Contemporary Christian singer, Michael Whitaker Smith, better known as Michael W. Smith is one of the most popular Christian singers in the world. He has sold 15 million albums worldwide, has 28 number one hit songs, is a three time Grammy award winner and released his 25th album this week titled Hymns, in honor of his love of traditional hymns. There’s no slowing down in Michael W.’s future he has a 26th album titled “Sovereign” which is to be released on May 13th. Mr. Smith was kind enough to join me for an interview on Thursday morning to discuss his new album of traditional hymns, the inspiration behind the album, how hymns have shaped his life, and why he decided to partner with Cracker Barrel to release the album and the reason they were such a great fit!
Candace Rose: You’re an accomplished contemporary Christian singer, you’ve sold 15 million albums worldwide and have 28 number one hit songs. You debuted your first album of traditional Christian hymns this week. Can you tell us about your new album? We are so excited about it!
Michael W. Smith: “Well, I’m excited about it as well. This has been a long time coming. It’s been a dream for a long time. I grew up singing these songs in church- my old church in Kenova, West Virginia where I grew up with my mom and dad and sister. These hymns shaped my life and faith, and I just always wanted to do it. Life gets busy and you’ve got all these different projects you want to do, and honestly it was the Alan Jackson Hymns record that came out four or five years ago that sort of slapped me up the side of the face and thought ‘you need to do a Hymns record’, so I kind of put it back on the front burner.
I then started talking to Cracker Barrel, which we thought would be a really great fit. They got really excited, and gosh those conversations were three and four years ago. We finally cut the record last year, and here we are, the record is out. We’re off to a good start, its seems to be doing very well and I couldn’t be happier.”
Candace Rose: How have hymns shaped your life?
Michael W. Smith: “Well, just lyrically, growing up in the church – I became a Christian when I was 10 years old. I had a massive encounter with God when I was 10 (believe it or not) and then sort of diving in. There wasn’t a gray area, I jumped in with everything with my faith. To sing these songs and hear what these songs were saying it is well with my soul and grace and faithfulness, it sort of dawning on you spiritually, just getting a good grasp of what Jesus really did for you. It’s pretty amazing. They are a part of who I am, even though I’ve gone and done pop music and different types of music. I would say the hymns were a stabilizing factor in my life as I was growing up. I always go back, I know exactly where I was sitting- third pew every Sunday with my friends. I got to know the hymns so well that I didn’t really have to look in the hymn book, I just knew it by memory.”
Candace Rose: What is your favorite hymn from the album?
Michael W. Smith: “My favorite hymn is ‘Were You There’. I have a lot of favorites on that record ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ is probably my favorite hymn. But there is something about ‘Were You There’, an old spiritual that I did last minute. I did it a cappella, it’s cut number three. I believe for me it’s the most emotional piece on the record. Maybe it’s just what happened to me when I was singing it, I got very, very emotional. You don’t hear that song very often, but it’s a great, great, great song, great spiritual.”
Candace Rose: You actually produced one of the tracks on the album, correct?
Michael W. Smith: “I did. At the last minute my wife Debbie – we were wrapping up the record – and she said are you not going to do ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You?’ I didn’t sing ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ and ‘Were You There’, they were the only two songs I didn’t sing growing up in church, but ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ I sang in a church called Belmont Church on Music Row and it used to be a Church of Christ. Obviously that church didn’t have any instruments in the early days, but they did when I was going there in the 80s. Because we were very involved at Belmont, at the end of every service he had a thousand people singing ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ a cappella.
Honest, Candace, when I say this – I could never get through it because it was so emotional. It was a huge four part harmony, so when I looked at Debbie I thought when she said ‘You’ve got to put ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ on the record, you’ve got to do it.’ I thought, you’re right, it’s a great way to end the record. The record was done and so at the very last minute I called all of my Church of Christ friends into my studio, which is an old mid 1800s house with plaster, tall ceilings, hardwood floors and we put everybody in this room and we recorded them singing a cappella ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’. I can’t think of a better way for the record to end.”
Candace Rose: I heard that you are going to be performing a few of the songs from your new album “Hymns” at the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow? (Interview was conducted prior to his Grand Ole Opry performance on Friday)
Michael W. Smith: “I am, tomorrow night. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to that.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional information you’d like to share with your fans?
Michael W. Smith: “They’re the best. I really do (have the best fans), the fans have really been so supportive. They pray for me and they’re excited not only about the Cracker Barrel record but the “Sovereign” record that’s coming out May 13th. They’re pretty pumped up about that and that’ll be my 26th album. Today we’re talking about the Cracker Barrel record and I’m excited about the “Hymns” project. You can get it at Cracker Barrel, you can also get it at CrackerBarrel.com, iTunes or Amazon.com. You don’t get the biscuits and gravy at Amazon.com, but you can get the record.
We’re off to a good start. It seems to be getting great reviews and it’s selling well so far. Candace, it’s a real simplistic approach. It’s a real different approach than any of the other records I’ve done production wise. This is not massive production, it’s really simple in the way the whole thing was approached, which I think was the right thing to do. It’s what I would call precious, life changing hymns.”