Recognized first as a teenage Christian music sensation, Jaci Velasquez took on a groundbreaking dual role when she became a Latin music success. Her clear, expressive voice has won her repeated acclaim and huge record sales in both Christian and Latin circles. While record executives have their eyes on Velasquez as the next Amy Grant and Selena all wrapped up in one, Velasquez depends on her close family ties and strong Christian faith to guide her.
A dark-haired beauty of Mexican, Spanish and French heritage, Velasquez has tried to be a worthy idol for her fans. She is credited with being well-grounded, at ease with her fame, and taking her job as a role model to young people seriously. As a supporter for True Love Waits, an organization that promotes teen abstinence, she has urged young people to follow her lead, talking openly about her decision to remain a virgin until marriage. On the other hand, she has recognized the limits to being held up as an example. “I don’t enjoy being a role model,” she told Kathleen Stauffer of Catholic Digest, “because I feel like I’m going to fail and people are going to crucify me when I do. So, yeah, I do feel responsible to live my life beyond reproach.”
Jacqueline Davette Velasquez was born on October 15, 1979, in Houston, Texas, to David and Diana Velasquez. Her father worked as an evangelist minister and musician, recording albums with a Dallas-based gospel group called the Galileans. Her mother was a gospel singer and retail clothing buyer. Each of her parents had children from previous marriages. Jaci was the youngest of all the children.
The Velasquez family recognized Jaci’s musical talents early. “She wasn’t even old enough to talk,” her brother Julian told Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times, “but she was in her crib snapping her fingers, on both hands, and she was snapping them in time to the music… I called my mom and told her to come look at this, and we couldn’t believe it.” Another significant incident happened in Houston before Jaci turned two years old. Her family was attending a small church service singing “Our God Reigns, “with the congregation. All of a sudden, the pastor held his finger to his mouth to hush everyone. Their silence revealed Jaci’s strong voice from the nursery singing the chorus. It was at that point Jaci’s mother decided to choose a nickname that her daughter could easily use to sign autographs. By age three, Jaci had made her solo debut.
Jaci’s young life was steeped in travel and musical performances. She began by singing in neighborhood churches in Houston, but soon was touring the country as a background singer for her father. The entire family performed with David Velasquez as he traveled from town to town preaching and singing. The Velasquezes sold their Houston home and lived out of their Honda Accord once all of their children had moved out, except
Born Jacqueline Davette Velasquez on October 15, 1979, in Houston, TX; daughter of David and Diana Velasquez; three siblings.
Performed at the White House, 1992; signed with Myrrh Records, 1996; released Heavenly Place, 1996; wrote Simon & Schuster book, Heavenly Place, 1996; released Jaci Velasquez, 1998; Myrrh/Sony Discos released Llegar a Ti, her first Spanish-language album, 1999; first album released on Word label, Crystal Clear, 2000.
Awards: Dove Award for New Artist Of The Year, 1997; Dove Award for Song of the Year, “On My Knees,” 1998; Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, 1999 and 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Word Records, 25 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. Management-Mike Atkins Management, Inc., 300 10th Ave South, Nashville, TN, 37203. Fan club— Jaci Velasquez, P.O. Box 3568, Brentwood, TN 37024-3568. Website— Jaci Velasquez Official Website: http://www.planetjaci.com.
for 10-year-old Jaci. She was home-schooled on the road and remembers what a luxury it was when her parents bought an RV a couple years later. In 1992 she performed at the White House, but Jaci’s big break came at age 14 when she was performing with her family’s band in Houston. A local pastor alerted Mike Atkins Management that Jaci was a “bright new talent” and encouraged them to see her. During her performance as the opening act for a popular Christian female vocal group, Point of Grace, she left a lasting impression. “What was captivating about Jaci was her presence,” Jim Chaffee of Myrrh Records told Valdes-Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times, “She’s got star quality, a real confidence….” Two years later Atkins became her manager and, shortly thereafter, Jaci was signed to Myrrh Records.
Velasquez made an immediate splash with her 1996 debut album, Heavenly Place.Paul Verna of Billboard described it as “a mature, focused effort…. She has a voice capable of wringing every subtle nuance of emotion from a song.” Heavenly Place became the fastest selling solo debut recording in the history of Christian music, making Velasquez the first solo artist in the history of Christian music to reach gold status with her debut album. It also earned her a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association for New Artist of the Year in 1997 and Song of the Year for “On My Knees” in 1998. Two years later, her second album, Jaci Velasquez, debuted at number one on Billboard’s Christian music album chart, spending six weeks at number one. “We just let Jaci be Jaci,” Chaffee told the Los Angeles Times, “and it worked, because parents want their kids to be like her, boys want to date her, and girls want to be her.” Velasquez commented to Jennifer Soong of Teen People: “It’s been a crazy ride, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I missed out on some things, but I think we all have a destiny laid out in front of us, and you just have to follow directions.” She felt her success was a result of her message, and she went on to describe how she wanted her lyrics to be “uplifting and inspirational to a 17-year-old contemplating suicide who buys my record.”
Firmly established as one of Christian music’s most popular new stars, Velasquez released her first Spanish-language album, Llegar a Ti, in 1999. Again, she was breaking barriers. “Llegar a Ti” was the only debut single from a new artist to hit the top of Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks chart in 1999 and made her the first gospel artist to ever hold the top position on the chart. “Velasquez’s chart accomplishments in the Spanish market are unique in the fact that few recording artists make a successful transition from English-language to Spanish-language markets,” Billboard’s John Lannert reported. “Even more astonishing, however, is that Velasquez has been able to successfully switch from the English-language Contemporary-Christian market to the Spanish secular market.”
Llegar a Ti had been a great challenge for Velasquez. Although she had sung Latin songs in church before, she did not speak Spanish well. She relied on her grandmother to help teach her. It was a time of growth for her. “I learned to appreciate my heritage,” she told Latin Music’s Velia Zamora, “and came heart to heart with my roots.” In the end, she learned her songs phonetically for Llegar a Ti.Velasquez also went through a personal crisis during the recording of the album. Her great success at such a young age hit her hard. She disliked the person she was becoming, feeling like she had taken her own star status too seriously. “I had to suddenly decide,” she told Gregory Rumburg of CCM, “‘Why do I believe what I believe? No one’s going to watch over me, no one’s going to make sure I go to church right now. No one’s going to make sure I pray…. I can’t let my relationship with God rely on what my parents tell me anymore.”
According to Maritza Sánchez of Latingirl, Velaquez’s new album didn’t please everyone. Shortly after its release, her audience, mainly Hispanic Christians, bombarded her with letters, Internet postings, and comments during autograph sessions that criticized her album. They were upset that she had recorded with a non-Christian company and that the title track, “Lie-gar a Ti,” was chosen as the title song of a Telemundo novela (soap opera). Some of her fans were worried that she had turned her back on Christian music. One church went further and encouraged young members to burn their Jaci Velasquez records. Velasquez told CCM’s Rumberg why she didn’t feel this was a conflict: “[Latin music] is truly my ministry. This is where God called me as my ministry. But my English records are still my dreams, too. They are both my priorities. There’s not one that takes priority over another one. I think what happens in the Christian market is that they like to keep you only theirs. They don’t want to share you.”
Velasquez returned to the Christian market in 2000, releasing Crystal Clear.Miriam Di Nunzio of the Chicago Sun-Times said of the album, “Velasquez combines devout passion for her faith and a cutting-edge pop sensibility to songs of deep love of God.” Crystal Clear marked a new level of involvement in her album. Velasquez was more active in song selection, produced her own vocals on Crystal Clear, and co-wrote two songs: “You’re Not There,” and the lively, Latin-influenced “Escuchame,” with producer Mark Heimer-mann.
“There’s no visible ceiling for how high her rocket ship will travel,” CCM’s Dave Urbanski declared. And indeed, it seemed Velasquez’s only challenge to continued success was finding the right balance for her Christian music fans and her Latin pop fans. “I’m more the edgy kind of chick artist in the Christian market and very much the good girl, can-do-no-wrong kind of girl in the pop market,” Velasquez told Brian Mansfield of USA Today “In the Latin market, they make a really big deal about the sexual abstinence thing. Of course, in the Christian market, they’re all about making sure you’re still a Christian after you’re doing pop music… And in the pop market, they’re all about making sure you’re not too Christian to be un-cool for them.”
Velasquez told the Los Angeles Times that she planned to alternate between Spanish-language and English-language albums indefinitely. She reconciled the two worlds she performs in to Billboard’s Lannert: “Not all of my songs are about God. But I do have a faith that intertwines my whole life, and it feeds me the life I live.” Music industry professionals in both Christian and secular music saw her future potential as unlimited. “She has the voice, she has the personality, she has the strength and desire to really make it,” Jorge Piña of Sony Latin told USA Today “I think she’s going to be a great superstar in the general market— forget Latin, forget Christian, this will be the mainstream market.”
Heavenly Place, Myrrh, 1996.
Jaci Velasquez, Myrrh, 1998.
Llegar a Ti, Sony, 1999.
Crystal Clear, Word, 2000.
A Heavenly Place, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Brothers, Jeffrey L , Hot Hits, Christian Hit Radio: 20 Years of Charts, Artist Bios and More, CCM Creative Ventures, 1999.
Billboard, May 25, 1996, p.83; September 25, 1999; February 19, 2000, pp. LM1-3; May 6, 2000; August 12, 2000.
Catholic Digest, September 2000, pp. 66-79.
CCM, September 2000, pp. 26-30, 49.
Chicago Sun-Times, September 24, 2000.
GMA Today, Spring 2000.
Houston Chronicle, October 21, 1999.
Latingirl, December-January 2000, p.61.
Latin Music, Holiday Edition, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2000, pp. 8-9, 89.
Teen People, April 2000, p. 106.
USA Today, October 20, 2000.
The Complete Jaci Velasquez Web Site, http://www/ajy.net/jaciv/(January 27, 2001).
Additional information was provided by Myrrh Records publicity materials, 2001.
Velasquez, Jaci: 1979—: Vocalist
Jaci Velasquez: 1979—: Vocalist
Jaci Velasquez made one of the most stunning debuts in contemporary Christian music history with her first album, Heavenly Place, in 1996. The album eventually earned a gold record with over 500,000 copies sold and helped Velasquez earn a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Best New Artist in 1997. With her subsequent releases Velasquez earned several more Dove Awards—including consecutive honors for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1999 and 2000—and 16 of her singles topped the Christian music charts. Even more remarkable was that this string of successes started when Velasquez was just 16 years old. Now in her early twenties, Velasquez's popularity as a performer has broadened with Spanish-language releases aimed at the secular market and a memoir, A Heavenly Place, designed to help young, Christian women live by their religious principles.
Christian Entertainment Background
Jacquelyn Davette Velasquez was born on October 15, 1979 in Houston, Texas. She was the youngest in a family that included the four children from her parents' previous marriages. Her mother gave her the nickname "Jaci" (pronounced "Jackie") as a shortened version of her given name. David and Diana Velasquez ran an evangelical ministry, which allowed them to engage their love of music to express their religious beliefs, as they traveled around the country. Earlier, David Velasquez had a successful career in Christian music as part of the Dallas-based group the Galileans. Velasquez's group released 25 albums and earned a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Best New Artist in 1970, the same award that his daughter would claim in 1997.
With music such a major part of the family's life, it was not surprising that Jaci Velasquez demonstrated her musical abilities from an early age. As her mother recalled in an October 1999 interview with the Dallas Morning News, "I remember she was not two yet and we were in this little church where the nursery was right around the corner from the sanctuary, and the door was open. We were singing 'Our God Reigns,' when all of a sudden, the pastor put his hand to his lips for everyone to be quiet because he could hear her from the nursery. She was singing the chorus, and it was so cute because she even did the little lick in the chorus—'Our God reigns, our God reigns, our God re-e-e-igns.' And everyone was just sitting there listening and their eyes got huge." Throughout her childhood, Velasquez and her mother accompanied her father's performances as back-up singers; by the time she was ten, she had taken over as the lead singer of the Velasquez family trio.
At a Glance . . .
Born Jacquelyn Davette Velasquez on October 15, 1979 in Houston, TX. Religion: Evangelical Christian.
Career: Recording artist: Heavenly Place, (album), 1996; Jaci Velasquez, (album), 1998; Llegar a Ti, (album), 1999; Crystal Clear, (album), 2000; Mi Corazón, (album), 2001; Christmas, (album), 2001; Navidad, (album), 2001; author: A Heavenly Place, 1998.
Awards: Dove Award, New Artist of the Year, 1997; Dove Award, Song of the Year, "On My Knees," 1998; Recording Industry Association of America, Gold Album, Jaci Velasquez, 1999; Dove Award, Female Vocalist of the Year, 1999; Dove Award, Female Vocalist of the Year, 2000; Dove Award, Special Event Album of the Year, Streams, 2000; Dove Award, Spanish-language Album of the Year, Llegar a Ti, 2000; Recording Industry Association of America, platinum album, Llegar a Ti, 2000; Recording Industry Association of America, gold album, Mi Corazón, 2001; Recording Industry Association of America, platinum album, Heavenly Place, 2001; Recording Industry Association of America, gold album, Crystal Clear, 2001.
Addresses: Office— P.O. Box 3568, Brentwood, TN 37024-3568. Record company— Word Records, 25 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. Record company— Sony Discos, 605 Lincoln Road, 7th Floor, Miami Beach, FL 33139. Management— Mike Atkins Management, 300 10th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203.
During her teens Velasquez continued to hone her skills by performing with her family and entering talent contests around Texas. With such a hectic performing and traveling schedule, Velasquez was home-schooled by her mother. Her major break came when the Velasquez family appeared as the opening act for the popular Christian act Point of Grace at a church concert in Columbus, Texas, in 1994. The group's manager, Mike Atkins, was so impressed with Velasquez's singing that he signed on as her manager. After sending a videotape of her performance to Nashville-based Myrrh Records—a division of leading Christian media outlet Word Entertainment—Velasquez secured her first recording contract. She was just 15 years old.
Debuted at Age 16
Velasquez's debut album, Heavenly Place, was released in May of 1996 and immediately went into the top ten on the Christian music charts, while its first single, "If This World," became her first number-one single. Eventually Heavenly Place topped the sales charts as well and earned a platinum record for over one million copies sold. Velasquez was also honored with the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award for New Artist of the Year and became the youngest-ever recipient of the award.
While a constant round of concerts, recording dates, and personal appearances kept the teenager busy, Velasquez also became involved with a number of social issues. A proponent of sexual abstinence before marriage, Velasquez served as national spokesperson for the True Love Waits campaign. Using her visibility to help other teens take responsibility for their actions and avoid making poor decisions, Velasquez nevertheless took a realistic view of the pressures teens faced. "Don't get me wrong," she explained to the Dallas Morning News in October of 1999, "I like guys. I have a lot of guy friends and I date. But I use common sense and I don't get into a situation I can't get out of and end up giving something away to a person who doesn't deserve it." The young singer promoted the message in her 1998 book A Heavenly Place, published in English and Spanish by Simon and Schuster, which gave Christian teens some advice about making the transition to adulthood with their values intact. In 1998 Velasquez also took on the role of national spokesperson for the National Christian College Athletic Association. Although she did not intend to pursue a college education, Velasquez enjoyed touring colleges to promote a Christian-oriented message to students.
Velasquez proved that the success of her debut was no fluke when her second album, Jaci Velasquez, was released in 1998. The album quickly topped the Christian music charts and sold over 500,000 copies. One of the album's singles, a testament to the power of prayer called "On My Knees," earned Velasquez her second Dove Award in as many years, this time for Song of the Year. One of the few dark spots in her life was the breakup of her parents' marriage; David and Diana Velasquez separated in 2000. Velasquez turned to her religious faith to help her cope with the experience. As she told Today's Christian Woman in a May 2001 interview, "I realized I'm not responsible for other people's choices. Through this situation, I learned the only One I can count on is Jesus. He doesn't leave."
The Latin Market and Continued Success
In 1999 Velasquez made the unusual move of signing a recording contract with Spanish-language label Sony Discos, based in Miami, Florida. She retained her contract with Word Records for her Christian music releases, but would release Spanish-language albums for the secular market as well. Although Velasquez was not fluent in Spanish and retained other songwriters to pen her album, Llegar a Ti (To Get to You ), she looked at her new contract as an opportunity to reach out to the Hispanic audience.
Yet she insisted that the turn toward the mainstream pop market did not mean that she was abandoning her Christian principles. "I relate to what I sing about," she told Billboard in a February 2000 interview. "I relate to [Llegar a Ti. ] It is about a love one day I will have…. I don't sing about love in the 'Hey baby, come on over, let me show you' way. I am a believer in sexual abstinence. I plan on remaining a virgin until the day I get married." Reflecting her point of view, the tracks on Llegar a Ti steered clear of overt sexual references and included romantic lyrics that could also be construed as devotional songs. It also included some of her past contemporary Christian hits, this time sung in Spanish.
Llegar a Ti sold over one million copies and earned a Dove Award for Spanish-language Album of the Year in 2000. That year Velasquez collected her second consecutive Dove Award for Best Female Vocalist. Her next album, Crystal Clear, arrived in August of 2000 and featured two songs cowritten by the singer. The album was another major hit and earned a gold record for over a half-million in sales. Velasquez delivered a second Spanish-language set in 2001, Mi Corazón (My Heart ), which explored some of the emotional turmoil that the singer had experienced during her parents' divorce. At the end of 2001 Velasquez simultaneously released Christmas and Navidad, featuring traditional holiday tunes in English and Spanish.
Heavenly Place, Myrrh Records, 1996.
Jaci Velasquez, Myrrh Records, 1998.
Llegar a Ti, Sony Discos, 1999.
Crystal Clear, Word Records, 2000.
Mi Corazón, Sony Discos, 2001.
Christmas, Word Records, 2001.
Navidad, Sony Records, 2001.
Billboard, February 19, 2000, p. LM-8; August 12, 2000, p. 16; May 12, 2001, p. 116.
Dallas Morning News, June 3, 1998; October 5, 1999.
Texas Monthly, May 1997.
Today's Christian Woman, May/June 2001, p. 96.
Everything Jaci, Jaci Velasquez Official Artist Web-Site, 2002, http://www.planetjaci.com/newsite/facts.htm
Jaci Velasquez Bio, Word Records Web Site, 2002, http://www.wordrecords.com/jaci/jaci-bio.html