for example, he acknowledges the influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship.
Although some reviews accused For the Sake of the Call of following a Christian-radio formula, listeners made it Chapman’s most popular release yet. Five songs rose to Number One on the CCM chart, and the LP itself hit the very top of the CCM Top 50 albums chart. The album led once again to his recognition at the Grammys— this time for best pop gospel album— and at the Dove awards ceremony for songwriter of the year. In addition, For the Sake of the Call became Chapman’s first LP to win the Dove Award for contemporary album of the year.
The sweep of awards continued for Chapman’s next two albums, The Great Adventure and Heaven in the Real World . Not only did new Grammy awards and Dove awards attest to his popularity, but he received numerous American Songwriter Magazine Awards, CCM Reader Awards, and recognition in the Campus Life Readers’ Choice Poll. His Great Adventure tour covered 70 cities, and in some places, he played before crowds of more than 360,000. His mid-1990s Heaven in the Real World tour was scheduled to cover 70 cities in the United States and to take him to 30 cities around the world, including ones in South Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia.
The Heaven in the Real World album marked a transition for Chapman into a new level of musical and marketing sophistication. The artist recorded the LP in Los Angeles rather than in Nashville and was joined by veteran studio musicians. Ed Cherney, who has worked with pop stars Bonnie Raitt and Don Was, handled the recording and mixing. With Heaven in the Real World, Chapman became one of the first contemporary Christian musicians to benefit from industry-wide SoundScan retail tracking and wider viewing of contemporary Christian videos. Such factors prompted Billboard’s Bob Darden to declare that “Chapman is poised to do what [country superstar] Garth Brooks did a few years ago, only in a different genre of music.”
Despite the increased sophistication in his production and marketing methods and some speculation over whether he will attempt to “cross over” to the mainstream pop market, Chapman continues to dedicate his musical talent to sharing his religious ideas. His immense popularity in the contemporary Christian music realm was further cemented in 1995, when he won six Dove awards. “My goal isn’t just to share what I believe,” Chapman proclaimed in a Sparrow Records press biography, “it is to show that belief is important, that it can make a difference, that there can be meaning to all of this we’re going through.”
On Sparrow Records
First Hand, 1987.
Real Life Conversations, 1988.
More to This Life, 1989.
For the Sake of the Call, 1990.
The Great Adventure, 1992.
The Live Adventure, 1993.
Heaven in the Real World, 1994.
Billboard, December 10, 1988; December 17, 1988; March 23,1991; October 31,1992; April 17,1993; July 30,1994; August 6, 1994; February 25, 1995; May 6, 1995.
Cash Box, August 1994.
Detroit Free Press, November 11, 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Sparrow Records publicity materials.
—Susan Windisch Brown
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