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Keaggy, Cheri

Cheri Keaggy

Singer, songwriter

With good looks, strong musical instincts, and an alto voice sometimes compared with that of Christian music legend Amy Grant, Cheri Keaggy became a favorite among Christian audiences in the 1990s. In a time when Grant and other Christian artists aimed for crossover success by bringing their music closer to the pop mainstream, however, Keaggy stuck close to the musical roots she had put down as worship leader at a California church. Performing mostly in churches rather than large concert halls, Keaggy has structured her musical career around her life as a wife and mother. Her music incorporates pop elements into the Christian style known as praise and worship—contemporary music intended for use in church services.

Born in 1968 and raised in Southern California, Keaggy started taking classical piano lessons at age seven, but she had no dreams of becoming a star. Singing, she told Kate Good of Pennsylvania's Lancaster New Era, "was something I just did for fun." But she stuck with her studies through high school, supplementing her piano instruction by volunteering to accompany choirs in school and at church. Keaggy's creativity began to show itself during this period as well. "I … dabbled in writing instrumental pieces, George Winston-sounding piano stuff in high school, but I was never into lyrics," she told Terry DeBoer of Michigan's Grand Rapids Press. Her skills were honed by her participation in talent and variety shows.

At 18 she married her high school boyfriend, sound engineer Eddie Keaggy, and with the marriage she became part of an important musical family. Eddie's uncle Phil Keaggy was one of the founders of Christian rock in the 1970s, and a powerhouse guitarist admired by virtuoso players in both the Christian and secular fields. Phil Keaggy continued to tour frequently as Cheri grew into young adulthood, and his accomplishments stimulated his niece-by-marriage into dreaming of a national career. "Phil's been an influence on me; he's had more impact than he knows," Cheri Keaggy told DeBoer. "In a few cases he'd invite me up on stage during his concerts and I would do an instrumental piano thing."

The Keaggys started a family early; Keaggy's son Cameron was born when she was 21 (by his preteen years he had become a drummer in the making), and daughter Sarah followed two years later. But Eddie Keaggy encouraged his wife to pursue her musical gifts, suggesting that she do vocal solos in the small San Bernardino, California, church the couple attended. She became a volunteer worship leader, and one day while searching unsuccessfully for a song she felt would match the pastor's sermon on Psalm 91, her husband suggested that she write one of her own. The result was "You, Oh Lord, Are My Refuge," written that same day, which soon became part of the church's regular worship services.

Other original Keaggy compositions got started the same way, with the result that she was ready with a demo tape and a good-sized songbag when the opportunity arose to break into the recording industry. Many of her church compositions showed up on her recordings; "We All Need Jesus," for example, was included on her sophomore release My Faith Will Stay. Her demo got her in the door at the Christian label Sparrow, and the next piece of the puzzle fell into place while her husband was handling the mixing chores for a California concert by veteran Christian recording artist Charlie Peacock. Before the hall was opened to the public, Keaggy played a few tunes on a piano that was on stage, and Peacock, impressed, asked Eddie Keaggy who was playing. Peacock ended up producing Child of the Father, the debut album Cheri Keaggy released in 1994, as well as My Faith Will Stay.

Keaggy went on the road, touring with the Christian groups Point of Grace and Phillips, Craig & Dean. Child of the Father spawned three singles that hit the number one spot on Christian radio airplay charts, and "Little Boy on His Knees," a Keaggy composition that referred to her son Cameron, peaked at number two. Keaggy and her family moved to Nashville to be closer to both her recording studio and her concert venues, which were primarily concentrated in the Southeast. Her husband served as her manager. Keaggy garnered one of the Christian music industry's Dove Award nominations in 1995, and My Faith Will Stay was nominated for Inspirational Album of the Year in 1997.

By that time, Keaggy could draw a crowd of roughly 2,000 people in one of the "megachurches" that had sprung up in fast-growing suburban areas around the United States. Peacock departed as producer for her third album, What Matters Most, but Keaggy felt that she was continuing to grow as a songwriter after several years of touring. "I've become more sensitive of people's needs and hurts," she told Pennsylvania's Lancaster New Era. Keaggy restricted her concerts to weekends whenever she could, reserving weeknights for her family. Her songs won airplay on several different types of Christian radio stations.

Those concerts reflected Keaggy's roots in actual religious services; she exhorted the crowd to remember (as quoted in the Grand Rapids Press) that God was "our counselor, comforter, protector, and provider," and she taught songs to the audience, passing around the microphone or gathering audience members on stage to form an impromptu choir. Keaggy accompanied herself on a solo piano in some songs, and used prerecorded instrumental backing in others. She told the New Era that she liked to transport her audience to "the simplest beginnings" of her songs by using the piano alone.

Her lyrics, which she wrote herself, were not ambiguous paeans to a love that might on first listen seem to be either sacred or secular; they were explicitly devotional. "More than anything I want people, by the end of the night, to see more of the Lord," she told New Era. But Keaggy, an admirer of secular singers Shawn Colvin and Bonnie Raitt, did incorporate some elements of pop and rock music into her songs, and some reviewers used the new genre label of praise and worship pop to describe her music.

In 1998 Keaggy won her first Dove Award for her contribution to God With Us, the Special Event Album of the Year winner. Her own There Is Joy in the Lord: The Worship Songs of Cheri Keaggy was nominated as Praise & Worship Album of the Year. In 2001 Keaggy released Let's Fly, which had a stronger pop orientation that her earlier releases. Its Christian message was prominent, but the lyrics of its track titles—"Let's Fly," "I Like," "Say You Love Me," "Suitcase"—reflected the indirect religious orientation that was characteristic of contemporary Christian pop.

Keaggy became involved in 2002 with Food for the Hungry, an international development organization active in more than 25 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The years 2002 through 2004 did not find Keaggy in the recording studio, but she kept up a steady touring schedule. Appearances at the Chicago's Moody Bible Institute and Ludington, Michigan's, Worship Him at the Marina event were among her scheduled stops for 2005.

Selected discography

Child of the Father, Sparrow, 1994.

My Faith Will Stay, Sparrow, 1995.

What Matters Most, Sparrow, 1997.

There Is Joy in the Lord: The Worship Songs of Cheri Keaggy, Sparrow, 1999.

Let's Fly, Sony, 2001.

For the Record …

Born in 1968, in CA; married Eddie Keaggy (a sound engineer); children: Cameron and Sarah.

Composed original songs as worship leader in San Bernardino, CA; signed to Sparrow label, 1993; released Child of the Father album, 1994; My Faith Will Stay, 1995; What Matters Most, 1997; There Is Joy in the Lord: The Worship Songs of Cheri Keaggy, 1999; Let's Fly, 2001.

Awards: Dove Award, Special Event Album of the Year, for contribution to album God With Us, 1998.

Addresses: Agent—The Breen Agency, 110 30th Ave. North, Ste. 3, Nashville, TN 37203. Website—Cheri Keaggy Official Website: http://www.cherikeaggy.com.

Sources

Periodicals

Grand Rapids Press, May 5, 1995, p. B10; November 21, 1996, p. D9; November 23, 1996, p. A15.

Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), June 6, 1997, p. 3.

Online

"Cheri Keaggy," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 19, 2005).

"Cheri Keaggy," Jamsline: The Christian Music Information Source, http://www.jamsline.com/b_ckeaggy.htm (March 19, 2005).

Cheri Keaggy Official Website, http://www.cherikeaggy.com (March 19, 2005).

JamesM.Manheim

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