Michelle Tumes’ sound is most often described as ethereal. Her music reflects New Age, gospel, pop, and classical influences, but her greatest impetus is her Christian faith and desire to share it with her audience. Her accessible Christian lyrics have given her a reputation as a gifted writer in addition to being a talented pianist.
Born in 1971 in Adelaide, Australia, Tumes comes from a deeply religious family. She has fond memories of spending Christmas days on the beach and returning home in the evening to listen to her grandfather tell inspirational stories for living a better life. When she was four, her family moved to Malaysia for a brief time when her father became the headmaster of a missionary school. It was there, she says, that she really felt the presence of God and knew that she would dedicate her life to being a Christian. It was at this time that she also began to take piano lessons.
Throughout her childhood, Tumes sang in school choirs and performed in plays. She attended a special high school for music students where she deepened her knowledge of classical music and also (reluctantly) learned to perform for an audience; at the time her fear of playing for others overwhelmed her. Perhaps because of this fear she walked away from music after graduating from high school and decided to study dentistry instead. If not for her much younger sister, Tumes may have never found her way back to music.
Tumes’ sister gave her $40 earned from a paper route and told her to use it for a demo tape. Tumes did, and sent the tape to several recording companies. She received positive feedback and, with the help of a friend of her parents, went to Nashville. Although she was only 22 years old at the time, she was asked to sign a record deal. Things didn’t feel right to her, though, and she turned the offer down, telling Michael Herman of Christianity Today, “We got to the stage where you present the music to the company, and they asked me questions about moving here and singing and performing to a certain style. I just wasn’t ready for that… The most important thing about all of this is the music, and what’s behind the music.”
Tumes spent the next couple years concentrating on songwriting, producing the hit single “If This World” for Jaci Velasquez, another Contemporary Christian performer. One day she got a call from Sparrow Records, who’d heard one of her demos and were interested in signing her. They offered a contract that included creative control of her music. She signed immediately.
In 1998 Tumes released her first album, Listen. Her dedication to her own style and the content of her lyrics paid off with three number-one Christian adult contemporary singles: “Healing Waters,” “Christ of Hope,” and “Please Come Back.” In reviewing Listen, John Blake of the Atlanta Constitution wrote, “Her music sounds like a dream, filled with acoustic piano, classical string
Born in 1971 in Adelaide, Australia; married to Doug.
Began studying classical piano, c. 1975; family moved to Malaysia for a short time for missionary work, c. 1975; attended a high school specifically for students of classical music, c. 1986-88; studied dentistry; went to Nashville, TN, 1993; signed with Sparrow Records, 1997; released Listen, 1998; released Center of My Universe, 2000; released Dream, 2001.
Awards: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Songwriter of the Year Award, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Sparrow Labels Group, P.O. Box 5010, Brentwood, TN 37024-5010, phone: (615) 371-6866. Management —Proper Management, Stacey Jennette, P.O. Box 150867, Nashville, TN 37215, phone: (615) 460-9190, fax: (615) 460-9192. Website—Michelle Tumes Official Website: http://www.mtumes.com.
arrangements, and haunting vocal melodies.” In 1999 her recording of the song “Hold On,” part of a compilation entitled Streams, made it to number one. She followed Listen with the equally successful album Center of My Universe. Released in 2000, it stayed in the top 20 Christian records for that year. Roxanne Blanford of PreAmp said, “Ms. Tumes’s eloquent vocal stylings are like gossamer wings: light, airy, uplifting.”
In the midst of all her popularity Tumes continued to battle the same shyness that haunted her in music school. Over time she came to deal with it, she told Herman: “I was especially afraid of performing. Jaci Velasquez has helped me a lot in that area. I believe God put her in my life. She’s not afraid of performing, and she’s taught me how to be myself on stage. Now I can go out on stage with confidence and can share with the audience.”
While Tumes may be shy about performing, she doesn’t keep her talents to herself. She does back-ground vocals for several performers and writes lyrics, including hits for such Christian artists as Point of Grace and Sixpence None the Richer. She has contributed to numerous compilations, including the Mercy Project, a fund-raiser for Mercy Ministries of America, an organization dedicated to helping troubled girls and women. She also works with Food for the Hungry, an organization for which she and her husband traveled to Peru in 2001, visiting villages supported by funds from the charity.
In the same year Tumes and her husband moved from Nashville to California, a climate much more like that of her native Australia. She released her third album, Dream, to critical acclaim, and won the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Songwriter of the Year Award in the Christian music category. The award ceremony also honored the 25 songs of 2000 that were performed the most, which included Tumes’ “Deep Love,” “Breathe,” and “Heaven’s Heart.”
Tumes’ exceptional piano skills and lyric abilities have earned her attention, awards, and acclaim. Well-known in the Contemporary Christian lineup, Tumes’ light touch and subtle sound may eventually lead to cross-over success in the pop realm. For someone who almost chose a completely different path, Tumes has found a fulfilling place for herself in the music industry.
Listen, Sparrow, 1998.
(Contributor) Streams, Word Entertainment, Inc., 1999.
Center of My Universe, Sparrow, 2000.
(Contributor) The Mercy Project, Word Entertainment, Inc., 2000.
Dream, Sparrow, 2001.
Atlanta Constitution, April 4, 1998, p. 02b.
Business Wire, April 7, 2000.
“ASCAP’s 2001 Christian Music Award Winners,” American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), http://www.ascap.com/membership/christianawards2001.html (February 11, 2002).
“Countdown to Christmas: Michelle Tumes Reveals What Makes Her Christmas Merry,” CCM Magazine, http://www.ccmmagazine.com/archives (February 21, 2002).
“The Mercy Project,” CCM Magazine, http://www.ccmmmagazine.com/archives/fullstory.asp?ld=1221 (February 21, 2002).
“Michelle Tumes: A Classical Journey of a Musician,” Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/interviews/tumes.html (February 11, 2002).
“Michelle Tumes—Center of My Universe” PreAmp Music Reviews and News, http://www.preamp.com/artists/rn/michelletumes/center.html (February 21, 2002).
“Michelle Tumes,” Food for the Hungry, http://www.fh.org/artists/tumes.shtml (February 11, 2002).
“Michelle Tumes: She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Our Sister,” Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/interviews/tumes2.html (February 11, 2002).
—Eve M. B. Hermann