For as long as he can remember, Ronnie Freeman has wanted to sing, but he never dreamed that God would allow him to have a career in music.
But He has, and what a dream come true.
“When I was younger, I could remember dreaming about trying out for Star Search,” Ronnie laughs. “I always wanted to sing.”
Growing up, Ronnie did sing – in church, in school, for the community. But it wasn’t until he grew and developed as musician that he began to feel like he had something to say.
And, he says, “That was when I started dreaming, never really thinking that the Father had plans for me doing something that made me happy.”
Ronnie Freeman grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led what he calls a “sheltered life”, founded in the church, youth group and music. He sang in the church choir and was part of the Montgomery Boy’s Choir. He took piano lessons, played the tuba in the junior high school band, and sang in his high school chorus. He was a vocal major in college, was on staff at his church in Tuscaloosa, and for the last two summers has led worship at the JH Ranch in northern California.
Like many artists, growing up he briefly toyed with the idea of other careers, like being a dentist or a veterinarian. In college he even thought about physical therapy, but, he says, “I never desired it enough to pursue it because I kind of felt that music was what I did. But I’ve always been fascinated with medicine.”
Then during his junior year at Southeastern College in Lakeland, Florida, a friend gave him a piece of advice that fueled his dream.
“I was writing songs and wasn?t singing them for anybody but friends,” Ronnie says. “And then in my junior year I wrote a song called ‘He’ll Never Let Me Go’, and a friend told me that if I didn?t share that with people, the Lord could take my talent away for kind of putting all my songs in a hope chest and never doing anything with them.”
“I think my view of God – and I don’t really know what caused this,” he continues, “was that I was going to have to do something that was terribly sacrificial, and maybe something that I didn’t enjoy. The thought of Paul being shipwrecked and enjoying it, being in prison and enjoying it, didn’t make sense to me, so why in the world would I do something that I love to do?”
But last January, Ronnie Freeman’s dream came true when he signed a recording contract with Rocketown Records.
Rocketown Records was founded in 1996 by Grammy Award-winning artist Michael W. Smith and former Reunion Records A&R chief Don Donahue. Their goal: to build a label where the focus was on great songs instead of musical fads. Artists Chris Rice, Ginny Owens, Shaun Groves and Watermark all call Rocketown home.
“Back in ?97, I was really fascinated with Rocketown because of Chris [Rice] and the fact they were letting him still do camps, and just be who he was,” Ronnie says. “I had in the back of my brain, ‘man I would love to be with them’, but never really prayed about it because I just didn’t think that I was good enough.”
Several years ago, he even had the chance to play for the head of Rocketown Management (under the Rocketown umbrella, but not directly affiliated with the record label), but as Ronnie puts it, “There wasn’t really much interest. I was still kind of finding out who I was.”
But Ronnie’s mom told him that God is always taking notes about what makes us happy, and last year, Ronnie was offered a chance to play for Michael W. Smith.
He had been in contract discussions with another label, but there was a lack of peace about the talks. His wife, Leslie, asked him if he’d prayed and fasted about the situation.
“I thought, well, there’s no need to pray and fast. I mean, obviously this is a door of opportunity. Heck, it’s a record deal,” Ronnie says.
That was a Sunday night, and on Monday Ronnie called his manager David Radke to talk to him about the situation. Then Ronnie and Leslie spent Monday fasting and praying.
Tuesday morning they got a call from Britt Ham, head of Rocketown Management, who had seen Ronnie play several years before. Apparently, Michael W. Smith had just seen another artist’s showcase, and Britt had suggested to Michael that if he was looking for a piano player, singer/songwriter, he needed to hear Ronnie Freeman.
Then Britt asked Ronnie if he could come the following morning to play for Michael W. Smith.
He didn’t need to ask twice.
“I went and played a couple of songs,” Ronnie says, “and Michael said, ‘If you’ll give me a few weeks I’ll have a deal for you.’ And I mean it was just that quick. As you probably well know, God doesn’t always move that quickly or so that we can see, but He did this time.”
That was the beginning a unique relationship in the record business, because for the past year Ronnie’s recording project has been guided under the protective wing of none other than Michael W. Smith himself.
Usually when an artist is signed to a label, the A&R (Artist and Repertoire) people take over. They find the right producer and songs for the project, and generally guide the creative process along.
But in this case, Michael decided to A&R the record himself.
As Ronnie says, “Michael kind of took this as his baby. He said he saw himself in me, years ago when he first got started. I remember he and I having breakfast one morning and just talking about my family. He discussed the things that mattered to me.”
And family matters to Ronnie. He and his wife Leslie have two small children, and Ronnie says he relaxes by hanging out with them, going to the park, or maybe making dinner and watching a video together. (Or maybe taking a trip to the mall, he’s quick to add. “My daughter loves the Disney Store.”) He admits to being a mamma’s boy growing up, and counts his dad among his best friends. He has a select circle of friends whom he says know probably everything about him, and he cherishes his private life.
“One of the reasons I was excited about being at Rocketown,” he stresses, “was because I could be myself.” He looks forward to leading worship next summer at JH Ranch, as well as to continuing to write songs and just be Ronnie Freeman.
How will that private life change over the next few months, as Rocketown Records gets ready to release Ronnie’s debut CD in May? In the next part of this series, we?ll talk with Ronnie about these past months recording his CD and the plans to tour and promote the album.
You can learn more about Ronnie Freeman at ronniefreeman or
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