A winner of multiple Dove awards, Christian singer Chris Tomlin is one of the leading Christian artists today. His songs are often used in church services, and he is the contemporary artist whose work is most often sung in U.S. congregations every week.
Tomlin grew up in Grand Saline, Texas, in a working class family. Grand Saline is a town of 2,500 people, where the main industry is mining salt. Tomlin told John Michael De Marco in Today's Christian that the highlight of the year in Grand Saline was the Salt Festival, with "our own Salt Queen, salt parade, and salt rodeo." He and his two brothers often played music at the Salt Festival when they were growing up.
One of three brothers, Tomlin grew up listening to country music and dreamed of being a country singer. "Willie Nelson songs were my cup of tea," he told De Marco. However, his religious convictions shaped his growth as a young man and as a musician, leading him to write songs praising God.
When he was in the eighth grade, Tomlin was at a camp worship service on a warm summer night, enjoying the music. Suddenly he felt like he was on fire, lifted up. "I ran out of the back door right in the middle of the song," he told Todd Hertz in Campus Life's Ignite Your Faith. "I knelt under this tree and said, ‘God, whatever you want for the rest of my life here I am.’" At the time, Tomlin didn't know what he would end up doing for the rest of his life, but a few years later he started leading worship with his youth group. "I was terrible," he told Hertz. However, he added, "I just knew I loved it that when I played, people would sing along to God."
In 2000 Tomlin signed with Sixstepsrecords, which was a partner of EMI Records. He told Deborah Evans Price in Billboard that he enjoyed working with Sixsteps because it had a very close family feeling, yet because it was linked to EMI, also had "powerhouse distribution."
Tomlin recorded several album with Sixsteps, including The Noise We Make (2001) and Not to Us (2002), but had a hard time getting airplay for many of his songs because even Christian radio stations did not normally play his kind of worship music.
Tomlin released Arriving in 2004. The album combined melodic guitar work with the intensely worshipful lyrics he was known for at the Austin Stone Community Church, which he co-founded. The album quickly rose on the Christian charts and went gold, marking him as a new favorite on the Christian music scene. Tomlin also made several appearances at Passion conferences, which targeted Christian young people. In 2005 Tomlin won a Dove Award for praise and worship album of the year, for Arriving. In 2006 he won five Dove awards, including artist of the year, male vocalist of the year, song of the year, special event album of the year, and worship song of the year, for Arriving. Tomlin told Evans Price, "This is amazing. I know it's God's favor. It's nothing I'm doing. It's quite humbling and quite an honor."
The album had another kind of success, which was to open doors on Christian radio for worship songs. Before Tomlin's album came out, he and other worship artists had a hard time getting airplay on Christian radio. The popularity of songs from Arriving "showed radio that this is what people love and want to hear, not just me, but this kind of music is what people really love," Tomlin told Evans Price.
After the success of Arriving, Tomlin was a little intimidated when he went back to the studio to record another album. He told Evans Price, "You tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself, but obviously that stuff went away because I knew in my heart that the reason we've had so much success is that God has done it. He has just given us so much favor."
Tomlin's CD See the Morning was released in 2006. It emphasized biblical events that occurred in the morning. "The morning is a symbol of freshness, of starting over, of things brand new. Though people may be in a really hard place right now, and feel they're in the dark of their lives, the morning is coming. God is as faithful as the rising sun," Tomlin told De Marco.
In 2007 Tomlin was back on the Dove Awards list, winning six more awards, including his second artist of the year award, as well as awards for male vocalist of the year and worship song of the year. He was also recognized for special event album of the year, pop/contemporary album of the year, and praise and worship album of the year, proving that his earlier success was only a stepping stone to more achievements.
Although Tomlin is a solo singer, he enjoys working with others to craft his songs. "I do a lot of co-writing with people I really trust. Other times [my songs] just come from the scriptures that are placed upon my heart," Tomlin told De Marco. He has worked to make his music accessible to everyone. He told Belinda Luscombe in Time, "I try to think, How do I craft this song in a way that the person who's tone-deaf and can't clap on two and four can sing it? I hope that when someone hears a CD of mine, they pick up their guitar and say, ‘OK, I can do that.’"
When Tomlin is not recording or performing, he serves as lead worshiper at the Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. As a leader of worship, he works hard to balance his role in the church with his celebrity, constantly checking his own motivations to be sure that he stays down-to-earth. As he told De Marco, he doesn't want to "believe the press too much" about his success as a performer. He also told De Marco, "When I play music I want to use every minute I've got for God's glory. I don't want people to walk away saying, ‘Wow, Chris Tomlin is amazing,’ but rather, ‘God is amazing.’"
For the Record …
Born on May 4, 1972, in Grand Saline, Texas; son of Donna and Connie Tomlin.
Signed with Sixstepsrecords, 2000; released The Noise We Make, 2001; Not to Us, 2002; Arriving, 2004; Live from Austin Music Hall, 2005; See the Morning, 2006; The Early Years, 2006.
Awards: Dove Awards: Praise and Worship Album of the Year, 2005, 2007; song of the year, 2006, 2007; male vocalist of the year, 2006, 2007; artist of the year, 2006, 2007; artist of the year, 2006; special event album of the year, 2006, 2007; pop/contemporary album of the year, 2007.
Addresses: Austin Stone Community Church, c/o Grace Covenant Church, 9431 Jollyville Rd., Austin, TX 78759.
The Noise We Make, Sixstepsrecords, 2001.
Not to Us, Sixstepsrecords, 2002.
Arriving, Sixstepsrecords, 2004.
Live from Austin Music Hall, Sixstepsrecords, 2005.
See the Morning, Sixstepsrecords, 2006.
The Early Years, Sixstepsrecords, 2006.
Billboard, April 15, 2006, p. 10; September 2, 2006, p. 24.
Campus Life's Ignite Your Faith, October 2007, p. 37.
Time, November 27, 2006, p. 70.
Today's Christian, January-February 2007, p. 24.
Chris Tomlin Official Web site, http://www.christomlin.com
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