Christian vocal group
In March of 1999, the members of the Christian vocal group Avalon had every reason to be frazzled. Their third album, In a Different Light, was released the day before the Dove Awards—Christian music’s equivalent to the Grammys—for which they’d been nominated in six categories; the night before the awards, they taped their first TV special; and one member of the four-person group got married that month. In Christian legend, after long searching for the Holy Grail, King Arthur, at the end of his life, sailed off to a mythical island paradise of Avalon, or Heaven. It may not have been Heaven, but after over 200 performances in 1998 and recording In a Different Light, the band needed the break the honeymoon afforded them.
Avalon came together in Nashville in 1995 at the hand of Christian record label Sparrow Records’ producer Norman Sinclair. Looking for people who were interested in Christian ministry, as well as people who wanted to work in a group, he found vocalists Nikki Hassman, Jody McBrayer, Michael Passons and Janna Potter to form Avalon. Shortly after coming together, and still a year
Members include Nikki Hassman (1995-98), vocals; Jody McBrayer (born in Tampa, FL), vocals; Cherie Paliotta (born in Johnston, RI), (joined, 1998), vocals; Michael Passons (born in Yazoo City, MS), vocals; Janna Potter (born in Baltimore, MD), vocals.
Group formed in Nashville by Sparrow Records producer Norman Miller, 1995; released debut, Avalon, 1996; released A Maze of Grace, 1997; “Testify to Love” was number one on the Contemporary Christian Music Update AC Chart for six weeks; Nikki Hassman left band, 1998; released In A Different Light, 1999.
Awards: Three Dove Awards, including Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year for “Testify to Love,” 1999; two Dove Awards, including New Artist of the Year, 1998; two Christian Research Report awards, including Group of the Year, 1998; two American Songwriter Professional Songwriter Awards, including Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Testify to Love,” 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Sparrow Records, P.O. Box 5085, 101 Winners Circle, Brentwood, TN 37024-5085.
before their first release, the group was a last-minute addition to the successful Young Messiah Farewelltour in 1995. The addition was so last-minute that it was too late for their names to be added to the programs, which had already been printed. Although unknown, the group still garnered good responses from audience and other artists. Their debut album, Avalon, was released on Sparrow in 1996. The album produced four number one Christian radio singles, including “Give it Up,” “This Love,” and “Picture Perfect World.”
The group’s second release, A Maze of Grace, in 1997, was a strong follow up to its debut. The single “Testify to Love” was the longest-running number one Christian single of the 1990s. Its success only grew when country star Wynonna selected it to sing on the Touched by an an Anglesoundtrack. One episode of the populartelevision show was written around the song. In 1998, the song was chosen the number one Song of the Year by Christian Research Report.
After being offered a solo deal with Sony in the spring of 1998, Nikki Hassman amicably left the group. “It wasn’t an easy time for Avalon or for Nikki,” Janna Potter told Billboard, “but she felt going into another area of music was where God was calling her. … how do you fault somebody for doing what they feel God has called them to do?” Finding Hassman’s replacement was no easy feat. After listening to 100 audition tapes, Avalon still had found no one. It was on the recommendation of friends and members of their band that Avalon found Chérie Paliotta — who had no audition tape — to fill the gap in the group. After an informal session around the piano with Paliotta—and an agreement between them to pray about the issue—Avalon knew they’d found their girl. “When it fits, it fits,” Janna Potter told The Tennessean. Said Paliotta about the change, in the Avalon biography: “It was a big change for me when I came into Avalon, there were days when I didn’t think I could get up there and remember one more lyric. But God came through for me in those moments and gave me the courage to anchor on to Him and move forward. And I think that was just the same for the others during the transition.”
After pairing Avalon with producer Charlie Peacock for their first two, Sparrow hired Christian super-producer Brown Bannister for its third release. Bannister put the group through its paces, pushing the vocalists to keep recording the same song again and again, even when they thought it was as good as it could get. “Guys, that’s great,” Cherie Paliotta jokingly imitated Bannisterfor The Tennessean. “Let’s try on more take, take 1,175.” The band knew the hard work was worth it, and their proof was that they thought was a more R&B-style Avalon pop. “[Bannister] loves texture and harmony,” Michael Pas-sons told New Christian Music Spotlight in 1999, “and putting those together working in ways to make it truly pop.” They also were awareof their producer’s history. “I kept thinking, I’m singing for the guy who made Amy Grant famous,” Cherie Paliotta told Billboard in 1999.
A major break for the group—who’d been on CNN Headline News twice, in addition to appearing on more than a dozen morning and syndicated Christian TV programs—was their first TV special, “Avalon Live at the Factory,” taped at an old mattress factory the day before the Dove Awards. The next day, they walked away with three 1999 Dove Awards, including onefor Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year for “Testify to Love.” Amid all the chaos, Jody McBrayer got married.
Ultimately, Avalon wouldn’t have minded a cross over into mainstream pop. There is a record of Christian artists making the move and, though their message is Christian, their sound is pure pop. In the 1990s, acts like Kirk Franklin, dcTalk, Bob Carlisle and Jars of Clay each made their marks in the Christian market, but then moved on to the next, more mainstream, level. Their “bubble-gum tendencies” have caused at least one critic to liken them to nineties pop heartthrobs Backstreet Boys, wrote The Tennessean in 1999, and their 50/50 coed split have garnered them comparisons to ’70s Swedish pop stars Abba. Michael Passons told New Christian Music Spotlight in 1999 that the band wasn’t out to get a mainstream hit, “But if for some reason pop wanted to play one of our songs… I’d be all for it. Because it would be just more people that would hear the song…. I think it’s a tremendous ministry opportunity. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a career opportunity as well.” Cherie Paliotta had a bigger vision: “I really believe in my heart that we’re not only going to minister to the Christian market,” she told The Tennessean. “I truly believe that in my heart, or else I wouldn’t be here.”
Avalon, Sparrow, 1996.
A Maze of Grace, Sparrow, 1997.
In A Different Light, Sparrow, 1999.
Billboard, March 13, 1999.
Dallas Morning News, February 6, 1999.
New Christian Music Spotlight, Spring, 1999.
The Tennessean, April 1, 1999.
“Avalon,” All-Media Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 28, 1999).
Avalon Homepage, http://avalonlive.com (May 13, 1999).
Additional information was provided by Sparrow Records publicity materials, 1999.
Avalon is the place where the legendary King Arthur was taken after receiving mortal wounds in battle. Although it is a mythical place, there are sites on which Avalon may well have been based.
Avalon is mentioned in a widely read text in History of the Kings of Britain (1138), written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100–1154). Part fiction, part history, and partly based on Celtic folktales, Geoffrey's work was the first popular source to depict the exploits of King Arthur, a leader believed to have ruled in Britain during the fifth or sixth century. That era falls within the Dark Ages, a period after the Roman Empire retreated from northwestern Europe and the area was assailed by invaders from eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Not much is known about the history of that period.
Geoffrey's work helped bring attention to myths of the Celtic people, who were overwhelmed by Romans and then other invaders during the first six centuries. His recounting of the exploits of King Arthur inspired a trend of tales written and told about Arthur and his knights. The tales were especially popular in the courts of Europe from about 1150 to 1250, and have enjoyed several revivals since.
After Arthur received mortal wounds in battle, he was tended to by a maiden and placed aboard a boat bound for Avalon. The location of Avalon, usually called an island, varies according to which of the many Arthurian tales is being read. Some sources suggest Avalon lies off the coast of Great Britain, or "across the sea," a term some have interpreted as the Atlantic Ocean, with Avalon possibly being the island of Greenland or a location in North America.
Geoffrey likely took the name from "Avallon," a Celtic term equivalent to "apple place." Celtic myths had identified a paradise in terms that translate to an "island of apples." The old Welsh language, where the word "Avallach" referred to a mythical island, is another possible source.
Arran, an island off the coast of Scotland, has been considered a possible model for Avalon. The name Arran derived from "Emhain of the Apple Trees." Another popular claim for the site of Avalon is Glastonbury, a longtime apple-growing area in England.
Gordon, Stuart. The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends. London: Headline Books, 1993.
Harpur, James, and Jennifer Westwood. The Atlas of Legendary Places. New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1997.
Ingpen, Robert, and Philip Wilkinson. Encyclopedia of Mysterious Places. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1999.
Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore. New York: Larousse, 1995.
Avalon (or Avillion)
Avalon (or Avillion)
The enchanted island of Arthurian legend. This terrestrial paradise was known in Welsh mythology as Ynys Avallach (Isle of Apples) or possibly related to the Celtic king of the dead named Avalloc or Afallach. In Geofrey of Manmouth's twelfth-century chronicle of King Arthur, Historia Regum Britanniae, it was noted that Arthur's sword was forged in Avalon, and he was returned to Avalon after his last battle so his wounds could heal.
In 1191 the monks at Glastonbury announced that it was identical to Avalon and that they had discovered Arthur's burial site. As evidence they produced a cross bearing Arthur's name and the place's name, Avalonia, which had been found alongside an exhumed body. Today, replicas of the cross are sold at Glastonbury Abbey.
Lacy, Norris J. The Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.
Avalon ★★★ 1990 (PG)
Powerful but quiet portrait of the break-up of the family unit as seen from the perspective of a Russian family settled in Baltimore at the close of WWII. Initally, the family is unified in their goals, ideologies, and social lives. Gradually, all of this disintegrates; members move to the suburbs and TV replaces conversation at holiday gatherings. Levinson based his film on experiences within his own family of Russian Jewish immigrants. 126m/C VHS, DVD . Armin Mueller-Stahl, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth Perkins, Joan Plowright, Lou Jacobi, Leo Fuchs, Eve Gordon, Kevin Pollak, Israel Rubinek, Elijah Wood, Grant Gelt, Bernard Hiller; D: Barry Levinson; W: Barry Levinson; C: Allen Daviau; M: Randy Newman. Writers Guild '90: Orig. Screenplay