Cover Story: Martha Munizzi
An Anointed Praise & Worship Songstress
Martha Munizzi is taking a Tuesday of rest and relaxation in suburban Miami, Florida, but the seven kids with her are keeping her busier than expected as they pass the Disney store.
“They just got ice cream cones,” she says, as we talk via cell phone.
Martha has come down from Orlando to visit her twin sister Mary, who helps pastor a Miami church. She’s watching Mary’s four kids, as well as her own three. Martha’s a busy mom.
Besides being a mother, Martha is also a busy, independent recording artist–and that’s something that keeps her and her husband Dan, who plays keyboards, away from home most weekends as they sing and minister at different churches around the country.
Growing up, Martha’s family traveled and sang southern gospel at several churches. Now Martha’s doing something similar, only this time she’s singing music with a black gospel feel—not bad for a blonde, white woman.
Recently, Martha had the opportunity to record a CD, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” at the world-famous Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. At first, she wasn’t sure how her brand new songs would go over with the crowd. It turned out to be “so incredible,” she says. “It felt like we stepped into something way beyond ourselves.”
“The Best Is Yet To Come” takes Martha’s music, “not just to another level, but to another plateau.” The supernatural anointing was very powerful, according to the singer.
Perhaps one of the reasons Martha’s music was so enhanced was because Israel Houghton had a hand in producing the CD. Both Israel and Martha could be described as people who use music to minister to the very hearts and souls of people. They know what they are supposed to do and do it with confidence. While plenty of artists make praise & worship CDs, few succeed in connecting with a mass audience as well as Israel and Martha do. On “The Best Is Yet To Come,” the pair duet on some of Israel’s famous songs, including “Your Latter Will Be Greater” and “New Season.” It all comes down to the anointing. They’ve got it, and together, they’re powerfully amazing.
When music is anointed, you can sense the presence of the Lord when you hear it. An anointed artist lets God freely use their talents and gifts for His glory. They are open to whatever He wants. Anointed music makes people freely feel their own emotions.
One of Martha’s songs in particular, “I Know The Plans I Have For You,” really connected with the audience. “It had people weeping,” she says. The song has since gone on to connect with thousands of others. Martha says calls flood in when it’s played on the radio.
As an independent artist, Martha has sold over 50,000 units. That’s a lot. And her career keeps gaining momentum. The day when she’s as recognized as Kirk Franklin and Darlene Zschech is not far off. In concert, Martha’s music is dynamic, uplifting and powerful. Meanwhile, such notable talents as Karen Clark-Sheard, Vicki Yohe and Ron Kenoly have recorded her songs. Kenoly thinks Martha is one of the most dynamic worship leaders he knows.
“Martha leads worship with power, excitement and authority,” he says. “Her sensitivity in worship helps you to know that she has spent much time in personal prayer and devotion.”
All this singing, songwriting and worship talent is well and good, but what about her heart? She oftentimes doesn’t get a chance to speak about deeper issues.
“That’s why I like to do magazine articles and TV programs like James Robison’s,” she says. “Then I can share more about what God is doing in my life.”
Turns out that Martha has had some painful experiences in her past, as we all have. Molested as a child by her close relative, Martha used to bite her nails a lot because she had a spirit of anxiety. She has since been healed. And despite her parents’ divorce, she is able to see how her own marriage can be stronger. Martha has learned to lean on God through her tough times. She doesn’t dwell on her pain like too many people often do.
“If I wrote a book, the molestation would be a chapter, not the whole book,” she says. “I’ve talked to others, young girls especially, who have had far worse experiences than I did. My childhood, for the most part, was happy. I had a stable family and lots of love. These days, if I am lead to share my painful past experiences with people, I love to say, ‘Look what God has done.’ He has been faithful.”
Martha is a gifted artist. Yes, she’s unique because she’s a white woman singing black gospel, but she’s also more than that. She’s a wife, mother, sister, friend, businesswoman, etc. Best of all, she’s someone who knows and loves Jesus.
Since I’ve been talking with their mom for 45 minutes, I can imagine Martha’s kids are getting restless, so I thank her for a good interview. We chat about the weather for a bit, as it’s sunny and warm in Miami (what else?) and snowy where I live. I tell her I hope to talk with her again, and she says goodbye, adding, “God bless.” I’m left with the impression that Martha Munizzi is a woman who knows her purpose, uses her talent for God’s glory and is someone whose CD will bless me, and you too.
For more information, including tour dates, please visit www.marthamunizzi.com.
Making Noise: Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns
Christian music bands Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns were among the top-selling artists in a year that saw gospel music sales total 43.4 million units, according to SoundScan.
“If you think about it,” says Christian Music Monthly’s Mark Weber, “you’ve heard Switchfoot and MercyMe singles on secular radio. They’ve taken Christian music mainstream. Casting Crowns is still very much inside the Christian music bubble, yet they’ve proved that ‘the church’ (aka Christian music buyers) loves them as their debut sold about one million discs.”
While black gospel and praise & worship continue to be powerful categories of Christian music, there has definitely been a measurable shift towards rock, alternative, hip-hop, R&B and other styles of music particularly popular with younger consumers.
Also helping boost Christian music to the mainstream were several American Idol contestants who sold a lot of discs in 2004. “Idol” contestants whose Christian beliefs were prominent in their appearances on the Fox-TV hit show made their way to the charts, with Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, George Huff and R.J. Helton among the “Idol” finalists with charting gospel records in 2004. Aiken’s Merry Christmas With Love and Studdard’s I Need An Angel (both sold at Christian retail through Provident Label Group) ended 2004 at the #2 and #12 spots respectively on Christian SoundScan’s Overall Albums chart for the year.
Black gospel remained the second best-selling category of gospel music and its younger artists made headlines and were among the strongest sellers in 2004, including Israel & New Breed, Smokie Norful and Kierra “Kiki” Sheard. Israel & New Breed’s critically acclaimed Integrity Gospel release Live From Another Level debuted at #1 on Billboard’’s Gospel Chart after its first week of sales, and number three on Billboard’’s Heatseekers Chart. It ended the year at #5 on the gospel charts. Recently Grammy and Stellar nominated, Israel & New Breed performed for an estimated 40,000 at a December Madison Square Garden event. EMI Gospel’s Norful was named Billboard’’s Top Gospel Artist in 2004, for the second straight year, as his debut CD I Need You Now and his September 2004 sophomore release Nothing Without You kept Norful among the top-sellers all year. Fellow EMI Gospel label mate ‘Kiki” Sheard, the 17-year-old daughter of black gospel legend Karen Clark-Sheard, did what no other new gospel artist has ever accomplished in the SoundScan era. Her I Owe You debuted at both #1 on the gospel chart and Billboard’s Heatseekers chart in August.
Among all the highlights, however, Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns are the resounding sales success story for 2004, confirmed by Billboard’ crowning the bands as the top three Christian artists for 2004 in the trade magazine’s year-end issue.
Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown was the #1-selling album on the Christian SoundScan Overall Albums chart for 2004, thanks in part to Sparrow Records and Switchfoot’s new relationship with Columbia Records, which brought greater mainstream exposure to the San Diego-based band. The album has been on the Billboard charts for more than 87 weeks, including 31 weeks at #1 on the Christian Albums chart. Switchfoot has been a critic and fan favorite in gospel music since they released their first record, The Legend of Chin in 1997, followed by two more critically acclaimed releases, New Way To Be Human and Learning To Breathe (these three records, which remain with Sparrow Records, were re-released this fall as the compilation: Switchfoot the Early Years – 1997-2000). But it was Columbia’s push of “Meant To Live,” a single that peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40, and “Dare You to Move,” which is No. 18 this week on Billboard’s Hot 100 that brought Switchfoot national attention and a surge in both their Christian and mainstream retail sales. Switchfoot also has had five #1 songs at Christian radio from The Beautiful Letdown with “More than Fine,” “Meant to Live,” “Gone,” “Dare You To Move” and “This Is Your Life.”
“When I first heard Switchfoot’s record,” says Weber, “I was impressed, and it takes a lot for a Christian rock band to impress me. Switchfoot’s music and lyrics were top-notch. They also had a theme that connected with me and a lot of other listeners: that life is both beautiful and a letdown.”
In 2004, INO Records’ MercyMe sold more than 1.5 million units in album and DVD sales, including the #4 and #6 top-selling records on Christian SoundScan’s Overall Albums chart for the year — Almost There and Undone respectively. MercyMe’s success was fueled by the momentum from “I Can Only Imagine,” the smash single from Almost There, which first hit mainstream radio in 2003 and continued its impact in 2004. “I Can Only Imagine” delivered an unabashedly spiritual message about what heaven might be like. Millions of radio listeners who may not have ever considered themselves fans of Christian music suddenly found themselves singing along to the song’s irresistible chorus. The song saw heavy airplay on Pop, AC, and Hot AC mainstream radio stations nationwide, and “I Can Only Imagine” ended 2004 as the 20th most-played song on Radio & Records mainstream AC chart while “Here With Me,” the first single from Undone, was 24th and also a big hit at Christian radio. The band from Greenville, Texas, not only earned multiple Dove Awards including Artist and Group of the Year in 2004, but they also were honored with an American Music Award for Favorite Contemporary Inspirational Artist. MercyMe has evolved from being Christian music’s fastest-selling new act in 2001 when Almost There first released to becoming nationally known as a great rock group that tackles the essential themes of God and love.
“I was amazed that a song so blatantly mentioning Jesus (‘I Can Only Imagine’) was played on my local secular radio station,” says Weber, “I was even more amazed to hear non-Christian people singing along. With divine intervention, MercyMe has really impacted American culture with their music.”
Casting Crowns represents yet another face of the new generation of Christian artists and its self-titled CD is the fastest selling debut Christian artist in recent years. At the center of Casting Crowns is Mark Hall, a youth pastor, who, until a year ago, was writing music primarily for the kids in his youth groups. Casting Crowns grew out of two of Hall’s stops along his youth ministry path, first while leading a youth group in Daytona Beach, Fla., then transplanting and growing when Hall moved to a new position in Atlanta.
Discovered and signed in early 2003 by Mark Miller, of country music’s Sawyer Brown, to be the debut artist for Beach Street Records, an imprint Miller founded and leads for Provident Label Group, Casting Crowns found themselves in the enviable position of making their first major label record with Christian music icon Steven Curtis Chapman as co-producer, Chapman’s first time producing another artists’ work. Hall’s presentation of straightforward and challenging Christ-centered lyrics found a home at Christian radio which embraced hard-hitting #1 charting songs like “If We Are the Body,” “Who Am I” and “Voice of Truth” and played a considerable role in the band’s success.
“I want to shake people up and help them see that Jesus is not a religion, and God is not a book,” Hall has said. Hall was honored with the Dove Award for Songwriter of the Year in 2004, a first for a new artist.
“Kingdom Bound Christian music festival’s founder Fred Caserta told me Casting Crowns was ‘the real deal,’” says Weber. “I know when Fred says that, the band must be great, and the response they got at North America’s third largest Christian music festival (Kingdom Bound), proved how great they are.”
Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns are all bands worth checking out in 2005, in case you haven’t already bought one of their CDs.
Stats, Please: Christian Music By The Numbers
*The Christian/Gospel category of overall music sales is the sixth most popular genre according to SoundScan’s 2004 year-end report. Gospel music sales outpace sales of Latin, soundtracks, jazz, classical and new age genres.
*Christian Retail stores accounted for 37.6 percent of gospel music sales, while mainstream retail outlets sold 59 percent of all gospel music sales. Christian retailers’ sales grew from 2003 by nearly one percent and mainstream sales were unchanged. Non-traditional sales (representing direct, venue and website sales) were down 18 percent.
*The overall top-selling records on the Christian SoundScan Overall Albums chart for the year (reflects yearly sales for all titles in the Christian SoundScan system, regardless of genre or catalog status) were Beautiful Letdown – Switchfoot; Merry Christmas with Love – Clay Aiken; Casting Crowns – Casting Crowns; Almost There – MercyMe; Passion of the Christ Soundtrack; Undone – MercyMe; WoW Hits 2005; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Wire – Third Day and WoW Gospel 2004.
*The top-selling records in Billboard’s Gospel Albums chart were WoW Gospel 2004, I Need An Angel – Ruben Studdard, Somethin’ ‘Bout Love – Fred Hammond, Throne Room – CeCe Winans, Live From Another Level – Israel & New Breed, My Christmas Prayer – BeBe Winans, Best Is Yet To Come – Martha Munizzi, Ultimate Gospel – Elvis Presley, Gotta Have Gospel, and I Need You Now – Smokie Norful.
*The top-selling records in Christian SoundScan’s Rock/Alternative/Rap Albums chart were The Beautiful Letdown – Switchfoot, Wire – Third Day, Carried Me: The Worship Project – Jeremy Camp; MMHMM – Relient K, Wonder What’s Next – Chevelle, Welcome To Diverse City – tobyMac, Offerings II: All I Have To Give – Third Day, Sea of Faces – Kutless, and Where Do We Go From Here – Pillar.
*The top-selling records in Christian SoundScan’s Praise & Worship Albums chart were WoW Worship (Red); Worship & Faith – Randy Travis, WoW Worship (Yellow), Adoration: The Worship Album – Newsboys, Arriving – Chris Tomlin, Hymns Ancient and Modern Live – Passion, Illuminate – David Crowder Band, iWORSHIP: A Total Worship Experience, Songs 4 Worship: Shout to the Lord, and Worship – Michael W. Smith. (Designation as a Praise & Worship album is made by music labels, therefore some recordings with a prevalence of praise & worship content may not be included on this chart.)
*Christian labels report that digital downloads is a promising growth area, helping to expose music fans to the deep catalog of music which is now available through all major legal downloading services and Christian retailer LifeWay Christian Stores. Christian SoundScan is not currently set up to record sales of digital single downloads, so those sales are not available to report in 2004. However full albums digital downloads are included in the total year-end unit sales reported for 2004.
*Video sales were up five percent. VeggieTales’ “An Easter Carol” was the number one selling video at Christian retail in 2004.
*The top markets for gospel music in 2004 were Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington D.C., Houston, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
What’s Up With: tobyMac
Christian music’s favorite former dcTalker, tobyMac, the hip-hop media mogul, has sold about 175,000 copies of his latest disc, “Welcome To Diverse City.” Meanwhile, his previous GRAMMY-nominated release, “Momentum,” is nearing half a million in sales.
Here are highlights from tobyMac land:
*”Welcome To Diverse City” has been nominated for a Grammy
*tobyMac was featured in USA Today, America’s newspaper, December 28, 2004
*His song, “Gone,” spent 10 weeks at #1 on the R&R CHR chart and several weeks at #1 on CRW CHR in addition to claiming the #1 spot on both the R&R and CRW Christian Rock charts. The single was also tied for the most-adds at AC radio before the holidays, and is already in the Top 20 there! With “Gone” recently at #9 on the R&R rock chart, his new rock single, “Slam,” was the most-added at Rock radio this week, so you’ll be hearing that one on the radio right about now.
*And for all y’all wondering when you’ll see Christian music’s favorite hip-hop/rock artist in person, take note: tobyMac will be co-headlining a spring tour with Audio Adrenaline, Kutless and Hawk Nelson.
Up & Comer: Overflow
Maybe they didn’t start out wanting to make the world a better place automatically, but none-the-less, this all-boy band has seen God do some powerful things in their lives until they just seemed to, well, Overflow.
“In some ways, getting into Christian music (like this) is the hardest thing, we have ever done. We don’t get to see our families a lot and we have all lost girlfriends because of this,” said Tom Pellerin, lead singer of Overflow, a band that takes their name from Psalms 23:5. “In some ways it seemed easy. It seemed like as soon as we left college, our path was laid out for us,” he said, recounting how God just seemed to reaffirm to them all where he wanted them.
“We didn’t have any idea when we started this we would be doing this. We started the band in high school and it turned into this,” Pellerin said. “Having a record contract is a dream come true…we can walk into a Wal-Mart halfway across the country and see our album on the shelf.”
This is a far cry from the four boys who formed a band simply for fun between their eighth and ninth grade year of high school. Then, they recruited their road manager to play bass guitar. After being together eight years, this five-member band never dreamed they’d play at least 100 concerts a year, tour with Third Day and recently be named to the WinterJam Tour lineup of artists. Add to that the fact all the members are in their mid-20s and have already had a hit, “Better Place,” which grabbed the number 30th spot on CHR charts and it’s clear: this band’s name truly fits the outpouring of talent that just overflows.
“This is a new experience, something we aren’t used to,” Pellerin said, regarding the band’s seemingly sudden thrust into the spotlight so soon after releasing their debut album, “A Better Place,” in August 2004.
Whether fate or God’s infinite design, this boy band suddenly found itself in a league of its own. Winning a talent contest, the boys found themselves recording with Scotty Wilbanks, who shared the band’s songs with Mac Powell, of Third Day. Liking what he heard, Powell helped executive produce the band’s album through e-mail correspondence and even nicknamed the group a “young Third Day.”
But these boys – Tom Pellerin, Mark Breazeale, Josh Cromer, Will Carter, and Matt Hayes – aren’t basking in the starlight quite yet, without trying to make the community (and possibly the world) a better place.
They could only do that, for now, by being willing to get some dirt on their hands.
“A Better Place Foundation is an idea that we and our manager came up with several months ago that is still in the beginning stages. We want to find out how we can help people in the community, show up early (to a concert) and do some activity to make the world a better place so we aren’t actually just singing about it, but doing it,” Pellerin said, softly. “We want to show others how to do it, too.”
For more information on Overflow, visit overflowrocks.com and for more information about A Better Place Foundation, go to betterplace.org or e-mail Andy Morris at email@example.com.
–Contributed by Laura Agee
Christian Music Monthly is printed with permission from christianmusicmonthly.com
Cover Story: Martha Munizzi