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NewSong

NewSong

Christian group

After performing for more than two decades, the Christian group NewSong is known as one of the most evangelistic groups in Christian music today. They are known for their performances of classic hymns, and have had 17 number one singles on the Christian charts.

NewSong began as a nine-man band performing during services at the Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, Georgia, and they eventually began performing at other churches. Four of the original members, Eddie Carswell, Billy Goodwin, Eddie Middleton, and Bobby Apon, decided to become full-time Christian musicians. This turning point occurred while they were performing at a high school assembly. They were struck by the fact that after they performed and asked the students if they wanted to commit their lives to Christ, an overwhelming majority walked forward. On May 1, 1981, the four men loaded up Goodwin's 1973 Dodge Aspen station wagon and headed off on what would turn out to be a lifelong mission.

Currently the band includes founders Carswell and Goodwin, as well as three newer members, Michael O'Brien, Steve Reischl, and Matt Butler. On the website of the group's publicist, Richard De La Font, O'Brien commented, "One of the best things about NewSong is our diverse backgrounds and musical perspectives. Each member brings an individual style or component to what we do, and when it all comes together on stage, it's a wall of sound that seems to energize audiences."

In addition to their regular performances in churches, the group hosts a "Winter Jam" and "Summer Jam," and these have become some of the largest events in Christian music. The Jams bring together a broad range of Christian artists and are known for their free admission policy: there is no charge for tickets, but attendees donate whatever they are able to give; if they can't afford it, the concert is free. The goal of the Jams is evangelism. According to De La Font's website, "More than 12,000 individuals have made decisions for Christ through the 'Jam' tours." The group also hosts "Xtreme Youth Conferences" twice a year. These are intensive two-day seminars for young people, and feature top Christian artists. Goodwin noted on De La Font's website, "Typically, in our line of work, everyone has his or her own ministry, and we tend to compare ourselves to others. But in working together at these 'Jam' events and 'Xtreme' conferences, this Christian community becomes more connected. We have seen God do unbelievable things."

NewSong is known for a reliable style, described by Russ Breimeier in Christianity Today as "textbook Christian adult contemporary." He noted, "They're not so much a model of innovation as they are of masterful production and performance. ...And though they may not be the most interesting band out there, their music is filled with moments of inspiration and joy." In an interview on the website Christianmusic.about.com, O'Brien commented to Kim Jones that the band's real purpose was sharing "testimony every night and see people coming to know Christ. To us that's just the ultimate thing. Music is just a tool to spread the Gospel."

The group's 2000 song "The Christmas Shoes" hit number one on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Singles chart within three weeks of its release. The single had its genesis in a story that St. Louis radio personality D.C. Chymes sent to Carswell, who developed it into a song that became an instant hit. It was so successful that the group followed it with their first Christmas album, 2001's The Christmas Shoes. In addition, a novella based on the single, written by Nashville author Donna VanLiere, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list two years in a row. The song and album also inspired a made-for-TV movie, The Christmas Shoes, produced by CBS and starring Rob Lowe and Kimberley Williams. In 2003 the album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album.

In 2005 the group released Rescue, their first live album. The 75-minute CD was recorded during a worship service at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia. On the group's website, Carswell noted that the worship service and recording session were a "homecoming" for the group: "First Baptist is the church home for several of us in the band. And because we've always put so much effort into our concert performances, doing a live recording just seemed natural." Goodwin added that because of the live aspect of the recording, "the whole experience was something fresh for us." Part of the spontaneity of the evening came from the fact that, as O'Brien commented on the group's website, "There were songs I learned the night before that I didn't know the words to. I didn't know how I was going to get through it, but I was amazed at how God took us through it."

Russ Breimeier commented about the album, "It is striking (if not surprising) how well suited NewSong is to performing live worship." He also compared their arrangement of the classic hymn "How Great Thou Art" to the music of U2 or Delirious.

On Christianmusic.about.com, Goodwin explained what has kept the band going for so long: "I think what keeps us going is not necessarily the fun we have with the music, but it's that time at the end of the evening when we see people respond. It's like a shot of adrenaline. It's amazing to see God use what little bit we're doing to reach people. That's really our motivation." On the group's website Goodwin noted, "Our commitment for 25 years has been, 'God, we'll do this as long as your hand is on it'," and added, "He has shown no sign of letting up."

For the Record . . .

Members include Matt Butler (joined in 2000, left in 2002 and rejoined in 2003), cello, keyboards, violin, accordion, backing vocals; Eddie Carswell (founding member), songwriter, backing vocals; Billy Goodwin (founding member), lead vocals, guitar; Michael O'Brien (born on August 23, 1964, in Miami, FL; joined group, 1999), lead vocals, keyboards, songwriter; Scotty Wilbanks (born on July 25, 1970; joined group, 1993), piano saxophone, keyboards. Former members include Bobby Apon (1981-1993; vocals); Charles Billingsley (1994; vocals); Clay Cross (2002; vocals, guitar); Eddie Middleton (1981-1993; vocals); Steve Reischl (1999-2002; vocals, guitar); Russ Lee (1994-1999; vocals).

Group formed in Valdosta, GA, 1981; released Son inMy Eyes, 1982; released The Word, 1984; released Trophies of Grace, 1986; released Say Yes!, 1987; released Light Your World, 1989; released LivingProof, 1991; released All Around the World, 1993; released People Get Ready, 1994; released Love Revolution, 1997; released Joy to the Rhythm of theWorld, 1997; released Arise, My Love, 1999; released Sheltering Tree, 2000; released Live ... The Hits, 2000; released The Christmas Shoes, 2001; released moreLife, 2003; released Rescue, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—Integrity Music, 1000 Cody Rd., Mobile, AL 36695. Website—NewSong Of ficial Website: http://www.newsongonline.com.

Selected discography

Son in My Eyes, Covenant, 1982.

The Word, Word, 1984.

Trophies of Grace, Word, 1986.

Say Yes!, Word, 1987.

Light Your World, Word, 1989.

Living Proof, DaySpring, 1991.

All Around the World, Benson, 1993.

People Get Ready, Benson, 1994.

Love Revolution, Benson, 1997.

Joy to the Rhythm of the World, Benson, 1997.

Arise, My Love ... The Very Best of NewSong, Benson, 1999.

Sheltering Tree, Benson, 2000.

Live ... The Hits (Promotional CD), Benson, 2000.

The Christmas Shoes, Reunion, 2001.

More Life, Reunion, 2003.

Rescue, Integrity, 2005.

Sources

"Newsong," Christianmusic.about.com, http://www.christianmusic.about.com/od/interviewsmz/p/prnewsong.htm (June 27, 2005).

NewSong Official Website, http://www.newsongonline.com (June 27, 2005.

"Rescue: Live Worship," Christianity Today,http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/reviews/2005/rescue.html (June 27, 2005).

Richard De La Font Agency Website, http://www.delafont.com/music_acts/newsong.htm (June 27, 2005).

"Sheltering a New Song," FamilyChristian,http://www.familychristian.com/music/interviews/newsong_sheltering.asp (June 27, 2005).

"Sheltering Tree," Christianity Today,http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/reviews/shelteringtree.html (June 27, 2005).

—Kelly Winters

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