St. James, Rebecca
Rebecca St. James
Australian-born Rebecca St. James has stood apart from her peers in contemporary Christian music by virtue of both her youth and her uncompromising evangelical focus. Beginning her recording career at age 16, she has gained an international following for her energetic, highly contemporary sound. The dance grooves and European-style techno-pop arrangements of St. James’s CDs are all utilized in the service of an up-front Christian message of faith and morality. Her mixture of ministry and entertainment has won her recognition as an up-and-coming evangelist as well as a recording artist and touring performer. According to Christianity Today, “Rebecca St. James has been described as part Amy Grant, part Mother Teresa, and part Billy Graham—with some smoke and lasers thrown in.”
St. James is explicit about using her music to stir the religious fervor of her audiences. Her concerts combine a sophisticated pop/rock stage show with preaching and question-and-answer sessions. Performing with a Bible in hand, she reads from scripture between songs and calls out to Christians to renew their faith. As she told interviewer Liz Kelly in CCM, “I really feel that I am called—and hey, I may be wrong—to encourage believers to be radical about their faith, to be bold … I can’t convince some 16-year-old, non-Christian guy to come and listen to my music, but if I can encourage believers to reach out to the world about the love of Christ… who knows? Revival could breakout.” Christian author Joshua Harris is among those who have praised St. James’s commitment to her message, commenting in Charisma that “A lot of Christian music artists are shying away, not wanting to ’preach’ to people. But Rebecca is very vocal and very real. People come to her concerts not just for the music but because they feel connected to her.”
The call to musical missionary service has been a part of St. James’s life since childhood. Her father, David Smallbone, helped to nurture her talent while working as a Christian concert promoter in Sydney, Australia. By age 13, she was singing on tour in her native country with international gospel star Carman. Further breakthroughs as a singer were interrupted when her family lost their home and savings after afailed concert venture. Moving to the United States and settling near Nashville, the Smallbones took on house cleaning and yard work jobs to make ends meet. “Sometimes we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from,” St. James told Charisma writer Lindy Warren. “We’d just pray as a family and have devotions, and people would drop groceries on our doorstep, give us furniture or send us checks in the mail that would just cover our bills. I can say to my peers, ‘I’ve seen God at work.’”
Surviving through such hard times with her family, St. James rebounded and signed a recording contract at age 16 with Nashville-based ForeFront Records. Her 1994 self-titled debut album established her as a dynamic young Christian singer/songwriter and earned hera Dove Award nomination from the Gospel Music Association for New Artist of the Year. God, her second album, was released in 1996 and won her further recognition and acclaim, selling over 350,000 copies and receiving both a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock/Gospel Album and a Dove Award nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year. 1998 saw the release of her third album, Christmas.
From the start, St. James has avoided diluting her gospel message for a wider audience. Her musical thrust, though, has become more experimental, taking on the computerized sheen of 1990s dance/pop and alternative rock with the help of producer Tedd T. and engineer Julian Kindred. Her 1998 release, Pray, was a pronounced leap in this direction, surrounding such songs as “Mirror” (a number one Christian pop radio hit), “Love To Love You” and the title track with drum loops and synthesizer flourishes. “I actually quite like the contradiction of having music that’s [techno-sounding] with lyrics that are so straight ahead, so simple,” she told CCM. “In the Christian life there are lots of contradictions to the world.… I love the contradictions of the world to God’s way, so in a way I’m kind of pulling from that.”
As St. James’s recording career has taken off, she’s used her growing celebrity to spread Christian teachings
Born July 26, 1977 in Sydney, Australia; daughter of David and Hellen Smallbone; five siblings.
Performed on tour with Carman in Australia, 1990; moved to Nashville, TN, with her family, 1991; released self-titled debut album on ForeFront, 1994; released God, 1996 published book 40 Days With God, 1996; released Christmas, 1997; published book You’re The Voice - 40 More Days With God, 1997; released Pray, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —ForeFront, 201 Seaboard Lane, Franklin, TN 37067.
beyond music. Her youth-oriented devotional book 40 Days With Godwas issued by Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishing in 1996, followed in 1997 by You’re The Voice-40More Days With God. She has also served as spokesperson for the Promise Bible For Students and, with her family, has established the charity organization Compassion International. For such efforts, she was recognized as one of the “Top 50 Up and Coming Evangelical Leaders Under 40” by Christianity Today in 1996.
St. James’s tours have been family affairs, with her brothers Daniel, Ben, Joel, Josh and Luke helping out with stage managing, lighting, background singing and other duties. The Smallbone family remains a close-knit one, and the values of parents David and Helen have been embraced by Rebecca. During concerts and interviews, she has spoken freely about her lifestyle, particularly regarding dating and marriage. “I get a lot of feedback when I talk about [how] true love waits and virginity and [the fact that] I’m going to stay a virgin until I’m married,” she told Deborah Evans Price in Christian Single. “I think people find hope in that message because so many people think they’re alone and that they are the only ones taking that stand when really there are thousands out there who are committed to the same thing, to wait.”
Holding true to her beliefs while basking in the glory of popularity has been an ongoing challenge for St. James. “I’m not entirely comfortable on stage,” she confessed to Tom Neven of Christian Entertainment. “I never set out to be a pop star.” The content of her music, rather than the trappings of fame, have continued to be her stated focus. As she told CCM, “I have people come up to me and say, ’Thank you for putting my prayers into song.’ That’s cool to me. That’s successful songwriting to me, or success in being faithful to hear from God.”
Rebecca St. James, ForeFront, 1994.
God, ForeFront, 1996.
Christmas, ForFront, 1997.
Pray, ForeFront, 1998.
40 Days With God, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1996.
You’re The Voice - 40 More Days With God, Thomas
Nelson Publishing, 1997.
CCM, November 1998.
Charisma, April 1999.
Christian Entertainment, August 11, 1998.
Christian Single, August 1997.
Christianity Today, November 11, 1996.
Additional information was provided by ForeFront publicity materials.
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